Before Jesus Met Mary

“Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will'” (Matthew 26:39).

Jesus knew the the hour was near. The cross was looming. The long anticipated time of transition was upon him.

So Jesus and the disciples go to Gethsemane. He takes Peter, James, and John along with him to a place of prayer. Jesus is troubled. Jesus is sorrowful. Overwhelmed with sorrow. Sorrowful to the point of death.

Jesus goes farther into the garden and prays. “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

He returns to find the disciples sleeping. He asks them to watch and pray before withdrawing again for more conversation with God.

“My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

He returns to find them sleeping again. He withdraws to pray a third time.

The same words flow from Jesus’ heart and mouth. “Father….”

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As I ponder the emotions of Jesus in the shadow of the cross and the prayer that flowed from those emotions, I wonder about another occasion when Jesus was facing a transition.

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Did Jesus have an emotional response before he “met” Mary — before his transition from heaven to Mary’s womb? Did Jesus talk to God about that transition?

I know about the emotions of Jesus in the hours before the cross. I know the words Jesus spoke in conversation with His Father.

I wonder about the emotions of Jesus in the hours before the conception. I would love to know of any words spoken in conversation to God.

Based on what you know of God…

What emotions do you think Jesus felt prior to “emptying Himself” and taking on flesh?

Do you think Jesus talked over this transition with God?

What would that conversation have been like?

**Thanks to Scott and Jack for sparking my imagination in pondering our great God.

From Self to God

“I’m gonna pray now; anyone want anything?” –Flip Wilson

Prayer can be self-centered or God-centered. We can offer self-serving prayers to God or we can offer self-emptying prayers to God. In fact, most if not all “religious acts” can be about either God or me. To a crowd on a mountainside, Jesus pointed out that fasting, prayer, or giving to the poor can become methods of receiving honor from people rather than ways of giving honor to God.

Comments made on the hurried drive from church to our favorite place for Sunday lunch can betray our self-focused attitude toward worship: “I just didn’t get much out of worship.” “People just weren’t friendly to me.” “Why did she feel like she had to ask for everyone to pray?”

Words that on the surface appear to be prayer addressed to God can be more about the self-absorbed speaker than the self-sacrificing God in heaven. “Give me, God…give me, give me, give me!”  God becomes a vending machine, insert the right configuration of words and whatever you want falls into your hands.

Prayer can be self-congratulatory: “The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income’” (Luke 18:11-12 NLT). 

Or prayer can reveal a healthy self-awareness. “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner’” (Luke 18:13 NLT).

Moving from self-centered prayer to God-centered prayer does not mean we stop asking God for blessings, but it may mean a renewed understanding of what blessings we should seek. Flip Wilson’s one-liner makes us laugh because we know our tendency is to ask for “blessings” that will make us happy and comfortable rather than seeking God.

Often I find myself drawn back to the prayers of God’s people in scripture. When I overhear the conversations with God that these men and women of  God were having, it helps me re-orient my prayers from self to God. One example on my heart this morning is Paul’s intercessory prayer for the church at Philippi. “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11).

I wonder how Flip would have reacted if someone responded to his question by saying, “Yeah, I’ll take some wisdom, discernment, and purity.”

A Prayer for My Children

Paul’s prayer for the Philippians (1:3-11) is a beautiful passage revealing the heart of Paul’s prayers for a church with whom he was so very close. Since the birth of my first child in 1984 it has served as a model prayer for me as I pray for those to whom I am closest.

Thanksgiving for the memories. When I lift up my children, I do so with thanksgiving. This does not mean that everything has always gone great. Like any father, I have experienced a lot of ups and downs as I raised my children. But even in the times when something has gone wrong or I was stressed about something happening in the life of my children, I tried to spend time thanking God for them. In fact, I have found when I have been the most aggravated as a parent, going to God with thanksgiving can be a great way to lower the aggravation factor. Recalling the times when things were good. Re-living the times when we worshiped and prayed together. Remembering the times when God was faithful to bring about good even through trouble.

Confidence in the future. Paul was confident God was going to keep working on the Christians at Philippi. They were not the finished product, but God was going to see them through to the end. Through the years I have prayed, acknowledging the faithfulness of God to continue working in the lives of my children. They are not the finished product. God will see them through to the end. It is easy as a parent to grow discouraged when our children don’t learn something the first time we tell them. Sometimes the lessons they are slow to learn are the same ones we still haven’t learned after 20 or 30 years. God is not finished with us or them. God is faithful. So we pray with confidence in the future. Confidence in God. Confidence in our children. Confidence in what God is doing with our children.

Sharing God’s grace. God’s grace is what saves us and sustains us in our walk with God. Paul writes of sharing God’s grace with the Philippians. Likewise, we need to share God’s grace with our family. It’s easy to have one standard for my children to live up to and another very different standard for me. Truth is, we all are dependent on God’s grace. I need to be ready to share it with my children, because they are, after all going to sin, just like I do. God pours His grace out on me. God pours His grace out on my children, too. I need to share, not holding them to some standard of perfection that I could never keep. I pray for God to pour out His grace on my children, that they may know Him more fully.

More and more love. When praying for our children it is easy to get caught up in praying exclusively for material or physical desires. There is nothing wrong with praying about our child’s physical illness or for a job opportunity, but how much more valuable is it to pray for spiritual growth. “God, help my son love more and more. Father, help my daughter to abound in love. Help them to love You with all their hearts. Help them to love people with complete sincerity.”

Knowledge, insight, and discernment. Paul prayed for the Philippians to know God. We need to pray the same prayer for our children. Praying that they will come to know God. That they will grow to know Him more through every year of their lives. Praying that their knowledge of God will determine their worldview, giving them insights into all the challenges they face. When my children were young I watched them with a close and careful eye. But as they grew older I relinquished my control and turned it over to them. Especially during those years of transitioning control did I pray for them to have discernment. Discernment to know right from wrong was the prayer in the earlier years. Later it became a prayer for them to discern good, better, and best in their choices.

Pure, blameless, and fruitful. Paul’s prayer for the Christians at Philippi to be pure, blameless, while bearing the fruit of righteousness is a most timely prayer for our children, with all the challenges to purity they will face. But we need to understand praying for your child to glorify God can sometimes be a dangerous prayer. Sometimes the greatest glory comes only through struggle, problems, and pain. Do we really believe that when we are at our weakest that is the precise moment we are at our strongest? Are we ready for this prayer to be answered with our child with faith facing a tremendous challenge? Are we ready for this prayer to be answered with our child at a mission point 4,000 miles away in some remote location? Our prayers for our children need to be God-focused. Too often we pray for earthly success. Any pagan can desire that. But a Christian parent prays for matters of vital importance, like purity and righteousness.

Until the day of Christ. As a father, I tried to begin my parenting with the end in mind, always trying to think long-term about what I was doing. I pictured the end, the goal of my parenting, to set free my young adult children as responsible people and faithful Christians. Then I worked back in time, thinking, how is what I am doing as a father preparing them for the day I will release them? Is this preparing them for the day they will no longer be dependent on me? Is this preparing them to live out their faith in God? And yet, in reality, my best long-range plan was short-sighted. As Paul prayed for the Philippians walk with God “until the day of Christ,” so should we pray for our children. My children are both out of the house now. One is even “off the parental payroll.” And yet my prayers have not stopped, because as a father, I want more than anything for them to be ready when Jesus comes.

As Paul prayed for those he loved in Philippi, so we can pray for those we love in our household.

Sharing God’s Grace

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me” (Philippians 1:3-7 ).

While I’m not a big dessert eater, I recently shared a piece of cake with my wife. Have you ever done that? You divide it up, cutting it in half. In this case we were not that careful in dividing up the portions. This particular piece of cake was so big there was plenty for both of us and then some.

Had the serving of cake been smaller, I might have gone to great lengths measuring to make sure I got my half of the cake and not a crumb less. But there was so much cake we both knew there was no way we could eat it all. We shared. Plenty for me. Plenty for her.

God generously pours out His grace on us and when He does, I devour it. And I have noticed that you do, too. Sometimes I think you consume it with little regard for me and my portion. In fact, sometimes I wonder if you don’t get more than your share.

Other times I leave little for you and I let you know it. I devour grace, every tasty morsel, but I have none for you. My sins are covered, all of them – my sloppy discipleship, my mixed motives, my harsh words, my vengeful spirit, and my holier-than-thou attitude. But you? Forget it! There’s no grace left for your lustful heart, your confused doctrine, your impure worship, your empty promises, or your smart remarks.

We forget the blood of Jesus serves up more grace than we could ever consume. And when we forget that, we work hard to measure it out. We mark off our portion. We consume. Yet we deny others what we have wolfed down. And so we point fingers, throw insults, apply labels, call names, broadcast suspicions, and assign destinies.

When we pause long enough to remember the blood of Jesus, we realize there is enough grace to go around. Plenty for me. Plenty for you. And that changes everything about us. Suddenly you bring me joy instead of rivalry. Our memories evoke thankfulness rather than resentment. We experience partnership instead of competition. I consider you with confidence in God’s continuing work rather than disgust and judgment for your shortcomings. You are in my heart instead of on my nerves. Sharing God’s grace means recognizing we share our basic sinfulness and our divine salvation.

Whatever happens, can we at least share God’s grace?