Cross Points 5.14.21

Talking to God:  Praying with Patience

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase about Bible promises that goes, “name it and claim it.”  I’ve always had a problem with that.  It tends to take promises out of the biblical context and turn them into a magical wand for personal gain.  “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for good and not for evil” from Jeremiah 29 becomes a personal promise for goodness.  Never mind that it was written for the nation of Judah (not for an individual) and before the fulfillment took place they would spend 70 years in exile, and before that they would be starved to death by the Babylonians before tearing down the sacred temple in Jerusalem.  Good?  Yes, but not soon, and maybe not at all by those who originally heard Jeremiah’s words.  Maybe the person using this verse today has failed to read further where it says they needed to “seek God with all your heart.”

Or take the famous “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11.  It lists many heroes of the faith, who did great things in God’s eyes.  “By faith…” Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Sarah all acted in partnership with God, he was pleased with them, but “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised.”
There is a book entitled Prayers of the Martyrs, and it’s intriguing to find that, as in the background lions roared, gladiators sharpened their swords, or assassins prepared for dastardly deeds, the martyrs prayers tend to be for their families, for steadfastness in faith, for strength to endure without shame, to be a good witness in tough circumstances.  Some thanked God, as the apostles had done, for being counted worthy to suffer for him. But few prayers are found for health, for release from prison, for personal gain.  God had somehow allowed what they were experiencing, and they wanted to be a faithful disciple of Jesus now, not in some future improved state.

How patient are you and I when difficult times come, when it seems our prayers go unanswered?  Have we examined those prayers, are they more about health and well-being than they are about being faithful and staying true to our Lord?  Are the concerns more physical and pleasantries than spiritual and enduring? I’m guilty at times.

Remember what is called the Prayer of Magnificat by Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:46-55)?  She patiently waited on how God would use Jesus. So, what did she think as she watched him being beaten and crucified?  Did she feel her hopes, her dreams, her expectations had been shattered?  Or what about Elizabeth and Zachariah, the parents of John the Baptist?  He had prophesied about “salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us” but then Zachariah watched as his son became an insect eating hermit in the wilderness of the Jordan River, eventually beheaded by his enemies.  Why, Lord, why?  We have insight.  They didn’t at the time.
For 15 years Monica prayed for her son, who had been swept up indulging his senses, living a God-dishonoring life.  He planned a trip to Rome, and she prayed God would not let him go, knowing the temptations he would face in that city.  But it was during that very trip that Augustine was converted to Christ!  Reflecting on this later, he would say that God denied his mother’s specific request in order to grant her general request, for his salvation.
It goes that way sometimes.  As we each pray, we may clearly see God’s answer, but far too often, we do not.  We all need patience, to see a picture bigger than ourselves, bigger than our family, a picture that focuses on faithfulness, standing strong, being a witness, obeying God’s directives, the church as a whole doing the work God has given it in this sinful world.  Patience may grant us clear answers down the road within this life, but we can be assured, like those spoken of in Hebrews 11, that our hopes will be fulfilled, in that “better country, that is, a heavenly one.”  When true of us, “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared them a place.”
Cross Point: “By faith Abraham, when tested, offered up Isaac…by faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau…by faith Moses refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing to be mistreated with the people of God.”  By faith, they were patient, and by faith, we need to be also.
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