During the US civil war Abraham Lincoln met with a group of ministers for a prayer breakfast. Lincoln was not a church-goer but was a man of deep, if at times unorthodox, faith. At one point one of the ministers said, “Mr President, let us pray that God is on our side”. Lincoln’s response showed far greater insight, “No, gentlemen, let us pray that we are on God’s side.”
Lincoln reminded those ministers that religion is not a tool by which we get God to do what we want but an invitation to open ourselves to being and doing what God wants.
Source: this is a widely distributed anecdote found on the internet, including citation in serious studies. I have been unable to confirm its historicity
During the deepest, darkest days of apartheid when the government tried to shut down opposition by canceling a political rally, Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared that he would hold a church service instead.
St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa was filled with worshippers. Outside the cathedral hundreds of police gathered, a show of force intended to intimidate. As Tutu was preaching they entered the Cathedral, armed, and lined the walls. They took out notebooks and recorded Tutu’s words.
But Tutu would not be intimidated. He preached against the evils of apartheid, declaring it could not endure. At one extraordinary point he addressed the police directly.
You are powerful. You are very powerful, but you are not gods and I serve a God who cannot be mocked. So, since you’ve already lost, since you’ve already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!
With that the congregation erupted in dance and song.
The police didn’t know what to do. Their attempts at intimidation had failed, overcome by the archbishop’s confidence that God and goodness would triumph over evil. It was but a matter of time.
Source: reported in Jim Wallis, God’s Politics
Once upon a time there was a grand chess master who was bereft of ego and pride. He would play anyone who wished to test their skill, from novice to expert. One day a particularly determined young man sat opposite the grand master, determined to beat him. The grand master smiled when the young man made his first move. He had obviously been studying. It was a well known move and easily countered by the chess master. With each move the young man made the master responded with thoughtfulness and expertise. Soon the young man was checkmate. They played again and again. Each time the young man employed different moves, different strategies, and on each occasion the master responded generously and wisely. They played twenty games that day and on each occasion the chess master won quite comfortably.
When imagining how God can be said to be in control of his world some people him as the author of a play, writing the script of our lives. Others imagine he a member of the audience, watching us write our own script. Both options seem difficult. The first appears to rob us of our freedom, the second of God’s involvement.
Perhaps a better image is of a chess game between a chess master and a novice. The novice moves his pieces around the board. He follows some basic strategies he has read about in a book. Some of his moves are foolish. The master responds with great expertise and wisdom. His moves are not pre-programmed, but a response to the moves of his opposing player. Without even knowing it, the Master weaves the novice’s moves into his game plan. And of course, the outcome of the game never in doubt.
Perhaps God is the Master and we are the novices. We make our choices freely, sometimes very foolish and harmful choices, but the Master responds with wisdom, reacting in such a way to ensure that our moves are coordinated into his overall strategy. And of course the outcome, a new world, is never in doubt.
Source: Scott Higgins, based on an idea found in a Philip Yancey Christianity Today article.