Look Up and Pray for Those Looking Down

During Holy Week we focus on the death of Jesus in anticipation of joyfully celebrating his resurrection. It’s appropriate, for when we see the horror, politics, mistaken religious protection and gross injustice of Jesus’s crucifixion, we are more grateful and worshipful on Easter Sunday.

This Holy Week, I’m thinking about Jesus’s astonishing prayer as Roman soldiers were crucifying him, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Jesus was undoubtedly in physical agony, but he was thinking about the spiritual wellbeing of those who were inflicting pain. He was looking up, over all of history, at the long term impact of his action while the individual hammering was looking down at nails.

Jesus knew he was dying for the sins of the world and that those who crucified him were sinners, just like the rest of us, as were the Jewish leaders who had pushed him to the cross. Jesus understood that this was the plan, that God was in control, and that the Romans and the Jews were playing their parts. Therefore, Jesus prayed that they would be forgiven, for they had no idea what they were doing.

When we are dealing with disagreement, experiencing anger, or have been deeply hurt, can we look up and trust God enough to pray for the spiritual wellbeing of the people who hurt us? It’s a tough question to consider.

To the Roman soldiers, it was just another crucifixion, another day at the office. They would perhaps have heard about Jesus, but most of them probably had little to no knowledge of who he was or what he had been doing and were perhaps puzzled by the sign above Jesus that read, “Jesus, King of the Jews.” They had not had access to Hebrew Scriptures, and unless they had contact with Jesus, which was certainly possible, they would have had no context in which to place Jesus.

Jesus, on the other hand, knew exactly who the soldiers were and he understood their limited perspective. They were not Jewish and were influenced by a Roman culture that worshipped multiple gods with Caesar on top. Unless God had revealed Jesus’s identity to them, they simply had no knowledge of what they were doing.

The Jewish chief priests, Pharisees, and scribes should have known better, for they knew and had memorized Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus taught that he was the fulfillment of the law, was living as the Scriptures had prophesied, and did miracles to prove it, but the Jewish leaders couldn’t see the truth. Their vision was obscured by their power and status and/or they had been blinded by God.

He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.
Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.  John 12:40-41

Jesus’s crucifixion was the climax of human history and the merciful act that Jewish history had been leading up to for centuries. Jesus is God, he was incarnate on this earth, and he is now reigning forever. He is outside of time and he sees it all, so it’s admittedly ridiculous to compare God’s perspective to that of those who were pounding nails into his hands, but we can follow his example.  

Over the last year, we’ve been reminded that we have varied perspectives based on our experiences, race, education, family, and many other influences. People of color look at life in the United States very differently than do white people. It would be wise to imagine what it is like to live in the skin of the other. When confrontations between races occur, what if both sides prayed for God to forgive the other because they don’t understand what they are doing? Prayer and understanding is an effective way to begin reconciliation.

The other day, I drove by a woman shouting into a microphone next to several men waving American flags. She looked angry. I wonder how political polarization would change if each side prayed for the Lord to forgive the other for their unwillingness to consider an alternate perspective. When we are looking down at our own lives and opinions we do not see the entire picture, and looking up to offer a prayer like Jesus did is an excellent way to open up our thinking.

Sometimes people throw words or actions at us that cannot be explained by lack of imagination or limited understanding. It is simply evil. Jesus also had something to say about that: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:43-45

It is challenging to be confronted with the love of Jesus, and Holy Week is the climactic event that demonstrates God’s extravagant love for us. Jesus died a cruel death and prayed for those who were executing him. That’s the love of God. That’s how much he loves you.

It is my goal, as it is every Christian’s, to be transformed more and more into the image of Christ, and God will definitely have to do some transformation in us before we can love and pray for our enemies like Jesus did. Fortunately, God does the transforming. We are incapable of changing our hearts, but God isn’t.

My prayer this week is that God would transform his followers to be quick to pray for those with whom we disagree or who have hurt us. Transformation doesn’t usually happen overnight, but I pray that our gracious God would slowly but surely create in us hearts more like that of Jesus.

Let’s look up to God, trusting him, rather than limiting our perspective to our little lives.

Photo by Fausto Marqués on Unsplash

Posted in Christian Life, Forgiveness, Jesus, Love, Prayer, Transformation | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Fifteen Favorite Fiction Books of 2020

Meet me at the Museum by Anne Youngson was a delight. It could be because Youngson is a retired grandmother and this is her first novel, but it was enjoyable and thought provoking nonetheless. It is written as letters between … Continue reading

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The Whole Message of This New Life

How would you verbally communicate the entire message of your Christian life to a group of strangers? Describing your life chronologically, vocationally, spiritually, relationally or all four sounds more like the pages of a memoir than a speech. It’s overwhelming. … Continue reading

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Ten Non-Fiction Books that Helped in a Difficult Year

I read more fiction than non-fiction last year, for obvious reasons. It was the kind of year in which retreating into a fictional world was a relief. However, I still read some very good non-fiction books, and here are ten of them that are worth recommending.

Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World is at its Worst by Ed Stetzer. This book sneaked in from 2019’s list, but it was an appropriate non-fiction book to read before this crazy year. Stetzer makes a case for Christians to be gracious and kind, behave with love and neighborliness, and to remember that we are ambassadors for God’s kingdom here on earth while interacting on social media.

Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times by Robert J. Morgan. Based on a recommendation, I checked this book out from the library and liked it so much that I bought it. Its rules, like Realize that God means for you to be where you are (Chapter 1) and Stay calm and confident, and give God time to work (Chapter 5) and View your current crisis as a faith builder for the future (Chapter 9), are straightforward and comforting. Morgan uses Exodus 14 as the basis for these ten strategies. The book can be read in a couple of hours or one chapter a day, and it would be time well spent.

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby. This is a necessary book to read. Tisby says that Christians in every part of the country have a duty to recognize and fight the church’s complicity with racism. The most helpful part of the book is the chapter about what can be done about racism in the church. Tisby uses “The ARC (Awareness, Relationships, Commitment) of racial justice” (p. 194) to define antiracist actions and he calls every Christian to become aware, develop relationships and be committed to anti-racist attitudes and behavior.

Tramp for the Lord by Corrie ten Boom. I read this book based on a friend’s recommendation, and found it both encouraging and challenging. Corrie ten Boom followed the Lord. Period. She traveled all over the world, speaking and evangelizing, sometimes without knowing how her travels would be funded, but God always worked it out. It’s quite a story. I was encouraged to follow Jesus more closely and challenged that I don’t.

For All Who Grieve: Navigating the Valley of Sorrow and Loss by Colin S. Smith. This short book is very helpful for anyone experiencing devastating loss. Smith brings together Lamentations and five stories of his congregation members to give us biblical assistance in dealing with our grief. Highly recommended.

The Ruthless River: Love and Survival by Raft on the Amazon’s Relentless Madre de Dios by Holly Fitzgerald. It may seem strange to insert this book in the midst of all my theological reading. It probably is, but this was a fascinating book. It’s about a young couple taking an adventure in South America which leads them to rafting on the Amazon River and eventually getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. Their story of survival was intense, and makes our year of staying put in comfortable homes seem a little less trying. It’s a good read.

Rediscipling the White Church: From Cheap Diversity to True Solidarity by David W. Swanson. Swanson is a pastor in Chicago with the goal of building solidarity, beyond multiculturalism, in his church. “White Christianity has been blind to the powerful racial discipleship that has formed the imaginations of white Christians.” (p. 38) Swanson’s book challenges us to expand our imaginations.

The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott. The book begins by saying, “A child born in the West today has a more than 50 percent chance of living to be over 105, while by contrast, a child born over a century ago had a less than 1 percent chance of living to that age.” (p. 1) The authors consider what impact this will have on our lives, particularly in the way we approach our careers. They propose additional life and work stages, more emphasis on intangible assets and taking time for transitions. It makes sense to me.

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May. A very good book in which the author talks about different ways we “winter.” “Transformation is the business of winter…” (p. 67), she writes. Her husband had an emergency appendectomy and she got mysteriously sick, took a leave from her job and “wintered.” Wintering is a metaphor for any difficult time in life, for they happen in all seasons, but winter brings with it time for rest and retreat. Especially this winter. The book is arranged by month, starting in October and ending in March, and in each month she discusses a topic. Sleep – “first sleep” and “dead sleep,” snow, swimming in the winter, and losing her voice and regaining it are some of the material she covers. I appreciated her humble tone and related to several of her topics. Highly recommended.

The Bible It is no surprise that I read the Bible last year, for I read it every year. In 2020, stories of oppression, like the slaves in Egypt, liberation, as in the Exodus, the desperation of Job, the life of Jesus, his stunning death, thrilling resurrection and everything in between reminded me that life in this world is often troublesome. In fact, much of the Bible is story after story of human difficulty. But, the overarching narrative of the Bible is a story of love, mercy, grace, freedom, transformation and the confident hope of one day being with the Lord in an eternity in which sin, failure, disappointment and tears are no more. God is the central character of the Bible, and he shines through on every page.

It was a tremendous encouragement.

Are there any non-fiction books that expanded your imagination? Did you find any challenge or encouragement from a non-fiction book or the Bible last year?

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

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Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a very un-2020-like New Year!

The year 2020 has become the subject of sadly resonant jokes and funny cartoons. My Far Side loving family got a kick out of the neighborhood ice cream truck that had been changed to a liver and onions truck. Two … Continue reading

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Covid and a Muted Sample of Eternity

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My husband and I just came out of a two week Covid-fog, so the first two weeks of Advent, already offbeat due to the pandemic, were spent sitting in recliners under blankets while waiting for the next symptom to appear. … Continue reading

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God Breaks into Human History

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When the Iron Curtain in Berlin came down peacefully in 1989 after years of oppression, I thought this must be the hand of God. Communism had seemed like firmly held domination, and I was stunned to watch that wall physically … Continue reading

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This Thanksgiving

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This Thanksgiving will be different. Tables will be smaller. Too many gatherings will be missing an individual who is struggling with Covid, or worse. Many people will be alone on a day on which they would much rather be with … Continue reading

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Seeking Security

David Brooks’s essay in The Atlantic, “America is Having a Moral Convulsion,” describes America as a far less trusting society than it was twenty-five years ago. As I think about my own sense of trust in government, institutions and media, … Continue reading

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How’s Your Vision?

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Michael May hadn’t seen anything since the age of three after being blinded in a chemical explosion. He adjusted well, married, had children, took up skiing and founded a business. One day, Michael accompanied his wife to her optician as … Continue reading

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