Careful What You Pray For

The other night as I lay in bed drifting off to sleep, I prayed for God to give me patience and peace – two things I had lacked in my interactions with other people that day. It seemed like a good thing to pray for: the development of a couple of the fruits of the Spirit in my life.

The next morning, as I was getting ready to go to work, I began getting frustrated at every little thing that was going wrong. I couldn’t find any pants to wear. My shirts all had buttons missing. I stood at my closet (“suffering” from first world problems, to be sure) getting annoyed for longer than I needed to or should have. Then I didn’t have time to eat breakfast. More importantly, I didn’t have time to make coffee. Then I got in my truck and noticed the low fuel light was on. Great. Then I started my morning job of delivering papers around campus and got stuck behind a makeshift snowplow going about 5 miles an hour. Then a couple of the buildings that were supposed to be unlocked weren’t.

I was in a foul mood after all of this, until finally it dawned on me. It was as if in one moment of clarity, God said, “Well, you prayed for peace and patience.”

I sure did. And God was giving me ample opportunity to develop both that morning. I couldn’t help but take a deep breath and smile at that point.

I realized something right then: I didn’t really want patience or peace. All I wanted was an easy life. I didn’t really want to be able to deal with misbehaving kids in calm, loving and grace-filled ways — I just wanted them to stop misbehaving. I didn’t really want to be patient when things didn’t progress as quickly as I would have liked – I just wanted thing to happen on my schedule. I didn’t really want to be peaceful in the midst of chaotic visits to restaurants with friends and their kids – I just wanted silence. False peace.

I was processing all of that this morning, and God took my thoughts to a well-known Jesus story. I think it is interesting what happens when we find Jesus sleeping (sleeping!) on a boat with his disciples in the middle of a raging storm. The disciples wake him up in a frantic panic, and he says two things: “Peace. Be still.”

What I find interesting about that story is the order in which Jesus says them. First, to his disciples, he says, “Peace!” (Some translations have it as, “Quiet!”) Then, he turns to the waves and says, “Be still.”

Not “Be still!” and then “Peace.” The peace comes first, while the waves are still crashing around the boat. While the kids are still being kids and misbehaving. While the snowplow is still making you late. While things aren’t happening according to how you planned them. That’s where peace and patience are developed and displayed.

And then, the waves are commanded to be still.

As I think back over yesterday morning, I have to smile now when I see what God was up to. I wonder, if I would have known how that morning was going to go, would I have prayed for patience and peace the night before? I hope so. And I pray that I have more chances to develop that fruit in my life now.

Of Peace, War, Victory, and Donkeys

Palmezel met Christus, Zuid-Duitsland, 1ste helft 14de eeuwphoto © 2009 André | more info (via: Wylio)
Next Sunday starts the Christian holy week, the period in the church calendar that commemorates Jesus’ final week here on earth before he is executed and then resurrected. That week begins with Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, an event that has beautiful significance which is easy to overlook.

First of all, it is interesting that Jesus even chooses to enter Jerusalem in such a public way at all. His ministry has been marked by miraculous healings where he tells the recipients to not say anything to anyone. He has told his disciples several times over the past couple of years that it was “not yet his time”. He preferred doing ministry in Galilee, out of the religious spotlight of Jerusalem and Judea as much as possible.

But when we get to holy week, when we get to Palm Sunday, we find Jesus fully understanding what is about to happen. It is his time now. And so he resolutely sets off toward Jerusalem, along with the rest of Israel, for the Passover feast. Jesus is about to become the once-for-all Passover sacrifice and bring exodus from the oppression of worldly kingdoms.

When they reach the outskirts of town, Jesus stops and instructs his disciples to go into Jerusalem and bring back a donkey for him to ride into town on. This is, in part, to fulfill a Messianic prophecy from the Old Testament: “Rejoice greatly! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly, and riding on a donkey – on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

So it fulfilled prophecy. But why a donkey? Why this prophecy in the first place?

Many teachings I’ve heard and read about Palm Sunday say that riding in on a donkey (rather than, say, a horse) was quite ignoble or demeaning. It was a way of Jesus humbling himself.

It’s a nice idea, but there’s something even deeper going on here.

In that time, if a visiting king or dignitary entered a town on a horse, it was a way of them declaring violent or oppressive intentions. This was the way Emperors and generals rode into town – men who crushed dissent with their armies. Emperors who brought about the famous Pax Romana — the peace of Rome — with their violent domination.

On the flipside, if a king or dignitary rode in on a donkey, which was not uncommon, they were announcing intentions of peace.

By prophesying that the Messiah of messiahs would ride into town on a donkey, Zechariah was predicting him to be a man who would achieve a kingdom via means of peace rather than violence. And by fulfilling that prophecy, Jesus was embracing that distinction.

There was a different way to defeat the kingdoms of this world other than violence. God’s kingdom would spread through peace. Subversive, loving peace. That was the message of Palm Sunday.

And what about the palms? Laying palms before a ruler entering town was a declaration of victory. It was generally what folks did when the king or general or Emperor rode in on a horse. After a great military triumph, leaders would be honored with palm branches.

Instead, here we see palm branches being laid at the feet of a man riding in on a donkey.

Not victory through violence or war. Not victory through domination or oppression.

Victory through peace.

Victory through love.

It was a remarkable declaration that day by both Jesus and the crowds who acclaimed him. So a couple Sundays from now when you listen to the Palm Sunday stories, I encourage you to consider that deeper, richer symbolism in the narrative. Reflect on what Jesus’ kingdom is all about. Ask yourself what you can do to live out victory through peace today – because living the message of the Kingdom is what we should be about as well.

War and Peace


I am one of the 75% of Americans who think Barack Obama does not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize he accepted today. But there have been a lot of headlines and commentators today mentioning that statistic in conjunction with the fact that Barack Obama is a “wartime President” – that he is accepting the Peace Prize at the same time he is ramping up a war in Afghanistan.

This line of thinking reveals a drastic misunderstanding of what “peace” is, and so in a highly unusual move, I am going to defend President Barack Obama.

As I have written here before, peace is not simply the absence of war. Ending a military engagement does not automatically equal peace. It is a simpleton’s mindset and worldview that holds that to be the case.

Here is what, for some reason, is so difficult for some people to grasp: war does not stand opposed to peace. Sometimes, war is a means to peace.

War is a horrid thing. But sometimes, it is a necessary thing.

If President Obama had chosen to withdraw all our troops from Afghanistan rather than sending more over, peace would not have been the result. The Taliban would still be in control and growing in their oppressive power. The country would still be destabilized.

Let’s take this one step farther. Former President Bush was called a war-monger and an enemy of peace for beginning military action in Iraq – as if Iraq was at peace before the Americans declared war there! But there was no peace in Iraq, even prior to the U.S. invasion. People were murdered and intimidated and tortured by their own government. Mass graves were filled with political dissenters. There was no peace. The goal of the invasion of Iraq was to bring peace to that country – for our sake and for theirs. (The question that still remains now is: has that goal been achieved, or can it still be achieved?)

The ancient Hebrew people had one of the best definitions of peace I’ve come across. They called it shalom, and to them it meant wholeness, harmony, safety, rest. Life put back the way it was intended to be.

During this Advent season, as we wait expectantly for God’s coming to earth, we remember the words of the angels: “And on earth, peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Should we suppose that the angels’ message of peace on earth simply portends the absence of conflict?

Or, perhaps, should we recognize that conflict is the road upon which men travel towards the destination of peace?

Barack Obama doesn’t deserve his Peace Prize because he hasn’t accomplished anything yet. Who knows – by the end of his four or eight year stint as President, he may very well deserve it. Time will tell. But let’s stop saying he’s not a man of peace simply because it appears he wants to win a war.

War and Peace


I am one of the 75% of Americans who think Barack Obama does not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize he accepted today. But there have been a lot of headlines and commentators today mentioning that statistic in conjunction with the fact that Barack Obama is a “wartime President” – that he is accepting the Peace Prize at the same time he is ramping up a war in Afghanistan.

This line of thinking reveals a drastic misunderstanding of what “peace” is, and so in a highly unusual move, I am going to defend President Barack Obama.

As I have written here before, peace is not simply the absence of war. Ending a military engagement does not automatically equal peace. It is a simpleton’s mindset and worldview that holds that to be the case.

Here is what, for some reason, is so difficult for some people to grasp: war does not stand opposed to peace. Sometimes, war is a means to peace.

War is a horrid thing. But sometimes, it is a necessary thing.

If President Obama had chosen to withdraw all our troops from Afghanistan rather than sending more over, peace would not have been the result. The Taliban would still be in control and growing in their oppressive power. The country would still be destabilized.

Let’s take this one step farther. Former President Bush was called a war-monger and an enemy of peace for beginning military action in Iraq – as if Iraq was at peace before the Americans declared war there! But there was no peace in Iraq, even prior to the U.S. invasion. People were murdered and intimidated and tortured by their own government. Mass graves were filled with political dissenters. There was no peace. The goal of the invasion of Iraq was to bring peace to that country – for our sake and for theirs. (The question that still remains now is: has that goal been achieved, or can it still be achieved?)

The ancient Hebrew people had one of the best definitions of peace I’ve come across. They called it shalom, and to them it meant wholeness, harmony, safety, rest. Life put back the way it was intended to be.

During this Advent season, as we wait expectantly for God’s coming to earth, we remember the words of the angels: “And on earth, peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Should we suppose that the angels’ message of peace on earth simply portends the absence of conflict?

Or, perhaps, should we recognize that conflict is the road upon which men travel towards the destination of peace?

Barack Obama doesn’t deserve his Peace Prize because he hasn’t accomplished anything yet. Who knows – by the end of his four or eight year stint as President, he may very well deserve it. Time will tell. But let’s stop saying he’s not a man of peace simply because it appears he wants to win a war.