02/25/07 and 02/20/00
11 By this I know that you are pleased with me; because my enemy has not triumphed over me.
12 But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever.
13 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.
The other day, returning to the manse, I got out of the car and locked it with the remote as I walked away. Then I half-raised the remote to unlock the house door, and laughed at myself, because the house does not have a remote unlock. Not yet. I suspect that before long you will have one remote for both house and car. Then you can throw away your house keys.
It is amazing how dependent we are on remotes. About a year ago, I was using two remotes to operate the TV—one to operate the cable box and another to operate the TV itself. The TV remote died. I thought, “No problema.” I will just turn the TV on and off manually, and then I can sit down and channel surf with the cable remote. That lasted about one night. Actually having to walk from the couch to the TV set seemed like such a hassle that the next day I went down to Wal-Mart and bought a new remote. I knew at the time that I was acting like a typical spoiled American, but I did it anyway.
These days we have a remote control for everything: TVs, DVD players, CD players, camcorders, cable boxes, stereos, satellite dishes, model cars, even gas fireplaces!
Just the other day, I passed through the road construction on highway 161, and I saw a worker operating some equipment with a remote. That kind of changes your ideas about road construction. The next thing you know the whole thing will be run by an office worker using a computer miles away from the actual site.
I heard about a proposed scheme called TeleVend which bonds a cell phone to a vending machine. You approach a vending machine, whip out your trusty mobile phone, and dial the number on the machine. Out will come your drink, candy bar, or whatever, which is then charged to your telephone bill. All the while, the vending machine is talking to you, playing music, commercials, or presenting movie trailers.
But maybe you cannot keep track of your remotes. They work their way down between the cushions, or someone absentmindedly carries them into another room. Well, if your remote has become remote, do not despair! A young girl named Natalie has invented a "Remote Control Finder." She taped a sound device to her remote, and taped a button to her TV. When the remote is lost, she presses the TV button, and the remote beeps. It is a kind of remote control remote control (www.parkmaitland.org).
All this indicates that we have come into an era of remote control relationships with our electronic appliances. We like to push a button from across a room, a factory, or a field, and get an instant response. Remote control even allows us to dial into our desktop PCs and act as if we were working at the terminal. New technology enables us to run PC applications, file transfers and system maintenance from a distance (www. pcsdata.com). So you do not have to be at the computer to operate the computer.
Remote technology allows us to gain complete control, and we love it. But this craziness for controllers raises the troubling issue of whether we have come to expect remote control spirituality as well. Can we program God? Can we use prayer as a remote control device to get the "channels" and "programs," and the rewards we want? Have we grown too accustomed to the idea of being in control?
Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. has a book, Kitchen Table Wisdom. An ill patient of hers was told by his cancer doctor that nothing more could be done for him medically. The physician said, "I think you'd better start praying." For this cancer doctor, prayer was a last resort. All effective treatments had been exhausted, and the patient now had nothing to lose, so he might as well pray. Today, doctors refer you to specialists for more advanced medical treatments. This doctor seemed to think of prayer as a final referral to the "divine physician." He thought of prayer as a desperate stab at the remote control of God.
The remote control devices we have for our appliances are handy. No one doubts that. But here is the point: Prayer is not about getting control; prayer is about giving up control. Prayer is not about manipulating God. Prayer is about offering your life to God to use for his purposes. Rachel Remen writes, "I think that prayer may be less about asking for the things we are attached to than it is about relinquishing our attachments in some way. It can take us beyond fear, which is an attachment, and beyond hope, which is another form of attachment. It can help us remember the nature of the world and the nature of life, not on an intellectual level but in a deep and experiential way. When we pray, we don't change the world, we change ourselves" ("Prayer," Kitchen Table Wisdom [New York: Riverhead Books, 1996], 270-271).
Prayer takes us beyond our fearful and hopeful attachments to worldly things to a deeper, newer understanding of ourselves and our creator. As a result, prayer becomes a transforming experience. We change, and we leave in the hands of God how much everything else is going to change.
Psalm 41 recommends to us this same kind of life-changing prayer. This psalm is a prayer for healing from sickness, but it goes far beyond the "remote control" expectations so many people have about prayer.
Psalm 41 is a declaration of assurance and a plea for continued aid. Some verses of the psalm are rather abrupt in their transitions. For example, v3 “The LORD sustains them on their sickbed; in their illness you heal all their infirmities.” In the first half of the verse the psalmist is talking about the Lord, in the second half, he is talking to the Lord. But we all get the point. We should look to the Lord in a time of trouble.
Verses 4-10 record a prayer of the psalmist, introduced and concluded with a petition for the Lord's graciousness. In verse 4, the psalmist attributes his present suffering to punishment for having sinned against God. We wonder what the psalmist was suffering from. What was his problem? We do not know.
Verses 5-9 focus on the malicious behavior of the psalmist's enemies: They speculate callously as to the hour of his death (v. 5), they offer hollow and hypocritical condolences when they visit him (v. 6), they gossip about his private miseries (v. 7), and they put the worst possible interpretation on his admittedly dire situation (v. 8). Worse than that, the psalmist has even been abandoned by his closest friend.
In v10, the psalmist asks for God's mercy, but his motive for asking does not sit well with a modern audience. He wishes God’s healing so that he may wreak vengeance upon his enemies. This is the Old Testament. The Psalmist wants revenge. Christ taught us a better way, but we must take the psalmist on his own terms.
In verse 11, the psalmist declares that he knows he has God’s favor because God has not allowed his enemies to triumph over him. Thus, the psalmist can say with assurance in v12 that he is in the presence of the Lord, or, as the KJV puts it, he is “set before the face of God forever.”
Thus, for the psalmist, prayer is not a remote control command center; prayer is a way of living in the presence of God. Prayer puts us in harmony with God and God’s creation.
But this is not a message that most people want to hear. They have been punching the religious remote control for years, because they want so much: healing and wholeness, happiness and peace, strength and success. I guess everyone prays for that sort of thing sometimes, but we need to ask ourselves: Is this the right way to pray?
We set ourselves up for disappointment when we expect God to change the world according to our vision. We are, however, justified in expecting God to work transforming changes in US. The problem we have in prayer is that we want God to do something, but we sometimes fail to consider that God may want us to do something.
"When we pray," reflects Rachel Remen, "we stop trying to control life and remember that we belong to life." Prayer is an opportunity to experience humility and to recognize grace, to see ourselves as human and to see God as altogether good and gracious. Remen writes, "Once, when I was lying on an operating table waiting for anesthesia, one of my surgeons took my hand and asked if I would join him and his operating team in a prayer. Startled, I nodded. He gathered the team around the operating table for a moment of silence, after which he quietly said, 'May we be helped to do here whatever is most right.'"
That is a simple but powerful petition. Remen felt her fears about the surgical outcome slip away after that prayer, and she went under anesthesia holding on to those few words with the deepest sense of peace. She knew that in that high-tech operating room -- one probably full of remote controls -- she was in touch with a power that was in supreme control. (271).
As the people of God, we are a people of prayer. But sometimes we get off track. We expect God to answer our prayers by changing all those other people who are not doing what we think they ought to be doing. And God may change them, but God begins by changing us. Our best response in prayer then, perhaps our only response, is to drop the remote and say, "Here I am, Lord. Control me."
The time has come to see illness not as a punishment for sin, but as a chance to rely even more fully on God. The time has come to see suffering as an opportunity to change ourselves and return to a more spiritual life. The time has come to live with integrity, actively loving both Lord and neighbor, and to dwell more and more in the presence of our loving God who is always at work to bring good out of evil.
When we open our lives up to God in prayer, we become different. We become people who trust God more fully, and love our neighbors more intensely. When we pray as God wants us to, we become creatures who are finally open to the channels of divine love and purpose. Through prayer we are able to see God's hand at work in all of life. This is not remote control at all. It is the best possible way to have a relationship with the Lord of creation.
Many people say that they lack peace and calm. They experience anguish, strain, and suffering. What advice, what help can we give them in their suffering? First of all, we must realize that, if peace were dependent on our will being done, then the devil himself would have peace, because the devil is happy when his will is done.
A Christian has a different kind of peace, a peace that comes from doing not my will but God’s will. Jesus said, "My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you." The gifts of our culture are transient. What kind of peace then does Christ give? He gives the inner peace that comes in the midst of hardship, distress, misfortune, and disgrace. This peace is not based on material success. It is not even based on our health and well-being. It is based on doing the will of God and living in God’s presence.
This peace is only claimed through prayer. We pray for God‘s presence in our lives, and in his presence, we seek his will. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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