Last week the question came up:
What unfulfilled wants hinder me from being fully satisfied with God and worshipping Him with a joyful heart? In other words: What excuses do I make for postponing joy?
I've been thinking about my strategy for getting what I want—prayer. And I'm asking myself just how long I am going to postpone joy…Until when?
Until my will is done, my kingdom come?...
Until the accuser is silenced and I no longer have to live with his taunts: "what if your God does not come through"?!...
Until faith is sight and what I long to see is in hand?
Just how long will I postpone joy? For as I do I declare that God's promises are not enough, His love is insufficient, and His present work is substandard… Who am I going to trust if not Him? In my own efforts to somehow do something that will work? Or am I operating on the premise that someday I will come up with the 'right' prayer, the magic bullet that will convince God to act posthaste? If only I could learn to pray more… fluently? more 'spiritually'? more strenuously? more persuasively?! More what?!
I read the Lord's Prayer, my model. It does not sound like a marshaling of all my bravado to storm heaven's gates or to vanquish the foe with powerful mantras. It's quite simple really… Our Father, let your name be made much of and your will done without exception and without objection in everything that concerns me…and give me what I need to live today, forgiveness most of all and grace to do it like You do…and come to my rescue when I'm tempted. Keep me out of the Evil One's net, because You are the all-powerful, all glorious King for now and always… In fact it doesn't even sound like it's about my 'power in prayer' at all, but about relinquishing my will to His, daily submitting my needs to Him for whatever provision He wishes to make and just keeping my sights set on who He is, my Father and the Almighty King!
I get confused about this sometimes. Lots of times. Until I find I am doing little more than chewing the fingernails of my soul in restless unease. I become obsessed with 'my part' in dispatching duties that have spiraled beyond my know-how and can-do. There are too many loose ends, unmet ideals, broken pieces, looming disasters. And I can't handle it. I pray, but in distracted, distrustful, poorly composed little bursts that sound more like 'oh dear, oh dear, oh dear', than 'Father, you are great and you are good and I thank you for Your loving oversight of all that concerns me.'
Meanwhile, praise is non-existent, thanks is meager and joy is postponed. What then is left? Condemnation, guilt, temptation to distraction—be it a chocolate bar or a good book—and avoidance of further failure by withdrawing from present opportunity. And of course, anxiety, cloaked as 'godly concern', mind you; but recognizable by the unease that it generates—the opposite of rest.
My sister reminded this week of a winsome book on prayer called, A Praying Life. I actually discovered it last summer to my relief and refreshment. I had even written a review and tucked in some 'best of' quotes. And I had resolved that my prayer life would be different, better, more practical, more real… But something has slipped.
Here I am again. Obsessed by what I can't change. Driven to 'do something'. Desperate to 'make prayer work'… and repenting of my dogged determination to have what I want now, to see before I believe, to distrust the One who holds everything in absolute control and manages all my concerns with loving intention… I am loathe to take my eyes off the situations that alarm me but there is no effective prayer until this is done. As long as I focus on the problems I will hear the enemy's taunts instead of God's assurances and I will have wobbly knees and quailing heart.
I've been reading about Hezekiah, in novel form and in the Bible. The Assyrians were coming. They were utterly fierce and unfeeling enemies. They were powerful, unsurpassed in strength. They trashed every nation they assaulted. They never lost. And they were coming to destroy Hezekiah's nation, just as they had the northern Kingdom of Israel. He had done nothing 'deserving' this. In fact he was well along in reforming the Kingdom of Judah, ridding the land of idols and returning the people to Temple worship of the one true God. And then 'after these things and these acts of faithfulness' wicked Sennacherib of Assyria is invading. He taunts Hezekiah saying: "On what do you rest this trust of yours?" (Is.36:4) "Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria."Is.37:10
And when he can't unnerve the king he resorts to using propaganda to demoralize the people: "Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD by saying, 'The Lord will surely deliver us'…. Make your peace with me and come out to me." (Is.36:15,16) What's a king to do? What am I to do when my enemy taunts and tempts me to doubt God's care?
Hezekiah's was a terrifying prospect! (Read Austin's historical fiction: Song of Redemption if you need help imagining it!) Normally a king would call for reinforcements, allies, HELP from somewhere, but Hezekiah prayed very matter-of- factly and was instructed not to be afraid but to wait and see what God would do (Is.37) How easy is that? Not very. It's kind of like: 'In the world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world'. Good cheer? But, but…
But what's wonderful about this story is that Hezekiah actually listens to Isaiah's message from God and he in turn is able to strengthen the people to have courage: "With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles." (II Chr.32:8) And God goes to bat for them and the Assyrian army wakes up dead. Well, a whole pile of them do. The rest go home! (Is.37:36-38)
That's how I want to respond in the face of fear-- not terrorized beyond usefulness but confidently presenting my petitions to God, listening for His direction, and waiting with expectation for what He will do. Then the battle is his, not mine. And then joy need not be postponed.
"Behold, this is our God;
we have waited for Him, that He might save us.
This is the LORD, we have waited for Him;
Let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation." Is.25:9
Paul Miller outlines in his book that if prayer is going to be a living connection with God we're going to have to be honest with Him about where we are in our thinking. No pretending. He gives a peek into his own prayer time on one occasion:
"I am not confident of your deliverance."
"Until you do save us, give me the faith to wait."
"My inability to wait on you comes from thinking salvation comes from me…"* (Miller,255)
And I see myself reflected in his words. But I also find that God knows what I need to hear. These are some of His words to my heart this week. How can I keep postponing joy?
Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. Jn.15:5
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. Jn.15:9
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. Jn.15:11
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. Jn.15:16
God calls me to joy. He invites me to abide in His love. He guarantees the flow of sap as long as I stay connected. He invites me to ask and see what He will do. He reminds me He is love, and this is enough.
My calling is to retain bold confidence that He is able to keep what I commit to Him. I can trust Him with everything that troubles me. I can count on His salvation whether I see it in its full glory yet or not. And best of all I can rejoice in the Lord.
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning…
O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption. Ps.130:3-7
"Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders." Deut.33:12
How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him,…But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing unto the LORD, because he hath dealt bountifully with me. Ps.13:2-6
Can I whet your appetite for Paul Miller's book? Here are some quotes that speak to me…
“Anxiety wants to be God but lacks God’s wisdom, power, or knowledge. A godlike stance without godlike character and ability is pure tension.” (70)
“The great struggle of my life is not trying to discern God’s will,
it is trying to discern and then disown my own.” (157)
“Until you are convinced that you can’t change your child’s heart, you will not take prayer seriously.” (167)
“I often find that when God doesn’t answer a prayer, he wants to expose something in me. Our prayers don’t exist in a world of their own. We are in dialogue with a personal, divine Spirit who wants to shape us as much as he wants to hear us. For God to act unthinkingly with our prayers would be paganism, which says the gods do our will in response to our prayers.” (168)
For more, check out the full review with quotes here.
*Miller, Paul E. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World.
NavPress, 2009, 279pp.