1276) “Don’t Look Now, But I’ve Got the Blues”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYVXqr7M7QY

———–

Don’t Look Now, But I’ve Got the Blues, 1958, by the ‘King of the Blues,’ B. B. King (1925-2015)

My pockets are empty, I feel so low
If somebody loves me, ain’t said so
And I got holes, in both of my shoes
Don’t look now, but I’ve got the blues.

There ain’t nobody on this old earth
Who’ll give a nickel for what I’m worth
I got more worries that I can use
Don’t look now, but I’ve got the blues.

Troubles everywhere
I act like I don’t care, but it’s not true
‘Cos I remember things, so many many things
But mostly, I remember you.

I’m gonna go some place else
And cry these tears all by myself
I ain’t got nothing left to lose
Don’t look now, but I’ve got the blues.

————————

“Blues” is a musical form which developed among African-Americans in the Deep South around the end of the 19th century.  Wikipedia notes, “Early blues frequently took the form of a loose narrative, often relating the troubles experienced in African-American society.”  This form of music has developed in many directions over the last 100+ years, but the focus on singing about life’s troubles has remained the same.  The phrase “singing the blues” has entered the English language as a description of any expression of sadness over one’s troubled life.

Sometimes the Christian life has been portrayed as always happy because faith in Jesus is just bound to make everything better.  Believing in Jesus does give us an eternal promise that can give us hope no matter what we go through, but in this world we will still be troubled.  It is foolish to pretend otherwise, though some Christians have attempted to do so.  But even the Bible ‘sings the blues,’ and it does so a good share of the time, as pointed out in the reading below.  The Psalms is the songbook of the Bible, and many of the Psalms ‘sing the blues’ (they are called ‘laments’), and so do many other parts of the Old and New Testament.  There is even an entire book in the Old Testament that sings the blues from beginning to end– the book of Lamentations.

The following was posted on Randy Alcorn’s website, http://www.epm.org, on October 7, 2016.  Alcorn has written more on the subject of evil and suffering in his 2009 book If God is Good.

———————–

     Laments make up more than one-third of the psalms.  The contrast between Israel’s hymnbook and the church’s hymns says a great deal about our failure to acknowledge suffering.  If we don’t sing about suffering and struggle, why shouldn’t our people feel surprised when it comes?

     Read Psalm 88, arguably the most discouraging portion of the Bible:  “My soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave….  You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.  Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves….  My eyes are dim with grief….  Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?”  And this is how it ends:  “You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.”

     Yet even then the psalmist cries out to “the God who saves me” (verse 1).

     The Psalms of lament grant us permission to express to God our honest questions, doubts, griefs and despair.  That our heavenly Father chose to include these as inspired Scripture suggests that parents should encourage emotional honesty in their children.  They should learn to voice to God and to us their disappointments, fears, and frustrations along with their dreams, happiness, and gratitude.  Certainly we should resist whining and self-pity, both in ourselves and our children.  But we should also guard against pretense and the silent seeds of disillusionment and bitterness.

     The book of Psalms brims with honest questions to God about evil and suffering and asks why God doesn’t intervene:

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (10:1)

I say to God, my rock:
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?” (42:9)

Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? (44:23–24)

     By including laments in His inspired Word, God graciously invites our cries, so long as we remain willing to listen to His response.

     Musician Michael Card writes:

My experience with lament and with the living God occurred several years ago, when I was diagnosed with a degenerative liver disease.  My father had died when I was seventeen, and now faced with the possibility that I might die, leaving behind my seventeen-year-old son and fourteen-year-old daughter, I was overwhelmed with feelings of anger and confusion and pain.  When I finally let go and cried out to God, it was in fury and frustration that I unleashed on Him, accusing Him, questioning Him.  It did not make any sense to me.  How could a loving God allow my children to go through the pain that I had?  I had done all that He had asked of me.  I had been a faithful servant and made the right choices and sacrifices.  Why was He doing this to me?  How dare He?  I was certain that I had pushed Him too far, that I was now going to experience His wrath and condemnation for my ranting and unbelief.  But what I found instead was great mercy and tenderness.  I experienced His loving-kindness in a way that I never had before.  He had been waiting all along for me to come to the end of myself and fall on my knees before Him.  He had been waiting for me to be completely honest with who I was, instead of who I thought I should be.  And I realized that it was in my brokenness and weakness that I was truly able to know the tremendous love that my great God has for me.  He could take anything that I hurled at Him.  He was not going to let me go.  (Michael Card, A Sacred Sorrow, NavPress, 2005, page 9)

*******************************************

Lamentations 1:20a  —  See, Lord, how distressed I am.  I am in torment within, and in my heart I am disturbed.

Psalm 22:1  —  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

Jeremiah 15:18  —  Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?  You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.

Habakkuk 1:2  —   How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?

Matthew 26:38-39  —  (Jesus) said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  Stay here and keep watch with me.”  Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

*******************************************

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

–Jesus, Mark 15:34

1243) Let Me Not Live to Be Useless

Image result for old woman praying images

——————————————

     She was 89.  Her arthritis kept her from moving around freely in the nursing home, and now that her sight was gone, she was even more reluctant to venture out on her own.  She had no family, and all her friends were gone.  No one came to visit her.

     Most days she lay on her bed wrapped in an afghan.    “I’m not good for anything anymore,” she said; but then added, “All I can do is pray.”

     At first her prayers were only for herself, almost self-pitying prayers.  Then she got bolder, as she thought of the children she used to babysit, now adults.  She began to think pray-fully of them, even praying urgently for them.  Then she began to pray for the people in the nursing home, and their families and those who came to visit, and those who worked there, and for people she heard about on the radio.  The list grew and grew.

     She spent the long dark days in prayer, as well as the long sleepless nights.  Prayer became for her, not “all I can do,” but “all I must do.”  It was almost a compulsion.

     She began to feel important again, and needed, and very close to people, and to God.

–From an old magazine clipping, source lost.

*********************************************

Colossians 3:17  —  Whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I Thessalonians 5:16-18  —  Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 1:15-19a  —  For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of  wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

*********************************************

O Lord, let me not live to be useless.  Amen.  –John Wesley 

Lord, give me life until my work is done; and give me work until my life is done.  Amen.

1190) An Old Lady’s Prayers

Think all is lost?  Feel like you don’t know how to make a difference in our crazy world?  Here’s a personal story that just might change your mind.  

–John Stonestreet, at http://www.breakpoint.org, May 25, 2016.

—————————–

     In 9th grade, I was a knucklehead.  Even worse, I was a Christian school knucklehead.  Those are the worst kind.  Six days a week, between that Christian school and the church that operated it, I was in the same building hearing the same Bible lessons, often from the same people.  But I didn’t really have much of a faith that I could call my own.

     That all began to change on the last day of classes before Christmas break in December of 1990.  Now we all know what’s supposed to happen on the last day of classes before Christmas break:  not much.

     Well, that day, my Bible teacher announced that our boys Bible class was being sent out two by two to visit the elderly “shut-ins” of our church.  I suppose the intention was to bring Christmas cheer, but as you might imagine, that’s not what happened.  The only thing we wanted to do less than school work on the last day of classes before Christmas break was visit old people we’d never met.

     My only consolation was that I was paired with my friend Brian.  He shared my disdain for the assignment we’d been given.  “What are we going to do?” I asked.  “I don’t want to go see any old people.”

     “I’ve got an idea,” Brian replied.  “We’ll go visit one person, but say that we couldn’t find the other person’s house.  That way, we’ll be done fast and can go to the mall.”

     And that’s how I met Ms. Buckner.  She lived down a windy, rural Virginia road in a small little apartment her grandson had built for her on the end of his farmhouse.

     She invited us inside, and there we were:  an 11th grader, a ninth grader, and an 89-year-old widow.  We didn’t have a lot in common.

     Just when we thought it couldn’t possibly get any more awkward, Ms. Buckner said, “Let’s sing Christmas carols together.”  We stumbled our way through Silent Night, and then she decided one carol was enough.

     “Well, Ms. Buckner,” Brian said, “we’d best be on our way.”

     “Yes,” I lied, “we still have one more person to visit before heading back to school.”

     And then she asked, “Can we pray together before you go?”

     So I prayed, and Brian prayed— that took about 45 seconds.  But then Ms. Buckner prayed.

     At that point, I’d been in the church my whole life.  I’d heard thousands of prayers.  But I had never heard anything like this.  I remember looking up just make sure that Jesus wasn’t sitting next to her, because it sure sounded like He was.  She spoke to God as if she knew Him, with a simultaneous confidence and humility that only comes when you’re certain you’re being heard.

     We left her house and headed to the mall, distracted by our plan to meet some girls.  But I do remember, however, Brian saying to me, “She’s a cool old woman.”  And I agreed.

     Two years later, I woke up with the strangest feeling.  Typically, I’d wake up thinking about basketball or my girlfriend, but I woke up this particular morning thinking of Ms. Buckner.  And to this day, I have no idea why.

     But I ended up going back down that windy road to her house.  “Ms. Buckner,” I said, “you probably don’t remember me, but two years ago I came here with my friend Brian.  My name is John.”

     “John,” she smiled. “I prayed for you this morning.”

     From that point on, Ms. Buckner became a close personal friend.  In fact, she prayed for me every day for the rest of her life.  To this day, I cannot imagine what she prayed me into or out of.

     At age fourteen, I found myself— seemingly by chance— in the home of an 89-year-old woman I didn’t know, and didn’t particularly care to know.  I didn’t want to be there.  I lied to her.  And yet, God used her to alter the trajectory of my life.  I found out later that she had actually impacted many, many others in that community as well.

     God uses us, often in ways we can’t even imagine.

********************************************************

James 5:16b  —  The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Romans 1:9  —  For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.

I Peter 3:12a  —  The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer.

II Timothy 1:3  —   I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.

Colossians 1;3  —  We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.

********************************************************

 Eternal God, you have led us through our days and years, made wisdom ripe and faith mature.  Show men and women your purpose for them, so that, when youth is spent, they may not find life empty or labor stale, but may devote themselves to dear loves and worthy tasks, with undiminished strength; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–1970 Presbyterian Hymnal, page 185.

1166) “We Is Evil Peoples in a Wicked World”

From the novel Jubilee (1966), by Margaret Walker Alexander (1915-98); (Quoted in Conversations With God: Two Centuries of African-American Prayers, ed. by James M. Washington, pp. 213, HarperCollins)

—————————————

     Before she realized where she was going she found herself deep in the woods… where there was a chapel-hush.  She heard birds softly and sweetly singing, but most of all she felt the silence of the thickly soft carpet of pine needles under her feet, and looking up she could faintly see the blue sky in thin scraps of light through the interlacing of tender young leaves and green pine needles.  She found herself a rock, and instead of sitting down she dropped to her knees.  Instinctively she began to pray, the words forming on her lips at first in a halting, faltering, and half-hesitant fashion, and then rushing out:

     “Lawd, God-a-mighty, I come down here this morning to tell you I done reached the end of my rope, and I wants you to take a-hold.  I done come to the bottom of the well, Lord, and my well full of water done run clean dry.

     “I come down here, Lord, cause I ain’t got no where else to go.  I come down here knowing I ain’t got no right, but I got a heavy need.  I’m suffering so, Lord, my body is heavy like I’m carrying a stone.  I come to ask you to move the stone, Jesus.  Please move the stone!  I come down here, Lord, to ask you to come by here, Lord.  Please come by here!

      “We can’t go on like this no longer, Lord.  We can’t keep on a-fighting, and a-fussing, and a-cussing, and a-hating like this, Lord.  You done been too good to us.  We done wrong, Lord, I knows we done wrong.  I ain’t gonna say we ain’t done wrong, and I ain’t gonna promise we might not do wrong again cause, Lord, we ain’t nothing but sinful human flesh, we ain’t nothing but dust.  We is evil peoples in a wicked world, but I’m asking you to let your forgiving love cover our sin, Lord.

      “Let your peace come in our hearts again, Lord, and we’s gonna try to stay on our knees and follow the road You is laid before us, if You only will.  Come by here, Lord, come by here, if you please.  And Lord, I wants to thank You, Jesus, for moving the stone!”

*************************

Isaiah 55:6-7  —  Seek the Lord while he may be found;  call on him while he is near.  Let the wicked forsake their ways  and the unrighteous their thoughts.  Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Psalm 41:4  —  I said, “Have mercy on me, Lord; heal me, for I have sinned against you.”

Psalm 6:2-4…6  —  Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.  My soul is in deep anguish.  How long, Lord, how long?  Turn, Lord, and deliver me;  save me because of your unfailing love…  I am worn out from my groaning.

Matthew 20:29-31  —  As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him.  Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”  The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

Luke 18:9-14  —  To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:   “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed:  ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’  “But the tax collector stood at a distance.  He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.  For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

*************************

THE JESUS PRAYER (an ancient prayer, widely used, especially in the Eastern Orthodox Church:  

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

1164) Enemies

Editorial by Mark Galli, editor of Christianity Today magazine, June 12, 2016, at:  www.christianitytoday.com

——————————–

     We at Christianity Today are deeply grieved by the shooting in Orlando that killed 49 people.  Our heartfelt sympathies go out to friends and family of the victims.  In this case, the attack was targeted at one group, and so our prayers go up for gays, lesbians, and other sexual minorities who now live with a heightened sense of fear.  We are glad to hear of so many Christians, from many theological persuasions, reaching out to comfort them in their grief.

     This weekend’s murders unfortunately remind us of the LGBT community’s place among the many groups who have been singled out for mass killing by hateful people.  Just five examples since 2000:

African Americans: The most recent attack we are remembering just this week:  On June 17, 2015, nine people were murdered at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Sikhs:  On August, 5, 2012, six people were killed and three injured at a Wisconsin Sikh temple.

Christians:  On December 9, 2007, two people were killed at a Youth With A Mission training center in Arvada, Colorado, and another two at New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

Jews:  Jews have been regularly subject to a number of murderous rampages since 2000, with fire bombings at synagogues in the Bronx and Syracuse, New York in October 2000, the LAX shooting at the El Al ticket counter on July 4, 2002, the Seattle Federation shooting on July 28, 2006, and the Overland Park, Kansas, attack on April 13, 2014.

Mexican Americans:  No, they have not been murderously attacked— but there was a serious plan afoot.  On May 1, 2007, five members of an anti-immigration militia in Birmingham, Alabama, were arrested for planning to mow down “Mexicans” with machine guns.

     And we’re only talking about what’s happening in the United States.  International attacks on specific groups are even more horrific.

     What are we to make of this hateful targeting?  To be sure, there is a matrix of political, social, and psychological issues that must be addressed with vigilance.  But while we attend to these matters, we Christians also recognize that this is at heart a spiritual battle with what the apostle Paul calls the “principalities and powers.”  And that gives us a clue as to what, in addition to our social service as citizens, our unique contribution can be at times like this:  PRAYER.

     We share this with other religionists, of course, but we practice it in our own way.  We don’t often see its effect, but Jesus has promised that prayer in his name makes a difference.  It’s times like these that it can be hard to pray, but it’s vital we take Jesus at his word on this matter.

     But there is one particular prayer that Jesus teaches and models.  I’m not enough of a world religion scholar to know if it is unique to Christianity, but it is remarkable part of Christian faith and life.  It’s the prayer of Stephen as he was stoned and of Jesus on the Cross:  “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

     It is one way we obey Jesus’ command to love enemies, even murderous ones— whether they target us or those with whom we sympathize.

     This struck me afresh recently as I recited an Eastern Orthodox prayer of intercession.  In the litany of petitions, this one jumped out at me:  “Lord, we pray… for those who hate us and those who love us.”

     In the Orthodox tradition, this prayer is to be said every evening.  The Orthodox know something about enemies, having lived under repressive Muslim and Communist regimes for centuries.  So they know why this petition must become habitual for people of faith.

     I believe if this were a daily prayer for American Christians, it would help us to do that which does not come naturally to us:  loving our enemies— and the enemies of all those we love.  And it would shape us as a people to be Christ’s presence in a hateful and divided world— a world that needs to know of his presence more than ever.

****************************************************

Luke 23:34a  —  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Acts 7:59-60  —  While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Matthew 5:34-35  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

****************************************************

Heavenly Father, we pray for those who do not know you, and for those who hate you, and for those who hate us.  Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do; open their hearts to the work of your Spirit so that they may come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior; and may they then learn to love all people as Jesus did.  In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

1093) Simple Prayers

———————

By Richard Wurmbrand, 100 Prison Meditations, pages 65-66, 1982.

       The Bible is full of unanswered prayers.

     Paul wrote to the church in Rome that he was praying without ceasing to “have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you” (Romans 1:10, KJV).  Instead of a prosperous journey, he traveled as a prisoner in fetters and was shipwrecked.  Other examples abound throughout the Bible.

     Many requests in prayer show a lack of submission to what God in His wisdom and love has foreordained.  What would the world be like if God were required to follow man’s will and change His plan every time someone expressed a desire in prayer?

     The Talmud says that the Jewish high priest entered the most sacred place of the temple once a year to pray for the people, and always concluded his prayer with the words, “God, disregard the requests of wayfarers.”  This was wise because everyone who traveled on Monday asked that there be no rain on that day; likewise those who traveled on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, etc.  If God listened to them all, everyone would perish because of drought.

     The following story illustrates the best manner of prayer.  Two Christians each planted an apple tree in front of his house.  When the time for picking apples came, the first looked angrily at his tree:  it bore not even one apple.  When he approached his neighbor’s house, he became even angrier.  The branches of his neighbor’s tree were cracking under the weight of beautiful fruits.  He said to his neighbor, “Explain this to me.  We planted our trees at the same time, and we serve the same God.  How is it that He gave you so many apples and none to me?”  

     The other answered, “Perhaps you did not pray for your tree.”  

     “What!  Not pray?” said the first.  “I prayed every day:  ‘God, give rain; God, enough, now stop the rain.  God, sun is needed now; too much now, it might scorch my tree.’ I never neglected prayer, and it was all in vain.  How did you do it?”  

     The brother replied, “I am not so keen at prayer as you are.  I prayed only once, in the beginning, like this:  ‘Father, I have planted an apple tree and wish to have fruit in due time.  It is not for me to teach You how much sun and rain to give.  You are a more ancient gardener than myself.  You created Eden and all trees grow under Your direction.  Grant me apples in due time.'”

     We experience unanswered prayer because we ask for too many things without knowledge of their long-range results.  There is really only one Christian request:  “Here I stand, a sinner forgiven by grace and, at the end of my life, I pray to dwell in heaven with my beloved ones.  Teach me to serve You on earth as I journey toward Your heaven.”  Such a prayer never goes unheeded.

***********************************************************

Luke 18:13b  —  God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Psalm 51:10  —  Create in me a clean heart, O God.

Luke 23:42a  —  Jesus, remember me.

Luke 23:46b  —  Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.

Psalm 3:7  —  Deliver me, O my God.

Psalm 16:1  —  Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge.

Isaiah 6:8b  —  Here am I.  Send me!

Luke 1:38b  —  Be it unto me according to thy word.

Psalm 4:8  —  In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lordmake me dwell in safety.

Isaiah 33:2  —  Lord, be gracious to us; we long for you.  Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress.

Psalm 6:2b  —  Heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.

Psalm 6:3b  —  How long, O Lord, how long?

Luke  22:42  —  Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.

Psalm 23:4a  —  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.

***********************************************************

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.  Amen.

–Ancient Jesus Prayer

1041) Be Persistent in Prayer (b)

     (…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.

–Psalm 57:1

1040) Be Persistent in Prayer (a)

The Importunate Neighbor, William Holman Hunt (1895)

————————

Luke 11:5-8:  (Jesus) said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’  And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’  I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.”

****************************************

     Luke 11 begins with the disciples asking Jesus to teach them how to pray.  In response, Jesus does two things.  First, he teaches them the Lord’s Prayer, and then he tells this strange parable about a persistent midnight intruder.  Jesus calls him a friend, but anyone, friend or not, who bangs on your door in the middle of the night for no good reason will seem like an unwelcome intruder.  The man banging on the door says that he is in a desperate situation.  Someone has arrived at his house, perhaps hungry after a long trip, and the man says, “I have nothing to set before him.”

     “Well, too bad!,” the sleepy friend is probably thinking.  “The grocery store will open in a few hours and he isn’t going to starve to death in that amount of time.  Besides, what kind of friend is this?  He’s not acting like much of a friend, showing up unannounced out of nowhere expecting to be fed in the middle of the night.  Why bother me,” thinks the sleeping man, “for the sake of that other guy’s rudeness?  Why not be a friend to me and leave me alone?”

     Who can blame this man, so rudely awakened, for telling his inconsiderate friend to get lost?

     But this midnight intruder is not so easily put off.  He keeps banging on the door, calling out, making an all around nuisance of himself, until finally, the man trying to sleep gets up and goes to the door to let the man in.  He says to himself, “Though I care nothing for this man’s predicament, and though I think this man is a pain in the neck to be bothering me this way in the middle of the night, I will get up and give him what he wants to get him out of here so that my kids and I can get back to sleep.”

     Jesus says we ought to be like that in our prayers.

     Like what?  In prayer, we are doing the asking so we must be the rude man, and does that mean it is rude to bother God with prayer?  Does that then make God the irritated friend, unwilling to help, requiring constant banging on his door in order to get his attention.  Is that what God is like?

     We get into trouble if we read too much into the parables.  Parables are not precise and comprehensive theological expositions of everything.  Parables are simple illustrations with a focused purpose.  The purpose of this little parable is not to give a full description of God, but rather, to say something about our spiritual life.  And the point Jesus is making is not that we should be rude, and not that God is unwilling to hear our prayers; but simply, that we must be persistent in prayer– like the man at the door in the middle of the night was persistent.  In our prayers, in our worship, and in all aspects of our spiritual life, we should be persistent in coming to God.  Persistence, says verse eight, is the key.

     The Bible not only tells us about God, but it also tells us that God wants to have a relationship with us.  God is our Father, says Jesus.  We are his children.  Christ, the Bible says, is the bridegroom of the church.  This is the language of family, the closest of all human relationships.  God has already done everything that needs to be done to fulfill that side of the relationship.  God sent his only son, Jesus Christ, who taught, healed, lived among us, suffered for us, and died; and then rose from the dead.  Risen from the grave, Jesus came back to us and he forgave us and he offers us eternal life.  That is what we call grace, and that is God’s part of the relationship.

     But a relationship needs two interested and involved parties.  And so the Bible is always reminding us of our part of the relationship, always inviting our response, our faith, and our attention.  God expects that we will not ignore him, but that we will keep in touch.  One of the ways we do that is in prayer, and another way is in worship.  This parable is about being persistent in our part of the relationship.  Yes, we are saved by grace, but what happens if someone does not ever respond in any way to such an ‘amazing grace,’ not even with an occasional word of thanks?

     Here is how Methodist pastor William Willimon described this in a parable of his own.  A man and a woman were married.  They promised, as people do in a marriage, to live together forever, no matter what.  Shortly after their honeymoon, the man went on a long trip.  He left town and did not tell his wife or anyone else where he was going.  He just left, and his young wife did not hear from him for a very long time.

     Ten years later, he showed up again, unannounced.  He went into the house, walked up to his wife, put his arm around her, and said, “Hi honey, what’s for supper?”  He planned to resume married life just as it was ten years before.

     The woman shrieked.  To the man’s great surprise his wife hardly recognized him.  Not only that, but she had already officially ended their marriage by divorce due to abandonment, and she was now married to another man.

     The man was upset and objected to her behavior.  “Why don’t you love me anymore?” he said.  “Why have you forsaken me?  Do our marriage vows mean nothing to you?”

     It was, of course, the husband who had forsaken his wife, the husband who had paid no attention to his wife for such a very long time; and then, after a while, there was no more relationship.  He should not have been surprised.

     God does not forget us.  But when someone stays away long enough, they themselves will begin to feel the death of that relationship.  To them, God will begin to seem distant or not there at all.  It may seem to them like God has abandoned them, but they might need to ask themselves who has been absent from who, just like the young husband should have been asking.  If one makes no effort to keep in touch with God, then, when that person does turn to God in a time of need, it should come as no surprise that God does not seem very close. But when someone does stay close to God, and is persistent in prayer and worship, they will find that greater blessings do come with the closer relationship.  (continued…)

************************************************

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust…
 Make me to know your ways, O Lordteach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
    for you are the God of my salvation.

–Psalm 25:1-2a…4-5a

944) The Unanswered Prayers of Jesus (b)

By author Philip Yancey, posted on his blog site on October 18, 2015.

     (…continued)  I sense a partial clue into the mystery of unanswered prayer in what I call boomerang prayers.  Often when we pray, we want God to intervene in spectacular fashion:  to heal miraculously, to change evil hearts, to quash injustice.  More commonly, God works through us. Like a boomerang, the prayers we toss at God come swishing back toward us, testing our response.

     I think back to Jesus’ unanswered prayers.  The disciples?  Eventually, except for Judas, the twelve submitted to a slow but steady transformation, providing a kind of long-term answer to Jesus’ petition.  John, a Son of Thunder, softened into “the apostle of Love.”  Peter, who earned Jesus’ rebuke by recoiling from the idea of Messiah suffering, later urged his followers to “follow in his steps” by suffering as Christ did.

     In Gethsemane, Jesus did not receive what he requested, removal of the cup of suffering.  His plea for intervention looped back like a boomerang.  Hebrews affirms that, though Jesus was not saved from death, nevertheless “he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.”  It was God’s will that Jesus had come to do, after all, and his plea resolved into these words:  “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  Not many hours later he would cry out, in profound summation, “It is finished.”

     How many times have I prayed for one thing only to receive another?  I long for the sense of detachment, of trust, that I see in Gethsemane.  God and God alone is qualified to answer my prayers, even if it means transmuting them from my own self-protective will into God’s perfect will.  When Jesus prayed to the one who could save him from death, he did not get that salvation; he got instead the salvation of the world.

     The final two prayers, for unity and for seeing God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, put Jesus’ followers in the spotlight.  “It is for your good that I am going away,” Jesus assured the disciples.  “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  He turned over the mission to us, as ill-equipped and undependable as that original band of twelve.

     In Vanishing Grace I wrote about hearing the musician Bono of the band U2 describe his short-term mission to an orphanage in Ethiopia.  For a month he and his wife Ali held babies, helped nurse them back to health, and then donated money to equip the orphanage.  Bono said that after his return to Ireland his prayers changed, taking on an angry, defiant tone.  “God, don’t you care about those children in Africa?  They did nothing wrong and yet because of AIDS there may soon be fifteen million parentless babies on that continent.  Don’t you care?!”

     Gradually Bono heard in reply that, yes, God cares.  Where did he think his idea of a mission trip to Africa came from?  The questions he had hurled at God came sailing back to him, boomerang-like, as a prod to action.  Get moving.  Do something.  The role of leading a global campaign against AIDS held little appeal for Bono at first— “I’m a rock star, not a social worker!”— but eventually he could not ignore what felt unmistakably like a calling.

     Over the next years politicians as varied as President Bill Clinton and Senator Strom Thurmond, and then Tony Blair and Kofi Annan and George W. Bush, found a musician dressed all in black and wearing his signature sunglasses camped outside their offices waiting to see them.  In a time of economic cutbacks, somehow Bono managed to persuade those leaders to ante up fifteen billion dollars to combat AIDS.

     With government support assured, Bono went on a bus tour of the United States, speaking to large churches and Christian colleges because he believed that Christians were key to addressing the global problem of AIDS.  He invited others to participate in what God wanted accomplished in the world, and many did.

     My understanding of prayer has changed.  I now see it less as trying to convince God to do what I want done and more as a way of discerning what God wants done in the world, and how I can be a part of it.  Mystery endures, but a different kind of mystery:  What tiny role can I play in answering Jesus’ prayer for unity, and in doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven?  The boomerang circles back.

*************************************************

Exodus 2:23a-25  —  The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.  So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.

Exodus 3:9-10  —  (The Lord said to Moses), “The cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.  So now, go.  I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

John 20:21  —  Jesus said, “Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

*************************************************

God, give me patience in tribulation and grace in everything, to conform my will to Thine, that I may truly say: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  

The things, good Lord, that I pray for, give me the grace to labor for.  Amen.

–Thomas More (1478-1535)

943) The Unanswered Prayers of Jesus (a)

Vasily Perov - Christ In Gethsemane, 1878

Christ in Gethsemane, Vasily Perov, 1878

———————————

By author Philip Yancey, posted on his blog site on October 18, 2015.

     Because I wrote a book with the title Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? I receive letters and emails from readers who give wrenching accounts of unanswered prayers.  A man quit his job at a printing plant when it began printing pornography and, despite his urgent prayers, never landed another job.  A couple desperately wanted a child and found themselves infertile.  Another woman got her wish for a child, only to have her daughter die of a rare disease before reaching the age of two.

     I wrote two chapters on unanswered prayer, but frankly, all words seem impotent against the mystery of why such prayers go unanswered.  When prayer seems more like struggle than relationship, when I find myself repeating the same requests over and over and wonder, “Is anyone really listening?” I take some comfort in remembering that Jesus, too, had unanswered prayers.  Four come to mind.

1.

     As Luke records, Jesus spent an entire night in prayer before choosing the inner core of twelve disciples.  Yet if you read the Gospels, you marvel that this dodgy dozen could represent an answer to prayer.  They included, Luke pointedly notes, “Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor,” not to mention the pettily ambitious Sons of Thunder and the hothead Simon, whom Jesus would later rebuke as “Satan.”

     “O unbelieving generation,” Jesus once sighed about these twelve, “how long shall I stay with you?  How long shall I put up with you?”  I wonder if, in that moment of exasperation, Jesus questioned the Father’s response to his night of prayer.

   The particular makeup of the twelve may not truly qualify as an unanswered prayer, for we have no reason to believe that any other choices might have served Jesus better.  Even so, I find it comforting that while on earth Jesus faced the same limitations as does anyone in leadership.  The Son of God himself could only draw from the talent pool available.

2.

     A clearer instance of unanswered prayer occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane when, as Luther put it, “God struggled with God.”  While Jesus lay prostrate on the ground, sweat falling from him like drops of blood, his prayers took on an uncharacteristic tone of pleading.  He “offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death,” the Book of Hebrews says— but of course Jesus was not saved from death.  As that awareness grew, Jesus felt distress.  His community of support had all fallen asleep.  “Could you not keep watch for one hour?” he chided.

     We have few details about the content of Jesus’ prayers, since any potential witnesses were dozing.  Perhaps he reviewed his entire ministry on earth.  The weight of all that went undone may have borne down upon him:  his disciples were unstable, irresponsible; the movement seemed in peril; God’s chosen people had rejected him; the world still harbored evil and much suffering.

     In Gethsemane Jesus seemed at the very edge of human endurance.  He no more relished the idea of pain and death than you or I do.  “Everything is possible for you,” Jesus pleaded to the Father; “Take this cup from me.”

3.

     The third unanswered prayer appears in an intimate scene recorded by John (17:20-23a), the disciples’ last supper with their master.  Jesus expanded the scope of his prayer far beyond the walls of the Upper Room, to encompass even those of us who live today:

My prayer is not for them (the disciples) alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:  I in them and you in me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.

Disunity virtually defines the history of the church.  Pick at random any year of history— pick now, with 45,000 Christian denominations— and you will see how far short we fall of Jesus’ final request.  The church, and the watching world, still await an answer.

4.

     The fourth unanswered prayer appears in what has become known as the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus taught as a model.  It includes the sweeping request that “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Surely that prayer remains unanswered today.

   On television I watch the long lines of migrants fleeing war— some 42,000 displaced every day— and think of their prayers for peace and the simple yearning to return to their homes someday.  I am haunted by the image of twenty-one Egyptian Christians kneeling in orange jumpsuits by the Libyan surf, their heads bowed in prayer as, one by one, each is beheaded by ISIS.  God’s will is not being done on earth as it is in heaven— not yet, at least.  (continued…)
***************************************************
Habakkuk 1:2  —  How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?
Matthew 26:39  —  Going a little farther, (Jesus) fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Hebrews 5:7  —  During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
***************************************************

O Lord, we know not what is good for us.  Thou knowest what it is.  For it we pray.

–Prayer of the Khonds in North India