RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- Dear Lord: Thank You for bearing with us for another year. Your mercy never ceases to amaze.
For those who continue to believe that human nature must be improved by effort and good intentions -- rather than redeemed by Your grace -- 2012 has been another case study in failure.
Given the choice between peace and violence, traditional enemies continue to fight. "New" hostilities that burst upon international awareness, such as the blood feud between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, are actually centuries old. Other hatreds persist with depressing reliability.
With few exceptions, nations still seek their own interests first and last, which is what nations have done throughout history. If others benefit, it's often a happy accident, not a policy. Allies typically help each other because it is expedient, not because they love each other -- or You.
Nations act like people: Our individual lives follow the same pattern of self-interest and indifference toward others. We tend to look out for ourselves and our families -- and the devil take the rest (he is only too happy to oblige). All have gone their own way. None has sought after You. No, not even one.
In a land of riches, we, Your children, mostly seek our own desires. Once we obtain them, we call them Your blessings. We say we will use them to bless others, but we usually spend them on ourselves.
Is it Your will that we live in big houses and drive around in fancy cars, even as billions live and die in poverty? We've become experts in rationalizing it. Do You really desire the construction of a thousand more castle-like sanctuaries in America when entire people groups have never heard the name of Jesus?
And yet You remain faithful.
Where we hate, You love. Where we are indifferent, You are passionately concerned, even for those who worship other gods or no god. Just as You showed compassion for the 120,000 wicked Ninevites Jonah disdained, who didn't "know the difference between their right and left hand" (Jonah 4:11), You care today for the many peoples who will repent -- if only we will tell them You are the way to salvation.
Thank You that You are the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Have mercy upon us once again. Make our hearts like Yours. Teach us to be like You. Teach us to seek You first, not Your gifts and blessings. You are divinely jealous, Father. As Brother Lawrence said, You won't allow a soul that is searching for You to be comforted by anything other than You.
Long ago, Thomas a Kempis warned in "The Imitation of Christ": "He who seeks any other thing in religion than God alone and the salvation of his soul will find nothing but trouble and sorrow. He will not remain there long in peace and quiet who does not labor to be the least, and subject to all."
How strange such words sound to us -- almost as strange as the words of Christians in other lands who not only expect but welcome persecutions. We know we are not worthy of such brothers and sisters, Lord. Make us worthy, somehow, to share their sufferings, if only through the great privilege of praying for them.
As David sang in Psalm 16, You are our portion, Lord. We have no good thing besides You. In Your presence is fullness of joy, and in Your right hand are pleasures forever. Teach us in the coming year to be thankful for Your blessings but to lay aside once and for all the notion that they are a substitute for You.
Teach us to bless You, Father. Teach us to praise You, to lift Your name among all the nations. For You are all in all!
Erich Bridges is a senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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