In Memoriam

I hadn’t heard of Jo Cox MP until she died on 16 June 2016, but from her dying day until my own, I’ll never forget her.

There are two reasons why I’ll remember her. One is the brutal nature of her murder at the hands of a xenophobic far-right extremist. The other is her quote from a parliamentary speech, which was repeated often in the aftermath of her death.

…we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.

She was far from the first person to express such sentiments, but a special poignancy has been added to her words by the way her life was stolen, and those words have been running through my mind recently, triggering two thoughts that I want to share with you.

First, there is the simple, profound truth of what Jo said. How many of us can say that we’ve never made a negative judgement about someone based on a perceived difference between “us” and “them”? Whether that difference is in their race, gender, religion, sexuality, politics, mental or physical impairment, or anything else – yes there are many differences between us and them, and between you and me. Yet if we looked more deeply into our common humanity, looked with different eyes at the “other”, if we thought about the story of their life, the comedy and the tragedy in their history, the same needs, the same concerns, the same hopes and fears that drive them, and also drive us… if we could only see them as God sees them, we would surely discover love for them. I have some way to go in this area. I know I have my own prejudices. They may be different to yours, but that doesn’t make me any better or worse than you. It’s wrong, and it’s stupid. Prejudice belittles everyone (Galatians 3:28, Leviticus 19:33-34, 1 Samuel 16:7).

At the risk of sounding morbid, my second thought was this: how do I want to be remembered when I’m gone? I think this matters, and I think it should matter to you as well, whether or not you share my faith that death is not the end (John 11:25-26). It’s not a case of earning points toward a happier afterlife. It’s not particularly important for its own sake either – my ego isn’t going to be massaged by the kind words people speak about me when I’m dead. But it matters if the way you’re remembered is a reflection of the way you lived your life. It matters that people remember your kindness rather than your eloquence. It matters that people remember your generosity rather than your wealth. None of us are perfect, and the people who know us best will no doubt have plenty of uncomplimentary stories they could tell about us when we’re no longer around. But what matters is whether they will want to share those stories, or the ones that show us in our best light because they know that in our hearts we wanted to shine our best light in the world (Matthew 5:16).

Jo Cox never saw the sun on 17 June 2016, and tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us (James 4:13-14). I believe God has wonderful things in store for His children in the next life, but that doesn’t make this life any less precious, or any less important, so while we’re living it let’s give the world something beautiful to remember us by.


You might be interested in visiting the website of the Jo Cox Foundation: https://www.jocoxfoundation.org/

 

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The Power and Purpose of Prayer

The primary purpose of prayer is not to persuade God to act on your – or somebody else’s – behalf. God has things pretty well sussed, His plans are made, and He’s not in the habit of changing His mind (Isaiah 46:10-11, Numbers 23:19).

No, the primary purpose of prayer is to change you – to move you to compassion, to transform your mind, to open your eyes to the direction where He is leading you, to align you with His will.

Consider a line from arguably the most famous prayer in the world, a line that is included in countless other prayers every day.

“Your will be done.” – Matthew 6:9-10

Often phrased as “Lord, have Your way,” this prayer was spoken by Jesus not only in the Sermon on the Mount, but also in Gethsemane as he contemplated his coming crucifixion (Matthew 26:39). And what Christ did next tells you everything about the purpose of prayer – He acted on it.

What do you imagine it means to God when you ask Him that His will should be done? Do you think it might prompt Him, stir Him into action thinking “I’m glad you reminded Me!” Of course not. As your prayer is directed to God, so He reflects it back to you in a perfected form, and if your heart is really open to Him then you receive that reflection, you recognise it as His response, and you understand how He is directing you to act. This is the power of prayer – it actually connects you to God’s will.

If you ask the question “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?” then you’re likely to hear several standard answers. Among them are selfish motives, unrepentant sin, unbelief and hypocrisy (James 4:3, Psalm 34:15-16, Proverbs 28:13). At the root of all these issues is pride. Pride blinds us to God’s reflection of our prayer, and we refuse to acknowledge our part in the responsibility for doing His will.

Sometimes our part is very small, but that doesn’t make it insignificant – “For want of a nail…

And sometimes of course the only thing we can actually do is pray. In those circumstances, whether the answer comes through the actions of others or directly by God’s hand, and whether it comes today or years down the line, our prayers still need to change us. We need to learn to trust God, to be thankful to Him in all circumstances, to love unconditionally, and to keep our faith (Romans 8:18-39). As God reflects such prayers back to us, they come wrapped in His peace, and we gain a deeper appreciation of His sovereign power and His infinite mercy.