In 1965, Jimmy Stewart starred in the Civil War era film Shenandoah. In the movie, Stewart plays widower, Charlie Anderson, a poor farmer in the Commonwealth of Virginia left to raise his seven children alone.
The movie keenly portrays Anderson’s love/hate relationship with God. At the family dinner table every evening, he prays:
“Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it and harvested it. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be eating it if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for the food we’re about to eat. Amen.”
Is that what your dinner prayers sound like? I’m guessing not. As Christians, we usually say the right things. We thank God for the food we eat. We sing at church, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” We tell our neighbors and friends how good God has been to us.
But then at the end of the day, we look at our homes, our trucks, our campers and our fishing boats and think, “Look what I’ve accomplished. I’ve worked hard for everything I’ve got. I earned it.”
As Americans we take pride in the good ole American work ethic. We admire those who pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
But did you know that is a physical impossibility? Nobody can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Try it sometime. Sit on the floor, put on your shoes and then try to pull yourself up using only your shoestrings.
In the room where I change on Sunday mornings, a prayer hangs on the wall. It begins with the words:
“Lord God, you have appointed me as a bishop and pastor in your Church, but you see how unsuited I am to meet such a great and difficult a task. Without your help, I would have ruined it all long ago.”
Who gave you your mind, your hands, your talents and abilities? Who allowed you to be born in this land of opportunity? Do you really think the reason we have so much in this country is because we are somehow better, smarter or harder working than the people in third world countries?
Everything we have and everything we are is a gift of God’s grace. If it were left up to us, we would have ruined it long ago. We don’t deserve what we have. In fact, there is only one thing any of us deserves.
We deserve hell.
We deserve God’s eternal anger for our pride and materialism, our lust and drunkenness, our selfishness and doubt.
Yet, in his amazing grace, God came to this earth as a man and that man suffered God’s punishment for every mistake we’ve ever made. Jesus paid for our sins. Jesus won heaven for us. We say those words so easily as Christians, but then so often we add a but.
But I chose him. I invited him into my heart. I did my part.
But I still have to be a good person to go to heaven. I have to give my offerings. I have to make up for the bad I’ve done. I have to earn it.
That’s just another form of Jimmy Stewart’s prayer. Everything we have and everything we are is a gift of God’s grace which we haven’t earned or deserve. Everything we do now is simply our response – our thank you – for the forgiveness and heaven Jesus won for us and all the other blessings God generously showers on us every day.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.