Imitators of God

What I learned while caring for my sick husband.

Mary Barrett is an associate pastor in the Cambridge District Church in England and has two daughters.

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN READING something when suddenly a sentence, a word, a phrase compelled you to stop?

Maybe you underlined those words or circled or copied them. What you have read is now imprinted on your brain and resting in your heart. Let me share with you what caused me to stop reading recently.

It was something written by Dutch Sheets. He is a man who majors in prayer. He wrote: “Prayer is not a check request asking for things from God. It is a deposit slip—a way of depositing God’s character into our bankrupt souls.”1  In other words, prayer is more than asking God for things; it is the means by which God places something within us—His character.

Ellen White said something similar: “Prayer is heaven’s ordained means of success in the conflict with sin and the development of Christian character” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 564).

That thought really challenged me. How often in my conversations with God do I ask for His character to be a part of me? How often do you ask that of Him?

If we saw prayer as a means of depositing God’s character into our soul, as well as the way we pour out our deepest needs to God, we would be asking God to fill us up with so much of Him that those with whom we share life each day would experience something extraordinary—they would experience God’s love through us.

But to be honest, I don’t always ask God for His character to come into mine. After I have praised and thanked God, and taken time to confess my wrong thoughts and actions, I talk with God about my needs or the needs of those I care about. I seldom spend time praying for God’s character to take up residency within me, even though in Ephesians 5:1 we are urged to be imitators of God: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1, 2, NIV, 1984).

Recently, however, I came to realize how much I need to pray this every day.

My husband, Jonathan, was ill some time ago for about two weeks. What started off as a virus ended up as flu. Even though when I married him I promised to stand by him in sickness and in health, there were times during those two weeks when I was tempted to abandon that vow. Even though he was the patient, it was my patience being tried!

Just prior to my husband having the flu, I, too, had had a flu virus for a couple of weeks. After recovering I returned to work—with two weeks’ work to catch up on, plus a new sermon to prepare for the coming Sabbath. I was tired and stressed!

One night I was awakened about 2:00 a.m. by Jonathan’s coughing. He was coughing badly and needed some help. I was extremely weary. It had been nearly midnight before I tumbled into bed. As Jonathan coughed and coughed and coughed, I turned over in bed and pulled the covers up around my ears. I pretended to be asleep! Our
daughter, Rima, however, woke up. She—reflecting more of God’s character than I—came into our bedroom. She returned a few minutes later with a bottle of water for Jonathan, a bottle of aromatherapy oil to help him breathe better, and a box of tissues—accompanied by soothing words. Finally, she called out to me, “Mum,  why aren’t you awake? Can’t you hear that Dad needs some help? He is really struggling!” With a big sigh I pushed back the covers and went downstairs to make Jonathan a hot cup of water with honey and lemon to ease the coughing.

As I peered into the honey jar, which was empty, I wondered whether I should go to the local store to purchase a new jar. The store is only two minutes away from my home and open all night. But, instead, I yawned, put some hot water in the jar, swished it around, and poured the contents into a cup with the juice of a lemon. I figured that Jonathan was too ill to notice that the honey was missing!

It worked. Jonathan finally stopped coughing and settled down to sleep. But I couldn’t. I was wide awake. I tossed and turned and sighed several times before I pushed back the bed covers once again and got up. I was so agitated that I cleaned the kitchen, put ingredients into the bread maker, and even had my worship. And the whole time I was annoyed with my husband because he had woken me up with his coughing when I needed to sleep!

That night woke up something else in me, too: the realization that I need God to deposit His character within me. It is not enough for me to ask God to help me to be like  Him; I need to ask God to clean out the selfishness within my heart and replace that with His character.

Instead of praying, “God, I would like to be kind like You,” I need to pray the words that I shared earlier: “God, deposit Your character into my bankrupt soul.” “God I need
Your kindness placed inside of me today.” “I need Your wisdom, Your peace, Your grace.” It is much more powerful to pray that way.

I’d like to challenge you to do the same; however, be prepared. Opening your heart to change may bring some painful experiences. If you ask God to place His humility within you, you may be put into situations that cause you to become humble. If you ask for His patience, you may go through trying times or be surrounded by annoying people or have to wait a long time for your prayers to be answered. If you ask for victory over temptation, you can guarantee that everywhere you go there will be the yummiest, gooiest chocolate cakes! But because God wants to deposit His character within us, He will answer those prayers.

Remember, however, that some characteristics belong to God alone. He is the only One who is all-knowing, all-powerful. But other characteristics He yearns to place within us—characteristics that can showcase Him to this world. Characteristics such as love, truthfulness, goodness, mercy, kindness, and graciousness. God so much wants us to reflect Him, and we can do that only if we pray for His character to be deposited within ours. Then we will be able to respond to situations God’s way instead of our natural

A couple of days after my “annoying night” experience, my husband was still struggling with the flu and again began coughing and coughing. I asked him with concern and love if I could get him some honey and lemon to soothe his throat. His response? “No. Just let me die peacefully.” I told you he is the worst patient in England!