(…continued) A woman’s husband died suddenly. She said to her pastor some time later, “This has been terrible and my days are filled with loneliness and grief; but deep down, I know I am going to be all right.” Then she added, “I feel like I have been preparing for this moment for all my life.” What she meant was that all the sermons, all the prayers, and all the Scripture passages she had heard and read and prayed over the years about tragedy, death, grief, sadness, and hope– in all of that she was in training for an event of this magnitude. The words of the funeral were all familiar to her: the 23rd Psalm, John 3:16, the great hymns, etc.– it was familiar, and it all now took on a new and even deeper meaning for her. None of this makes one immune to grief. Even Jesus wept at the tomb of a good friend. But persistence in faith, that ongoing connection to God through prayer and worship, gives our faith a depth that we can draw on, when needed, for hope and strength. The faith, the words, and the promises become a part of who we are and how we see the world and all of life.
Our relationship with God, like any relationship, needs to be kept alive and meaningful by persistent contact. We worship every week, not for God’s sake, but for our own. God is able to do very well without us. He has done fine without you and me for a very long time already. But WE need to know Him and to be connected to Him, and, take hold of that grace offered to us. Sometimes people will say they don’t get much out of the worship service. But it is a mistake to try it just every once in a while and then decide it does not work for you. The blessings do not come from an occasional sampling, but from persistent attention. That is one of the messages of this parable.
Conversation is a part of every relationship, and prayer is our conversation with God. Think about two types of conversation. First, imagine a conversation with a stranger. Perhaps you are sitting in the same waiting room. You’ve never seen him or her before and you’ll never see them again. But for something to do you strike up a conversation. You don’t know each other, so for the most part you just share information– your name, where you live, what you do, and so on. It passes the time, but a few hours later you have forgotten everything. None of it matters to you, so it doesn’t make an impact.
Now imagine a conversation with an old friend. You already know everything about each other, so the conversation can freely wander around onto all sorts of topics– ideas, opinions, feelings, updates on the family, and memories. And when you start talking about memories, oftentimes all it takes is a word or two to bring to mind a whole story, event, or even an entire time period. Just one word or one name can bring back to you both a whole flood of memories, happy and sad. This kind of conversation is not forgotten in a few hours, but each visit adds another layer to that deep and ongoing friendship.
I prefer the second type of conversation to the first. In the first, you are just passing the time. The second type is one of life’s greatest pleasures. I will drive hundreds of miles to just sit and have such a conversation for even a little while.
We want our conversations with God to be like those conversations with an old friend. When we must turn to Him in desperation in prayer, we should not have to feel like we need to introduce ourselves. It is best if we do not have to start out by saying, “Well Lord, I know you haven’t heard from me for a while, but…” It is much better if that desperate prayer can be a part of an ongoing conversation. We get irritated with friends who call only when they need something (like the man in the parable), but that is how many people treat their relationship with God.
In John 15 Jesus calls his disciples his friends. Jesus also says several times in those verses, “Remain in my love,” or, ‘Abide with me’ in the older translations. Remain, abide, stay close, keep in touch; don’t disappear for ten years and then wonder why the relationship seems dead. Of course, our friendship with Jesus is not going to be exactly the same as that with a friend whose physical presence is right before us. There is for now, because of our sin, a separation and a distance. So as Paul said we live by faith, not by sight, and the relationship and conversation is going to be much different. Someday we will see clearly, but in the meantime, the relationship can grow closer and stronger even without seeing Jesus in person.
And when we add to our prayer the hearing of God’s side of the conversation by reading His Word, that too can work like a good chat with an old friend. In a time of need, just a few words of an old familiar and favorite verse can bring to mind a whole flood of memories and emotion and strength.
For God so loved the world…
The Lord is my Shepherd…
God is our refuge and strength…
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…
Cast all your care upon me…
For those who have been persistent in their walk with the Lord, just a few words like these bring to mind a whole world of past memories and future hopes. Conversation with God by our prayer and the hearing of His Word is then no longer like talking to a stranger, but like coming to and spending time with an old friend. That is the blessing of being persistent in our response to God’s grace.
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
until the destroying storms pass by.