The Haven Through the Storm

To anyone who may have been following through with the prayer series, I haven’t forgotten about it but what I have been typing up was really put to the test these past two weeks. With no intention of getting into the details, I hope it’ll be sufficient enough to say that the storm has not yet passed.

I think it’s imperative that I mention this because Part 6 of the prayer series discusses what we think is an unanswered prayer of Jesus. Just before the cross, Jesus prays, twice, “Let this cup pass from me …” speaking, of course, about the cup of pain He was meant to drink on behalf of us. Now, I’m in no way comparing my trivial situation to the agony that Christ went through, so please don’t misunderstand me. I’m simply stating this as a reminder that what I write on this blog is usually a reflection for myself on what I, myself, am going through.

Those who know me will be perfectly aware that I’m a closed book when it comes to sharing grief or sorrow. I bottle up pain and emotion. If anyone reading is nodding and thinking, “Yep, I’m the same”; let me advise you against it.

You smile and soldier on and people think that everything is, as the British say, “tickety-boo” but you know it isn’t so. It isn’t healthy to act as though there is no problem. Instead, rather than bear it alone, we ought to wholeheartedly trust the matter to the Lord, even if, and especially when, His deliverance does not bypass the storm.

As we’ll see in the next part in the prayer series, Jesus wasn’t praying to run away from the problem at hand. Instead, Jesus’ prayer was asking a question of, “is there no other way?” He wasn’t backing out. He wasn’t running away. Think, the world’s sins, past, present and future, were to be placed on Him. He, who knew no sin, was to become sin for us [2 Corinthians 5:21]. He, who was one with the Father was going to be separated from Him, turned away, forsaken. He, who was the Word from the beginning and from the beginning was with God and since the beginning was indeed God, was now going to be left alone, torn away from God.

The road to Calvary was a mere drop in that horrible, dark, agonising cup, and He was going to drink it, willingly. There was no other way.

As I was halfway through typing up Part 6, I felt disconnected because I was preoccupied with my own tiny storm. Naturally, God suggested that we go for a stroll through it. Right in the heart of it all, I found myself praying to God, “I am not asking You to take it away. All I’m asking is that You don’t leave me alone.”

It connected, finally. When you know God and are known by Him, the most terrifying reality that you could ever face is not a burden, as crushing as that may be to carry; it is not an illness or death, as horrible as that may be to face; it is not a loss, as heartbreaking as that is to endure. The most terrifying reality that you could ever face after knowing God and being known by Him is to be separated from Him. Thank God for Jesus who bore it so that we wouldn’t have to.

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I learn from them, more than I seem to teach

In an age where speed is everything, it feels like patience has lost its place. We want the fastest internet, the fastest cars, the fastest computers, the fastest routes and, if we’re honest with ourselves, the fastest sermons.

Sometimes, when we pray, the answer isn’t a “Yes” or a “No”. Sometimes, God answers with a “Wait”.

That’s not something I do well with. I pray and when the answer doesn’t come quickly enough, like two seconds later, I begin planning all the possible outcomes of the situation; and, with that, what my responses will be for each outcome. Even though God has just told me to wait, I’ve already lost focus.

This morning, I woke up and, passing by the door to the backyard, I saw our dogs sitting in their crates. I let them out and we ran around for a little while. Remembering that I needed to give them their breakfast, I walked in and said to them, “Wait!” as they sat about a meter away from the glass door.

“Wait” is what I tell them when I intend to be back within a minute. I can’t remember ever taking any longer than that. Otherwise, I usually close the door behind me without saying a word.

Walking to our kitchen, I realised that their food needed some preparation and so I took my time in preparing it, completely forgetting that I had told them to wait. They were out of my sight and I was out of theirs.

Half an hour later, I walked up to the door expecting them to be running around in the backyard. To my surprise, both dogs were still in the same place I had left them with their eyes still focused and set on that glass door, waiting for it to open.

I had said, “Wait”. To them, that meant that I was coming back.

Running back to the kitchen, I quickly finished preparing their meal and ran back outside to let them enjoy it.

As I stood there watching them, I was reminded by my lack of trust. When God says, “Wait”, He means it. He will answer and His answer will be what’s best; and, unlike me, God doesn’t forget.

If My People…Pray (Part 5)

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

– Mark 11:24 ESV

What an interesting verse. Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Is that it? Can I honestly pray for just about anything, believe I’ve received it and it will be mine?

Some people, who take this out of context, surely think so. In fact, some people have gone further than just asking and skipped right through to claiming. After all, that’s what Jesus is telling His disciples here, isn’t it?

No.

No, Jesus isn’t encouraging His disciples to lay claim to their whims and desires and they will have it. True prayer is not a demand accompanied by really really really strong feelings of belief so that if the prayer isn’t answered we say, “Aha! You did not believe strong enough!”

There’s more to it than that. If you flip over to John 15, Jesus teaches His disciples the importance of bearing good fruit. I’m not sure if this came at the same time that He cursed the fig tree in Mark 11, from which we read the verse above. Nevertheless, spare a moment to read the following,

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples. As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide in My love.

If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

… No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you.

– John 15:7‭-‬11‭, ‬15‭-‬16 ESV

Did you catch all that? There are a few key aspects in this passage that I hope we don’t miss:

Key One: if you abide in Me and My words abide in You

Key Two: by this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit

Key Three: abide in My love

Key Four: keep My commandments

True prayer comes only out of righteous living. Abide in Me, comes the command. To explain that, Jesus gives the example of a vine and its branches (John 15:1:6); the very life, purpose, drive, and meaning comes only from the vine, apart from it the branch is dead. Bear much fruit, He continues, so that the Father is glorified. Abide in My love, by keeping My commandments.

We need to stop preaching the false message that life can be lived apart from Christ and yet still be fruitful, still be Christ-like, still be Christian; it’s not true! The Word of God is not what we choose to make it; we don’t pick and choose what passages we like and which ones we set aside.

We do not command the Lord to heal or save or fulfil our wishes, we do not order God what we want done. More so, when we don’t let His Word dwell in us, when we don’t live and breathe Him, when our complete lives are not for His glory, when we are not following His commandments, we as believers need to stop! No, we shouldn’t be praying like everything is OK; no, we shouldn’t be serving in the Lord’s house when He isn’t welcome in every aspect of our lives; no, we cannot break bread and claim to share in His suffering while our hearts aren’t broken before Him; no, we shouldn’t be leading others when our own lives are out of whack!

In fact, our prayer should be one and one alone,

Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.

– Psalms 139:23‭-‬24 NASB

That is my prayer; and until my will is aligned to His, like His is to the Father’s, my prayers are meaningless and futile; my life is dead.

If My People…Pray (Part 4)

Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.”
– John 11:41‭-‬42 NASB

Have you ever thanked someone for something you didn’t ask for? How about something they haven’t yet given you?

As Jesus walks over to the tomb where Lazarus lay, he asks the people to move the stone that shut the entrance of the tomb away. As they go about arranging that, Jesus looks up and thanks God for listening to His prayer — a prayer we weren’t yet even aware of.

What is even more intriguing is what He says next: “I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.”

When you say something out loud, you want people to hear it. From what we can gather, this is what Jesus does here. He speaks in a voice loud enough for people to hear. “Father”, He says, ” thank You for hearing Me.” Then, in what we can assume was a quieter voice, He states why He said the first line. This is not to explain to God in case He is confused, but so the disciples would write it so we can understand.

What’s happening here is this; as Jesus comes to the tomb, He knows that Lazarus is going to rise from the dead because He, as God, was going to raise Him. To make absolutely sure that no one separate Him from God into assuming that Christ was working out of His own volition, He lets the people know that His will and God’s will were aligned.

Robert Jamieson, on the topic, said it perfectly,

Jesus did not pray for what He wanted, but for the manifestation of what He already had; and having the bright consciousness of the answer in the felt liberty to ask it, and the assurance that it was at hand, He gives thanks for this with a grand simplicity before performing the act.

In other words, what he’s really saying is, Jesus, who lacked nothing, did not pray as though to ask for something but rather gives way for God’s authority to make obvious the power that Jesus already had, knowing the answer and sure of what is about to happen, He thanks the father in all humility before even taking action.

Now, some of you may ask me, “but Richard, how does this relate to me in prayer?” It is this, when we pray, what we ought to be doing is aligning our will to God’s will; and if it isn’t aligned, we ask Him to align it.

It is critical that we know this because the next part in the series is going to be heavily dependent on this fact.

If My People…Pray (Part 3)

After He had given thanks…

– 1 Corinthians 11:24

Did you ever hear the story of the man caught in the jungle being chased down by a bear? He ran until his legs could carry him no longer and reached the end of his rope. Admitting his defeat, and just as the bear was about to pounce, the man cried out to God, “Lord, please let this bear be a Christian!”

The bear stopped, held his hands together, closed his eyes and said, “Lord, thank you for this meal.” And … well, you can guess what happened.

This week, I want to look at the simple prayer of gratitude we once shared before every meal. The simple, yet important, words of thanks.

On several occasions in the Bible, when a meal was about to be enjoyed, we read that Jesus “gave thanks” and ate, or broke, or shared a meal. Before giving the food to the multitude, He gave thanks, He blessed the food, and then gave. Before giving the bread to His disciples for supper, He thanked and then He broke the bread and shared it with those beside him.

For whatever reason, our care for thanksgiving to God seems to have diminished over the years. We either feel too ashamed to give thanks in public or, otherwise, feel a word of thanks just isn’t enough for a prayer, so, we end up praying for a multitude of things. “Lord, bless those in Africa. Lord, feed those in Ethiopia. Lord, be with those in hospitals. Lord, keep those in airplanes safe.” However well-intentioned these requests may be, it does not change the fact that we fail to see the importance of the words, “Lord, thank You.”

Why do we do that? Why do we no longer see the importance of heartfelt gratitude for the blessings we have? Granted, our gratitude comes from deeper reaches of the heart when the food is more to our liking; but let me shift your attention to one little boy. This isn’t the same little boy I shared about last week, but a different one.

Whenever my family comes together for a meal, a gentle yet firm voice comes from the littlest member at the table, “I want to pray!” Without fail, my five year old nephew will ask to give thanks at every meal. For those who don’t know my nephew, you may be thinking, “He’s a child. He doesn’t know what he’s saying.” If you thought that, you’d be wrong. If there’s one thing that Mikki doesn’t hold back, it’s his joy and gratitude. His hugs, his kisses and his affection are always on display.

More than that, he takes pride in what he is given. “Look what uncle William got me! Look what dad gave me! Look what mum made for me. Look what jeddo [grandad] taught me. Look what teta [grandma] did for me!”

Thank You. Is it so hard for us, when we come for a meal, to simply say, “Lord, thank You”?

In case anyone misunderstands me, my focus isn’t to keep prayers short; it’s to see the importance of a deep, hearty gratitude that looks at what has been given and says, “Look. Look what God has given. Lord, thank You!”

If My People…Pray (Part 2)

Some of you may remember that small chorus that goes like this, “Read your Bible, pray everyday if you want to grow.” Remember it?

We don’t sing it anymore, of course, because we dismiss it as a ‘Sunday School Song’; it’s for children only, right?

I don’t know which passage or Bible reference was used for the foundation of that song but I want to talk to you about a little child who proved the reality of it.
This little boy was born to a poor family who had little besides their love to offer him. He was kind, compassionate, gentle and loving. One day, on a very long trip from their village to the main city, fatigue got the better of this boy’s parents; so much so that they started making their way back home without him. Alone in the crowds, this boy did something most boys his age would not have done. In fact, all boys his age would not have done what this young boy did.

When his parents realised that they hadn’t brought their boy with them, they were so afraid! What might have happened to him? Where might he have gone?

The two made their way back to the city looking for their young boy. Do you know where he was and what he was doing? He was in the temple listening to the religious teachers and asking them questions. Not only that, but he was even answering some of their questions and they were amazed!

This same boy read the scriptures a lot and prayed throughout his life, and never stopped. Many of his prayers are still recorded for us to read and benefit from.

Do you know what reputation he earned? Luke 2:52 says,

Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and men.

It helps us put things into perspective. If He, for whom we see no need for prayer, saw the pivotal need for it, it’s worth our time to have a look at it, at the very least.

Let’s look at Jesus.

If My People…Pray (Part 1)

They tell me Lord that when I pray
Only one voice is heard;
That I am dreaming, You’re not there,
This whole thing is absurd.

Maybe they’re right, Lord, maybe they’re right;
Only one voice is heard.
But if only one voice is heard,
Lord, it’s not mine, it’s your voice.
I’m not dreaming; you’re the dreamer
And I am your dream.

– C. S. Lewis (Letters to Malcom)

Have you ever wondered why we pray? Maybe you’ve pondered the question of what prayer even means. Whether you have or haven’t, take a moment to think of this question, why does God call us to pray?

For a lot of us, prayer is that privilege some people have of asking God whatever they want and He grants it. The holier you are, the more likely it is for your prayer to be answered.

For others, prayer is a talking to one’s self in a daze or dream, as C. S. Lewis was accused of doing; no one is really there listening.

To some others, prayer is a last resort. When all else fails, I’ll try God. He’s my last hope.

The apostle Paul encouraged the Christians in Thessalonica to

…rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

– 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NASB.

In this next series of posts, I want to look at prayer and its importance in the Christian life.

I haven’t yet worked out all topics that I will address; my aim is to post as often as I can so that we don’t lose connection and the theme remains fresh from post to post. Please pray for me as I prepare these.

May God bless you.