Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it.
This adage is most often applied to wishes, but I think it works just as well for prayers. And I became a walking illustration of this piece of cautionary wisdom earlier this week.
I was on my way to work, praying my usual morning prayers – one of which goes something like this: “I pray for Christendom, Lord – for your whole church, all over the world. I pray for apostles, prophets and martyrs, and for bishops, priests and deacons – and for insight and discernment on which one (or ones) of these you want me to be, if any.”
Then, as often happens, my focus drifted and I began to think about things other than the prayer at hand. For no apparent (at the time) reason, my thoughts landed on John 21:18-19 – “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
These verses often give me goosebumps – and not the good goosebumps of epiphany, exactly. Not the freaked out chills I get when I watch a horror movie, either, but maybe somewhere inbetween.
I’ve never really understood why this passage affects me this way, but this week I wondered if God might have given me an indication: I think He might want me to be a martyr.
And I gotta tell you – that wasn’t the revelation I was hoping for.
I’ve been wondering for a while if God might have set me apart for a special purpose (Delusions of grandeur much, Baldy?) – maybe a priest or a deacon; maybe a prophet or apostle (whatever these words mean in a 21st-Century context), and I’m eager to find out what. So while I pray for the folks who wear these six hats in our world today, I often tack on a prayer for myself – not bothering to omit the very unlikely (bishop) or the very unpalatable (martyr), because God knows what I really mean.
He sure does.
Better than I do.
Now, I have no real reason to think this ‘epiphany’ is anything more than un-wishful thinking, of course. It could be more of gravy than of grave (to misquote Ebenezer Scrooge), for all I know.
But supposing it is ‘real,’ what am I supposed to do with it? If I knew that the priesthood was in my path, I could enrol in a seminary. But there’s no Martyr College, as far as I know (If there were, I bet they’d insist on being paid tuition fees upfront).
What, exactly, does a martyr in the making look like?
Do I go around looking for a fight, just so I can lose? Do I visit anti-Christian countries and double-dog-dare the local infidels to torture and murder me? Probably not.
The best example of what a martyr in the making looks like is, of course, Jesus prior to Good Friday. But what does that mean in a 21st-Century context? And while the WWJD philosophy is a good one in most cases, we’re not all here to die on a cross at age 33 for the sins of the whole world. Jesus’ unique role in history required that he live like a man with a death wish, and I don’t think we’re called to go and do likewise.
So where does that leave me? Dunno.
But before I break out the jackhammer to start tunnelling through this apparent dead end, perhaps a re-think is in order. Maybe I’m being too literal here.
Did God drop a hint that He might need me to physically die for Him someday? Or was He reminding me that I need to spiritually die to myself, every day? Perhaps this encounter was a reminder that I’m falling short of being a Living Martyr in the here and now.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” the Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20. “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Hmm, doesn’t sound that familiar, actually. But it sounds like it should sound familiar.
I think that’s the standard we’re all supposed to strive toward. (I have my doubts that Paul fully achieved this, 24-7, by the way – but he definitely came a lot closer than I do.)
In Christ, we can be born again, and I count myself in that club (as I said in my Moment post last fall). But can we truly claim to be be born again if haven’t died to our old ‘selves?’
Thankfully, God doesn’t seem to be tied down by earthly chronology here – Death to Self doesn’t have to happen before we’re Born Again, and it doesn’t have to happen all at once. These death throes literally last an entire lifetime for absolutely all of us (except Jesus).
But that doesn’t give us the right to resist the transition – and I think that’s what I’ve been doing lately (perhaps even more than usual), without fully realizing it. So maybe God was using hyperbole to make a point. He does that sometimes, you know…
In the Parable of the Tenants (Mark 12:1-12), Jesus tells a thinly-veiled allegory of how people rejected God’s prophets, one by one, and then predicted accurately what would happen to his Son (they’d kill him). The vineyard owner’s response? “He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” As my pastor pointed out recently, that’s exactly what God is entitled to do to His children who reject Him – and it’s exactly the opposite of what He chose, and still chooses, to do.
Maybe by bringing John 21:18-19 to my attention this week, God was pointing out that He’s entitled to demand that I die for Him – but all he’s chosen to ask is that I live for Him.
Either way, I’m pretty sure there’s no better way to prepare oneself for potential physical martyrdom someday than to fully embrace living martyrdom today.
Peace be with you.