George Washington Carver once said, “I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station through which God speaks to us every hour, if only we would tune in.” So much of the time I barely take notice of the glory of God’s creation around me, and if I do notice it I fail to recognize it as his handiwork and his expression of love to us. Yet Carver is right. If we will look around and listen, if we will tune in, we will hear God shouting his love and goodness to us. Like Francois Fenelon I should pray “Help me to see You everywhere.”
“Hey, Rick, what would you like me to pray for you?” Christians ask one another some form of that question all the time. As is true of all of us my personal answer to it will vary with my circumstances. But there are some things I desire that people pray for me no matter what my circumstances. Some of these are things that have to do with the role I play as the pastor of a church. They are not related to the ups and downs of life. Rather these are things I need consistently because they have to do with consistency. They are things that need to always be true in my life no matter what may be happening. In fact, I would say these are things we should be praying for any pastor. Actually most of these are things I would pray for any Christian. If anyone has ever wondered what Rick Myatt wishes people would pray for a pastor, here are some of the main requests.
Poet John Whittier said, “Before me, even as behind, God is, and all is well.” That statement reminds me of the disciples panicking in a boat they thought was sinking. But Jesus was with them, so all was well. In these troubled times I occasionally feel fear creeping in. What a difference it makes when I remember that Jesus is with me. God goes before me and behind me, so all is well. The world may be full of tumult, but he who calms the storm still rules.
In 1932 Yale law professor Edwin Borchard published a book entitled Convicting The Innocent: Sixty-Five Actual Errors of Criminal Justice. As the title suggests it was about cases of wrongful conviction that he had discovered in the criminal justice system. In eight of the cases the defendants were convicted of murder and put in jail even though the supposed victims turned up later very much alive. The fact that the victim wasn’t dead would seem to provide incontrovertible evidence that the defendant had not, in fact, committed murder. Yet one prosecutor said to Borchard, “Innocent men are never convicted. Don’t worry about it. It never happens…It is a physical impossibility.”
How is it possible that someone would insist a person was guilty of murder when the individual he supposedly killed is actually alive? It is difficult to believe that such a thing could happen but it does, and the mechanism behind such insistence is way more common than we would probably like to believe. In fact, it is hard at work in all of us. I recently read a book entitled Mistakes Were Made (but not by me). It was written by social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. The premise of the book is that self-justification is pervasive in the human race, and it is ultimately what is behind the kind of intransigence that occurred in the cases cited by Edwin Borchard.
Andrew Murray was a South African pastor in the 19th century. He once wrote, “Faith expects from God what is beyond all expectation.” What a challenging description of faith! That’s a thought that can be abused, for it can be twisted to mean I should continually expect God to do the supernatural and do so at my command. That is certainly not what Murray meant. But his statement stands as a challenge to me to believe that what Jesus said is true, with God all things are possible. How little we expect God to do that which is beyond expectation.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work in us, to him be glory in all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21).
Pixar’s movie The Incredibles stirred up a little philosophical debate when it was released back in 2004. The animated feature told the story of the family of Bob and Helen Parr and their children. At one time Bob had been a superhero called Mr. Incredible. Helen, known as “Elastigirl,” was also endowed with superpowers. They were part of a pantheon of superheroes who fought crime and rescued people from perilous situations. However, at one point Bob rescued a man who was on the verge of attempting suicide. This individual, seeing an opportunity for gain, sued Mr. Incredible, claiming emotional damage because he kept the man from being successful in his suicide attempt, causing him to continue to suffer. This led to a deluge of lawsuits against superheroes for “wrongful rescue.” At the same time a wave of resentment against them hit. Society wanted to preach the message that “everyone is special,” and superheroes were an affront to that message. The very specialness of the superheroes felt like a reproach to mediocre people who wanted to see themselves as special.
The result of the backlash was that the superheroes began to shirk the limelight and fade from view. The Incredibles joined the government’s Superhero Relocation Program. They were placed in soul-deadening jobs and moved to a suburban community where they attempted to blend in with their neighbors. Most of all they tried to hide any hint that there might be something different about them. In the end Mr. Incredible couldn’t take it and began to surreptitiously perform acts of heroism, trying to hide his activity from everyone, including his family. He was discovered and problems burst into the life of the family, threatening to tear them apart. Only as the family pulled together and once again began using their superpowers were they able to save the situation.
Last week John Stott, internationally known pastor and author and a true man of God, left this world to live in the presence of the Lord he knew and represented so well. It seems appropriate to honor him by recalling some of his words. He said, “We should not ask, ‘What is wrong with the world?’ for that diagnosis has already been given. Rather, we should ask, ‘What has happened to the salt and light?’”
So often Christians fret about the condition of the world and get focused on trying to change it. Stott reminds me that we already know why the world is the way it is and should be neither surprised by it nor fearful because of it. We live in a fallen world ruled by the “god of this age,” so we should expect it to be in rebellion against God and in chaos. Our focus should be on being salt and light in the midst of the darkness, and praying for all in the church to do the same.
The San Diego Padres caused me to reflect on the nature of happiness in life. I know there are many people who are not fully cognizant of the effects of the idiotic inequity that characterizes major league baseball. What a stupid system baseball has. Unlike the highly successful National Football League that has a revenue sharing system that guarantees equity in the league, in baseball there are teams like the Yankees and Red Sox that are bloated with money and there are teams like the Padres, whose bank account apparently bears a striking resemblance to that of a starving artist. This causes an absurdly unbalanced playing field because the wealthy teams can afford the best players while those like the Padres often end up looking suspiciously like a minor league team.
At the end of July there is a deadline for trading players between major league teams. Every year in the middle of the season teams like the Padres that have no hope of competing for the championship end up trading away the few valuable players they have in July to contending teams. They usually get “prospects” in return. Prospects are inexpensive minor league players who show some promise. Teams trade for them in hopes that several years from now they might fulfill that promise and become bona fide major league players that the team can then trade away in July when it is once again mired in last place.