Yesterday in church we sang a song that starts with these words: “Take not your spirit from me” (Take Me Higher by Lincoln Brewster). My first thought was “Of course he won’t. He doesn’t ever take his Spirit from us.” Then I realized that reaction is too quick. Not wrong, exactly, just incomplete.
There are a lot of things that we pray for that we know are already given to us. We pray for forgiveness, when we know he has forgiven us already. We pray for blessing, when we know he has already poured out every blessing on us. We pray for transformation, when we know that he has said that he will complete what he has started. We pray for righteousness, when we know that we already have been credited with the righteousness of Christ.
These are not misled prayers. Prayer is not a method to bend God’s actions to our desires. We pray because we know that he is the source of life and all that is good, and nothing that we can have that is good comes from anywhere else.
We also pray because we need, and God says that we should ask. This message appears a number of times in the Gospels. For example, in Luke 11:5-13 Jesus tells a story of a persistent friend, and then says “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” Jesus is clearly saying we should ask God for what we need, and he says it in a variety of similar ways throughout the Gospels.
At the same time we know that God already knows about our every need. He has each hair of our head numbered. He knows each step we will take throughout our lives, every breath, every choice. He is already going to do what he has willed for our good. This is part of the mystery of God’s sovereignty and its interaction with our free will. Both are true. We are to ask, and he says that if we ask he will answer, and yet we know God has already determined to act for our good and knows what that will be.
Similarly, we should rest securely in the knowledge that we cannot be plucked from God’s hand, that our forgiveness and redemption is secure, that he will not take his Spirit from us, and at the same time be cognizant of the fact that we are even now saved purely by his grace. That is the message of Romans 11, where Paul points out that Israel was torn off because of their unbelief and we who were far from God were grafted in.
Then you will say, “The branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted! They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but fear! For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Notice therefore the kindness and harshness of God – harshness toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. (Romans 11:19-22 NET)
We know, of course, that we will not be cut off, that we cannot fall out of his kindness. But we should not take that for granted. The kindness we receive from him is not because of our merit, and we don’t suddenly start to deserve it on our own once he has made us clean. We don’t continue from there doing right. I add to the list of debts Christ payed on my behalf daily, and the cost of each of them is death. Each and every day Christ pours out his mercy and grace on me, and each and every day it is still as undeserved as it was at the first.
So now when I think of the words of the song “Take not your Spirit from me…” I can sing it not because I think he might, but because I come before him knowing that even now I do not deserve his Spirit. My heart is clean, it is the temple of the living God, and his Spirit dwells in me, not because I am good but because he is good. I don’t pray that because I think he might, but because I am aware that even now I am dependent on his grace.
The fear of the Lord as his child is different from the fear of one under judgement. I think that sometimes when we rest in the embrace of our Father we forget that it is still his arms that hold us there, and not ours. Like everything else that I know he has already determined to do for my good, I still will pray “Lord, don’t take your Spirit from me,” knowing that he never will, but deeply aware that it is eternally a gift out of his kindness and grace.