I was baptized in 1998 and I remember that day as vividly as if it happened yesterday. I had great desire for my heart to be changed at that time of my life, but I grew up in a non-religious home, so making the promise to love, follow, and serve Jesus for the rest of my life was going to be a huge decision in my faith journey. I prayed, “God, if baptism is really the promise to start new, then I’m ready. Sign me up. And by the way, God, just to make sure this is really what you want me to do, please provide a concrete sign for me. I would like to see a white dove. It can fly by any time between now and my scheduled baptism, or maybe I will see it perched somewhere, but when I see it, I know it is a sign from you that I should get baptized.” I didn’t tell anyone about my prayer.

The gospels tell us that Jesus begins his public ministry with an act of obedience by getting baptized in the Jordan River by his cousin John. As he rises up from the water, he receives an affirmation by God reminding him who he was created to be. God says, “You are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased,” and then a dove or the sensation of a dove alights upon Jesus. That is why I wanted to see a dove as my sign, but the sign never came.

Even the morning of my baptism, I was half expecting to see a dove descend from the ceiling of the church, but that never happened either. I was baptized at the end of the service, and I along with the other new members left the sanctuary first so that we could be greeted by the congregation after the benediction. Just as I was exiting the sanctuary, a friend met me at the door and handed me a congratulatory card she made for me. In it was a hand drawn picture of a beautiful white dove outlined in glitter. Needless to say, I was in tears as my heart burst in gratitude. God required my obedience first before the affirmation.

The biblical message and my faith experience both have confirmed this equation: Prayer + Obedience to God = affirmation by God that we are God’s beloved. Beginning a new year always invites us to remember that affirmation and renew our faith. If one of your goals for 2014 is the desire to grow deeper in prayer, to be more forgiving, to be more compassionate, to offer more grace to persons who God sets in your path each day, here is a hymn-prayer to help express that desire.
Change my heart, O God,
make it ever true.
Change my heart, O God,
may I be like you.
You are the Potter,
I am the clay.
Mold me and make me,
this is what I pray.

Change my heart, O God,
make it ever true.
Change my heart, O God,
may I be like you.

The Faith We Sing Hymnal #2152

–Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer