Some advice on what to pray for from Saint Augustine:
Stretch wide the net of your insatiable desires, greedy, and find something greater than God, find something more precious than God, find something better than God. What won't you possess, when you possess him? But all right, rake in to yourself gold, silver, as much as you can. Cut out the neighbors; keep a tight grip on your estate by enlarging it, till you reach the ends of the earth. Having bought up the whole earth, add the seven seas. Let everything you can see be yours; let everything under the water which you can't see be yours. When you've got all this, what will you have in fact, if you haven't got God?
So if by having God a poor man is rich, and by not having God a rich man is a beggar, don't ask him for anything except himself.
(Sermon 105A, from Essential Sermons, New City Press)
Not too long ago, I was lucky enough to steal a few minutes with a rock star from the church leadership world. I’ve admired this guy from a distance for years. Somehow I ended up standing next to him in his kitchen, so I seized the moment to soak up whatever wisdom I could. He had heard a few of us speak that night and offered some encouragement related to strategy and influence. He said it like this: "you guys played the 5-yard game tonight. Good job." Then he elaborated.
He talked about how, in a big game, your adrenaline is pumping and your passion is high, and you'd give anything to throw the 50-yard pass down the field that makes huge progress in a single play. But that usually doesn't work very well. He mentioned an issue through which he had led his church where he attempted to make huge gains in too little time and too few plays. He went for the 50-yard pass and got demolished on the field. They basically had to punt, wait for their next possession, and try again with a different game plan. In matters that require influence to grow through careful strategy, it's the 5-yard game that wins. You sneak in 5 yards when no one's looking. Another 5 yards when you spot an opening in the defense. Before you know it, you're at 1st and goal and the crowd is actually starting to cheer for you.
At one point on our trip we traveled to Mar Saba, an ancient Orthodox monastery built on the walls of the Kidron Valley that dates to the 5th century. Mar Saba is inland, near the Dead Sea, and as you travel you watch the land morph from green and lush to brown and dangerous.
We were taking in the view as our van rolled toward the monastery, and our guides pointed out a narrow, ancient road below us. They told us it was the kind of road that Jesus and His listeners would have had in mind when He told the story of a traveling man, robbed and beaten by bandits, ignored by religious leaders passing by, and rescued by a Samaritan. (Read the parable of the Good Samaritan here.)
We talked through the parable together and felt that it was terribly relevant to the things we were experiencing.
I had heard about Gaza before I traveled to the Middle East. I didn't know much about it, except that it seems to be a very violent place. You've probably heard about the rockets that are fired out of Gaza into the surrounding Israeli villages and the military strikes that Israel launches on strategic locations within its walls. On one of our days in the Holy Land, we went to a hill that overlooks Gaza. Concrete walls are commonplace in the occupied territories, but this took it to a whole new level. Here we saw several layers of walls with not just sniper towers but remote controlled guns, too. The security threat that Gaza represents was underscored when a couple of IDF jeeps raced up the hill that we were on so that soldiers could warn us that snipers from within Gaza might take aim at us. I didn't see any Arab terrorists from where we were standing, but we decided to take their word for it.
We went on to the town of Sderot. Less than a mile from Gaza, its residents have suffered from Qassam rocket attacks fired from within Gaza Strip for almost a decade. When the violence was at its worst, as many as 20 rockets struck Sderot in one day. We saw the remains of rockets that had landed in the town and heard the stories of people who had died from rocket fire. Sirens throughout the city warn its residents of incoming attacks, giving them a few seconds to find a bomb shelter before they're hit.
Eric Yellin was our guide through Sderot. His story reminded me of George in Bethlehem. Living everyday under the very real threat of a terrorist attack, I would harbor some strong feelings against the people on the other side of that wall. But Eric and others have recognized that the voices of fear and violence aren't accomplishing anything, so they created an organization called Other Voice that is working toward more creative solutions.