“You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6, NRSV).
Several months ago, I was at a retreat, organized by the Cathedral Church of the Intercessor, at Mount St. Alphonsus (one of my favorite places; so much so that I use a picture from one of its windows at the top of this blog!). The Lord was speaking intently to my heart about some of the issues in my life.
For years, I have prayed for God’s strength in some areas of my life and wondered, “Why are You not meeting my needs in this area? Why do I still struggle? Why do I fall sometimes?” God’s answer: “Because you are thinking too small. You are not getting the big picture.”
This was not exactly a “new revelation.” It has been there all along. I just missed it, even though it is a verse, which I memorized decades ago, from one of my favorite books of the Bible.
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3, NASB).
Usually, we read that verse and think God is talking about all of those materialistic prayers we babble. This definitely applies to those times when we pray for easy money, a big house, fancy car, or other stuff to make us happy.
It is true that we ask amiss if we are only trying to feed our physical or fleshly desires. What about those times when we want to stroke our egos? When we want to impress the rest of the church with our holiness? That may be an extreme case, but some of us enjoy being more “holy” or “spiritual” because that makes us better than the other guy. “At least I’m not like that tax collector” (or whichever modern-day label you choose to substitute: drug addict, alcoholic, criminal, pervert), as the Pharisee in Luke 18:11-12 prayed.
Should a Christian pray for a closer walk with Jesus? Absolutely; but if we are praying to be better than others, or to be more highly revered by church people, or to be one of God’s favorite people, we are missing the boat. If you have already accepted Jesus Christ into your heart, and you are praying for a closer walk with Him to secure your salvation, you have missed the entire point of grace.
So, why should we seek a closer walk with Jesus? Why, if we are bound by addiction or other sinful habits, should we pray for deliverance or victory? There are a number of answers to these questions. However, the verses I highlighted above, in the Ten Commandments, bring out a perspective that we often do not consider. Our society is so self-centered that most Americans—including mature, committed Christians—have a hard time thinking beyond what they can see.
We think in a short term, but God thinks long-term. As a married man, it is easy to think about how the choices I make today will affect my immediate family. If I spend money foolishly, my wife may have to cut back and miss out on things she needs.
God, however, sees a much bigger picture. He sees generations yet unborn and calls me to seek blessings for them, as well as for the family I have now. My decisions and choices today do not affect me alone: they affect future generations as well. God does not punish the third and fourth generations because He holds grudges and likes to hurt people. He does so because sin tends to find its way into future generations; however, a godly heritage does too.
I am encouraged by a story I heard at one of my wife’s family reunions a few years back. Joyce’s great-great-grandfather was a devout man who prayed frequently for future generations in his family. His prayers were answered; most of his descendants in this country are faithfully serving the Lord now. God is a central figure at most of their family gatherings. He did not see the fruit of his prayers, but God remembered to answer.
On the other hand, we can bear the weight of previous generations’ sin. Alcoholism is often called a “family disease” for a number of reasons. For one, children and grandchildren of alcoholics frequently grow up to develop drinking problems.
As I participated in the services at that Mount St. Alphonsus retreat, mentioned earlier, and spent time praying and studying the Bible, the Lord called to mind the “generational curses” in my heritage. (I will not go into a debate about the idea of “generational curses” at this time. It will take another blog posting or more.) Alcoholism is rampant in my family tree, with heavy drinkers on both sides. There has also been a lot of divorce. I will not go into too much detail. I know some people whose families have more dark sides than mine, but my family’s heritage is the one I am concerned about.
One blessing I received by following Jesus is the fact that I never became an alcoholic. I am free of that affliction. However, I have a greater goal in mind now: I want my son to remain free from that. I also hope my grandson (and any siblings he may one day have) do not fall prey to the bottle.
I have not been spared the divorce bug. Thank God, my current marriage is good. However, the past cannot be changed. My son, though, has the opportunity to see that curse broken in his generation. I pray that he and his wife remain married “’til death do they part.” I pray the same for my grandson and his siblings (even though my grandson is only eight months old, it is not too early to begin praying for his future).
So, what can I do to affect future generations?
- I can live a life that pleases my heavenly Father.
- I can live a life that I, as a Christian, would want my descendants to imitate.
- I can pray daily for my descendants: not just for their current situation, but for their futures as well.
- I can encourage and exhort them every chance I get, in the hope of guiding them to follow Jesus.
- Most importantly, I can leave them in the hands of God.
If I keep God’s commandments and serve Him faithfully, rejecting all false gods and idols, He has promised to visit His lovingkindness on future generations.