Thursday, January 23, 2014

Unspoken Prayer

“Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard…” 1 Samuel 1:13

I have a confession to make. When I’m in a service where prayer requests are being taken and someone voices an “unspoken” one, I always feel somewhat confounded or even apprehensive, wondering if the request is a simple desire or a matter of life and death. Don’t get me wrong; I believe there are definite “unspoken prayers”; I’m just wondering if they shouldn’t be just that: unspoken.

The desire of Hannah’s heart was a son. To her husband, who of course could not guarantee her one, her inconsolable longing seemed to be unreasonable, even disloyal (v.8). And Eli, the temple priest, questioned the sincerity of her petition to God, mainly because she refused to voice it openly. To him, her moving, but voiceless lips were a sign of drunkenness (v. 14); while, on the contrary, she had not consumed anything, but rather, was pouring out her soul to the Lord (v. 15). As far as she was concerned, this was between God and her; and to attempt to communicate it to others was unnecessary and perhaps unproductive.

For you and I to pray for one another, we must have some idea of what is needed. Sometimes, it’s obvious. Other times, we must share our requests in order to “pray with understanding” (1 Cor. 14:15). But I have come to believe that the prayers closest to the heart of God are the ones that begin with Him and are articulated back to Him through our Interpreter, the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8: 26-27). This process may involve words on our part, or merely unutterable longings, “groanings which cannot be uttered.” I don’t know about you, but the more I try to articulate my requests to God effectively, the more they disintegrate into a procedure and not a plea. Instead, I’m finding that those people and things that lie heaviest on my heart make up part of my ongoing fellowship with the Father, inaudible prayers without fanfare, but with fervency (James 5:16).  

I’m rereading a book by a missionary in Communist China during the Second World War, called, Born For Battle. The author, Arthur Matthews, expresses, I think, exactly what I’ve been saying. Trying to show the difference between “my praying,” and “my prayer,” he says: 

“My praying” is my attempt to clothe heart content with suitable words, words that will conform to forms set by groups in which I do my praying. It is praying from within the bounds set by certain cultural patterns. Moreover, it is susceptible to physical conditions — the hour, the nature of the occasion, and the audience. In my praying I find it hard not to be self-conscious and crowd-conscious. These factors do intrude and, depending on my temperament, dilute the flow of the inner spiritual longing.

 “My prayer,” on the other hand, is heart content, separate from word content. It is neither bound by word forms nor inhibited by the listening audience. It is the overflow of a heart that the Holy Spirit has rendered sensitive to spiritual issues in earthly situations. It is poured out in a steady, uninhibited stream of undiluted longing… I conceive of “my prayer” as that spiritual purpose God has laid on my willing, yielded heart. It is sometimes voiced back to him and sometimes just choked in unutterable groanings.

The Bible says that after her “unspoken” prayer to God, Hannah “went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad” (v.18). I used to sing a wonderful song that said, “Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.” That’s the whole idea of prayer. When it has originated in heaven, our prayer will embrace the will of God above all things, and find confidence in the goodness of His heart. “And this is the confidence we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us.” 1 Jno. 5:14

“When thou prayest, rather let thy heart be without words, than thy words without heart.” – John Bunyon

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The One and Only

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life…” John 14:6a

Jesus warned in Matthew 7:14 that the way to eternal life was “narrow,” so narrow in fact that comparatively few people find it. That’s narrow. And in this verse in John, Jesus tells us just how narrow the access to God is. He asserts…

“[I am] the way…”

Our pluralistic society that considers equality to be the highest form of morality would change this to “I am a way.” And any religion or segment of that religion that believes Jesus meant what He said when He made this claim is considered bigoted and troublesome. But there it is; if Jesus is not the only way to God, as He claimed, there is no gospel. You see, what keeps us from being able to reach God is sin (Isa. 59:20), and the only way it could be removed was the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross. “…God was in Christ; reconciling the world unto himself…For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:19 & 21). Do you think God would have let His Son suffer the horrors of Calvary if there were going to be other, more tolerable ways to reach Him? It’s unthinkable. And if we have any question about whether to believe Him, Jesus says…

“[I am] the truth…”

Paul said, “I speak the truth in Christ” (1 Tim. 2:7); but Jesus said, “I AM the truth.” Every word He spoke, every thought He had, every motive of His heart was unquestionable. His credentials are impeccable. In fact, He was truth encapsulated. “In whom [Christ] are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). All you need to know in order to establish your eternal future can be found in what Jesus said and did while He was here on the earth. The New Testament writers, and especially Paul, expounded and expanded upon all that led up to, and all that accompanies our salvation experience. But when Jesus settled once and for all His preeminence as the only way to God, and then facilitated it by His death and resurrection, the path was laid out, and all that is left is for us to believe and accept Him, the Truth. But some may say, “Yes, but I can’t live the Christian life!” To that man or woman, Jesus promises…

“[I am] the life…”

You’re right; you can’t live the Christian life. Neither can I, but I do. John, speaking of Jesus’ Incarnation in chapter one of this book, says of Him, “In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (1:4). Jesus was alive from all eternity, but when His life was confined within a human body, it was done for the purpose of bringing the light of that life into the heart of man. He brought His life with Him to give for our redemption and to share for our sanctification. This is more than I can comprehend, but not more than I’ve been able to experience. He gave us a good illustration of how this works. He said in John 15:5, “I am the vine, ye are the branches…” The life flows from the vine into the branches, and the branches bear the fruit. An apple tree doesn’t bear apples to become an apple tree; it bears apples because it is an apple tree. Sometimes the fruit isn’t as good as at other times; but the fact remains, there will be fruit. And if the branches are pruned and tended to, the fruit will be better…and sweeter. No, you and I can’t live the Christian life, but we can have the life of Christ pulsating within us to energize us toward the things of God. And this same Life will overcome death and the grave (Jno. 13:25-26).

Thanks for allowing me to squeeze more sweetness today from these words of our Lord. My heart was moved and my soul refreshed. He started out the chapter this way: “Let not your heart be troubled.” Those were troubling times for the disciples, and these are troubling times for us. The Bible speaks of a time when men’s hearts will fail them for fear of the future. This may have been the case in the past, but it’s definitely true now. Yet, for me, though I may stumble, I’m going the right way; though I may not have all the answers, I know where to find them; and when my strength and resolve are wavering, the Life that resuscitates my soul continually will carry me all the way home to the Father. Of this I am sure. And I found it all in Jesus Christ, the Life, the Truth, the Way.

The One and Only!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Trio of Consolation

"As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you." (Isa. 66:13)

Are you in need of comfort today? It need not be bereavement, just a feeling of being alone and/or hurting. Comfort is one of many things in life searched for in all the wrong places, or from all the wrong people. If I may, I'd like to remind you (and me) of the right place and, above all, the right people. I call them a Trio of Consolation.

The Holy Spirit

In the ideal situation, it is the mother in the home who provides comfort to its occupants, in much the same way the Holy Spirit brings comfort to the heart of a believer (Jno. 14:26). Unless the inclination has been stifled somehow in childhood, or by a disdain for the feminine role, in general, I think all women possess a need to console and nurture. Whether she has children of her own or not, a woman's "mother-heart" is drawn to a crying child or a hurting soul. And her first impulse will be to gather them into her arms, next to her heart. The Holy Spirit, who is called "the Comforter," possesses that same impulse, and you and I, as children of God, have access to His heart, at all times.

The Father

The emotion most like this, and one which a father may possess, is pity. We read in Psalm 103:13, "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." This is as it should be, for it is the father who will make the hard decisions and prod the children to try a little harder and go a little farther. Because of this, he may run the risk of being too rigorous at times, and it's then that his ability to show pity will be most appreciated! It is said of our heavenly Father that "he knoweth or frame; he remembereth that we are dust" (Psl. 103:14). He knows what we're made of, because He made us; and when we disappoint Him and ourselves, He looks on us with pity and lets us try again.

The Son

But if our heavenly Father shows us pity, and the Holy Spirit is our source of comfort, what does God, the Son, bring to this Trio of Consolation? Why, empathy, of course, the ability to experience as our own the feelings of another. Hebrews 7:26 tells us Jesus did not simply reach down from where He was to comfort and show us pity; He actually came where we are (He "became us"). So now we can be assured the great heart that wept at the grave of a friend (Jno. 11:35), and over a doomed city (Luke 19:41), is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Heb. 4:15).

In the three Personalities of my God, I have the comfort of a mother, the pity of a father, and the empathy of a brother. Supernatural solace for inconsolable grief--what a thing! No wonder the songwriter wrote:

Come, ye disconsolate, where-e'er ye languish

Come to the mercy seat; fervently kneel.
Here bring your wounded hearts; here tell your anguish,
Earth has no sorrow that heav'n cannot heal. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Panic Attacks

“Be not afraid of sudden fear…” Prov. 3:25

As far as I know, I’ve never experienced a full-blown panic attack, at least, as it is clinically described: a sense of impending doom or disaster; rapid heart rate; trembling; hyperventilation; chest pain; trouble swallowing, etc. These are only a few of the possible symptoms. They usually begin suddenly, anywhere, anytime, even when you’re sound asleep or driving a car. They peak in about ten minutes and leave you exhausted when they finally abate. But to quote an article from the Mayo Clinic website, “One of the worst things about panic attacks is the intense fear that you'll have another one. You may fear having a panic attack so much that you avoid situations where they may occur. You may even feel unable to leave your home (agoraphobia) because no place feels safe.” In other words, as Proverbs 3:25 says, you fear the fear.

I said I’ve never experienced a panic attack, but I should qualify that by saying, a physical panic attack. The truth is, I’m well acquainted with the spiritual kind. Like the physical disorder, there need not be a legitimate cause for panic, only a perceived one. And in both cases, once you’ve experienced it, your greatest fear may be the fear of having another one. So much so, as the article says, you are loath to ever put yourself in a situation where it might happen again. When this happens, faith has been dealt a debilitating blow.

These thoughts came to mind when I read something by R. Arthur Matthews in his excellent little book, Born For Battle. “The devil is a panic artist and plays heavily on our self-consciousness in emergency situations.” They’re not sure what causes physical panic attacks, but the spiritual ones with which you and I may be struck, have Satan’s fingerprints all over them. He provokes (1Chron. 21:11), tempts (Mk. 1:3), binds (Lk. 13:16), takes advantage (2Cor. 2:11), wears disguises (2Cor. 11:14); in short, Revelation 12:9 says, he deceives the whole world. No wonder he scares us!

The remedies used for physical panic attacks are psychotherapy and medications, basically, to change your thought patterns. God’s remedy for spiritual panic attacks is to know and believe we have a personal Enemy who wants us to think he’s invincible, and we have no recourse but to surrender to his attacks (both lies); and knowing this, to stand fast in our position as “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37).

So take heed from the wise man and “be not afraid of sudden fear.” Satan is real and he’s scary; but we don’t have to believe his lies. We can call his bluff.