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CHRISTIAN LIFE IN LONDON | SEPTEMBER 2022 EDITION
A Conversation With God About Freedom And Boundaries
CURRENT COMMUNITY STORIES
God, Bless the Children Prayer Prompt September 2022
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Published March 2022


Photo by Jan Canty on Unsplash

CCNL prayer prompt for March 2022

Provided by CCNL (The Christian Churches Network of London)

Here in Ontario, February was another ‘unprecedented’ month (oh, that word again!) - a wild mix of tough issues with many new strains on our healthcare systems and businesses, escalating inflation, severe winter storms, war - add to that protests, border shutdowns and growing divides. We are grateful God that in Canada, there were not violent outcomes during recent unsettled days.

We do pray for the people of Ukraine in the coming month as they face uncertainty, fear and much chaos, and for the many pro-Ukrainian Canadians who may still have family members in that area under threat and duress.

Freedom – it was the "elephant" on the table concern over this past month that we cannot and should not ignore. There are many differing views of what freedom means or looks like. Our Creator God intentionally designed us with an ability to make choices as free moral agents from our very first breath. Why? We don’t know. Limits were woven into the fabric of each part of creation including humankind, with an astounding invitation to flourish within those limits… limits on the sun to rule the day, the moon to rule the night, planets that could not just choose to go anywhere as they had orbits.

In Genesis, when He created a paradise full of everything needed by humans, the only clear restriction given to humankind was to not eat of that one tree – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Accountability and consequences were also wise gifts built into creation from a loving Creator. But the result of breaking that sole limitation continued, not just for the first woman and man, but for all succeeding generations. However, God did not discard us, nor recreate us, nor take back the freedom of choice, even when it was misused. Instead, he provided an answer in Jesus. One of Satan’s most effective lies was that God was withholding a good life from people, a life without any limits - and Satan is still telling that lie today.

Our personal understanding of freedom changes over time. A toddler may feel quite free, exerting their expanding independence by experimenting with the power of a loud “Nooooo!” Elementary school kids might think ecstatically of freedom like an unexpected snow day off from school – at least they used to think that way! Teenagers still have a perennial symbol of freedom - “I have a driver’s license, free at last!”

Even as adults, our inner voices may whisper to us about freedoms, wistfully longing for a sense of greater autonomy – no obligations, no pressing timelines, no demands, or constraints – maybe a vacation, a day alone, a mortgage paid off, or a chance to be our own boss. As we age into adult life, we gradually learn what a privilege freedom is, coupled with appreciation of boundaries around our physical, emotional, financial, intellectual, relational, and spiritual health and well-being, all in order to protect ourselves and others. But being a grown-up is hard to do. Those inner voices still may at times whisper “Nobody has the right to tell me what to do”, “No one ever listens to me”, “What I want comes first!”. These voices can leave us depleted and dissatisfied with life and faith, and often angrier at others. It has become a confusing, chaotic, often bitter discussion about freedoms - fear, rights, personal truths, past hurts, religion, privilege, laws, and inequalities all lumped together.

We certainly have witnessed that noisy inner child growing more insistent in recent days and months when under greater stress within families, churches, governments, workplaces, communities … and maybe even within ourselves.

Today, let’s pause to compassionately and humbly consider that far too many adults and children in London still do not experience many of the basic freedoms of daily choices due to poverty, injustices, racism, physical or mental health. We also acknowledge that both throughout history and in present day, thousands globally still struggle for just the simplest of survival freedoms. The emerging war in Ukraine soberly reminds us of what happens when freedoms are taken away by armed conflicts and how thankful we need to be for democracy, however broken it sometimes may feel.

Throughout March, let’s make this prayer an interactive, intimate conversation with the living God (because that’s what prayer truly is) about freedom and boundaries – the two go hand in hand. We invite God to respond, to be present with us and in us with insight from His Spirit and from His words recorded in scripture. If you are praying with another person, perhaps you want to take turns reading God’s comments from the Bible about freedom out loud.

We chose to use The Message Bible version as it lends itself to the conversational nature of these prayers in “everyday talk”. Many of our current freedom concerns reflect amazing similarities to ancient people’s challenges. The Bible describes people/nations in varying degrees of captivity – whether to Egypt, to Rome, to Babylon, to religion, to inner sinfulness, to bad kings and leaders …the list is long. We encourage you to think too about our responses, expectations, perceptions of freedom locally here in London, Ontario and personally within yourself and in your sphere of influence as you talk with God.

Pause for a moment of quiet and ask Jesus to open the eyes and ears of your heart, your mind, and your life to His voice as we enter this conversation.

Lord, we admit that on some days, many of us are feeling unsettled, frazzled, confused. Unhappy down deep in our souls. Underlying anger. Bound in by daily responsibilities, expectations, unrealized hopes, nagging anxiety. There is a heaviness, a weariness in our thinking and outlook. No easy answers.

God’s response to us in scripture... “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11: 28-30) “My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by my Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in all of you that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are contrary to each other, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day” (Galatians 5: 16-18)

We’d love to live freely, God! Right now, people seem to be angry at each other, and being around irritated people gets us angry too, but anger does not produce righteousness. Not just mad about pandemic, restrictions or politics, but at governments and leaders in general, or at friends or family, or circumstances at home, in the workplace, in schools. We seem to feel free to be more demanding, quickly critical, often meaner and certainly more impatient. It is wearing us down. Some may pretend it is not happening here in Canada, to not listen to the news or look at social media or even avoid others who may hold differing opinions. But living this way is not enriching our lives or our thinking nor is it building authentic caring community.

God reminds us ever so tenderly (Galatians 5: 22-23) “But what happens when you live my way? I bring gifts into your lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. You develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. You find yourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force your way in life, able to marshal and direct your energies wisely”.

It feels sometimes like our Christian faith is being attacked, disrespected or misrepresented – unfair is the word being used. But when we pause and reflect more, we recognize it is not just the Christian faith, but that other religions feel this deeply too, now and throughout history. Churches and faith leaders are struggling, almost giving up because of such opposition from both without and within – more antagonism and conflicts that they have not been well equipped to confront and deal with. We pray for all those who lead – may they not grow discouraged. It’s hard to recognize our own personal shortcomings, combined with our growing knowledge of so many destructive choices of fellow humans, especially those that have been done in the name of religion.

God lovingly counsels us (1 Peter 2: 13-17) “Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life in your neighborhood so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives. Make the Master proud of you by being good citizens. Respect the authorities, whatever their level; they are God’s emissaries for keeping order. It is God’s will that by doing good, you might cure the ignorance of the fools who think you’re a danger to society. Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the rules. Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government”.

Words like “respect” and “dignity” seem to be lost old-fashioned words in today’s culture. What if we sincerely disagree? How can we equally respect others, and still express quite differing opinions? Please help us to keep our eyes on you Lord God, instead of on ourselves or on finding faults in others. You have given us the privilege to bring honor to your Name by how we choose to live. Help us to pursue justice daily with much integrity, increasingly aware of what may be selfish ego in us. When we are tempted to complain if we are disliked or mocked for our faith, may it be for right reasons, not because of our own sinful actions or assumed privilege - but for the purpose seeking your good in our world.

Jesus reminds us that he understands as he shares his own experiences (John 15: 18-20): “If you find the godless world is hating you, remember it got its start hating me. If you lived on the world’s terms, the world would love you as one of its own. But since I picked you to live on God’s terms and no longer on the world’s terms, the world is going to hate you. When that happens, remember this: Servants don’t get better treatment than their masters. If they beat on me, they will certainly beat on you. If they did what I told them, they will do what you tell them.”

Caring first about others is difficult, especially Lord when we’re struggling to know how to take wise care of our own lives, let alone loving our neighbor as we ought to love ourselves. We need your healing touch every day.

Listen to God’s words (in Romans 6:15-18) “So, since you’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean you can live any old way we want? Since you’re free in the freedom of God, can you do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to my ways and the freedom never quits. All your lives you’ve let sin tell you what to do. But you’ve started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom! I’m using this freedom language because it’s easy to picture. You can readily recall, can’t you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing—not caring about others, not caring about me, God—the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in my freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness”

O God, help us to understand better what this means and grasp more about the costs of living in freedom that is indeed ‘expansive in holiness’ – wow, may that be said of each of us! Expansive means spacious or sprawling godlikeness. May we enhance graciously the freedom of others too, even when there is opposition. holiness

Remind us Lord if we are feeling lonely or isolated, that we are blessed with a larger community/family of your followers, or as author Ashley Hales calls it “the goodness of gathered salt”. In early February, many Christian leaders across the country, including a group from CCNL in London, joined together online throughout the week in prayer - and celebrated the precious liberty we are given to pray freely in this country without any fear of punishment or restrictions. We prayed for the unity of Christians in Canada across denominations, race and gender, together asking you God “That we would have greater compassion, empathy and curiosity about the things that divide us, and that God would give us the ability to radically love one another, especially those who see things differently so that we can better work together for good.“ We specifically prayed for the Kingdom of God to grow and be evident in London in how we sincerely, profoundly and tangibly love one another, both Christians and those who are not, those we may align with and those we may not agree with, but who are all God’s creation.

Remind us God of that purpose because your word speaks of this same thing (Colossians 3: 13-16): “Make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives”.

Jesus himself also prays this for us (John 17:20-23): “I’m praying not only for you, but also for those who will believe in me. Because of you and your witness about me. The goal is for all of you to become one heart and mind—Just as You, Father, are in me and I in You, so you all might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that You God, in fact, sent me. The same glory you gave me, I gave to you, so you’ll be as unified and together as We are—I in you and you in me. Then you’ll be mature in this oneness and give the godless world evidence that You’ve sent me and loved you in the same way You’ve loved me.”

God, you have given us the freedom to pursue peace. May we, as St. Francis of Assisi prayed centuries ago become “instruments of your peace” because only then are we truly free. Steve Bell, a noted Canadian singer and songwriter shares this prayer in song. As these words pour out over each of us, may they become the expression of our hearts in these difficult days. Use us God for your purposes to bring true freedom to our city, our homes, our churches, and our relationships.

Peace prayer by Steve Bell
listen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MzyAp1NIR4

Lord make me a means of Your Peace
Where there's hatred grown, Let me sow Your love
Where there's injury Lord, Let forgiveness be my sword
Lord make me a means of Your Peace

Lord make me a means of Your Peace
When there's sadness here, Let me sow Your joy
When the darkness nears, May Your light dispel our fears
Lord make me a means of Your Peace

Lord grant me to seek and to share
Less to be consoled Than to help console
Less be understood Than to understand Your good
Lord make me a means of Your Peace

Lord grant me to seek and to share
To forgive in thee You've forgiven me
For to die in thee Is eternal life to me
Lord make me a means of Your Peace

Amen

Summary:
  • Pause in a moment of quiet and ask Jesus to open the eyes and ears of your heart, your mind, and your life to His voice as we enter this conversation.
  • There is a heaviness, a weariness in our thinking and outlook. No easy answers. (Matthew 11: 28-30; Galatians 5: 16-18)
  • We’d love to live freely, God! But right now, people everywhere seem to be angry at each other, and being around angry people gets us angry too. (Galatians 5: 22-23)
  • ...at times our Christian faith is being attacked or disrespected from all sides…. (1 Peter 2: 13-17)
  • Please help us to keep our eyes on you Lord God, instead of on ourselves or on the faults of others. (John 15:18-20)
  • Caring first about others is difficult, especially when we’re struggling to know how to take wise care of our own lives, let alone loving our neighbor as we ought to love ourselves. (Romans 6:15-18)
  • We pray for the Kingdom of God to grow and be evident in London in how we sincerely, profoundly and tangibly love one another, both those in the Christian faith and those not, those we may align with and those we may not agree with, but who are all God’s creation. (John 17:20-23)
  • Make us an instrument of your peace.