Great Expectations

Today is the National Day of Prayer, and all across America, people are gathering to pray. The centerpiece of the prayer meetings is an all-day prayer vigil in the Congress at which I, among others, will speak. Visiting the Capital is a reminder that our nation, great as it is, has experienced a long moral slide. But the Capital is also a reminder of our faith in our ability to solve our problems with grandiose political intervention. In that spirit, many of us will ask God to bring revival to our land and clean up the moral mess, all at once. What could be better than to wake up tomorrow to discover that God had fixed everything--that he'd arranged for peace between rival gangs, for marriages to be reconciled, and for racial unity to occur? But these great expectations miss the larger point: We want everyone else to be changed. And we often forget the primary task, which is renewing ourselves. In the Old Testament, we read that after Nehemiah rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem the inhabitants settled in and began acting a lot like--well, like modern-day Americans. Instead of following God's law, they did pretty much what they felt like. When Nehemiah returned to the city he demanded that its residents clean up their act. But he also prayed a remarkable prayer. Nehemiah implored: "Remember me . . . O my God and show mercy to me according to your great love." Now, why did Nehemiah ask mercy for himself? He hadn't broken God's law. The answer is both simple and profound. Nehemiah recognized that before you try to change the world, you'd better be right with God yourself. I encountered this truth very dramatically last fall in Spain. Some Christians had built a halfway house on a dusty plain south of Madrid for people being released from prison who had no home. I was invited to speak to the former inmates. When I arrived, I was struck by the smiles of the volunteers who lived there. But I was shocked at the sight of the 35 hollow-eyed former prisoners. Every single one was dying of AIDS. Now, I've given speeches all over the world. I'm comfortable giving my testimony and an apologetic defense of the existence of God. That day, I gave every argument I've ever used, whether in prisons or parliaments. Nothing happened. I ended my address feeling I'd been a total failure. Afterward, a volunteer told me, "You preached a wonderful message, Mr. Colson, but it didn't get through to them. You see, they have to see Christ's love lived out in us." This volunteer, like the others, mingled freely with the prisoners, eating with them, caring for them, raising their children. And they did it joyously. Who was changed that night on the dusty Madrid plain? It wasn't the dying residents. It was me. Today, even secular therapists recognize that one way to combat depression is to guide the patient into helping others. In the same vein, Christ tells us to remove the beam from our own eye before attending the speck in the eye of a neighbor. And that's what we ought to remember this day, the National Day of Prayer. Instead of offering up those great cosmic petitions that God would clean up our government and solve our moral problems, maybe we should pray the prayer of Nehemiah: "Remember me . . .O my God, and show mercy to me."  


Chuck Colson


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