Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Grace in our Time of Need Part 6 (conclusion): God Hears

Unanswered Prayers

A few years ago, during an advent service at church, I remember feeling so alone. The first unity candle, signaling our hope in Christ, was lit by a young couple and their two year-old daughter, her pigtails bobbing with each step. As I sat in my pew alone, I remembered when we were them, healthy and strong, ready to face the world, excited to be serving the Lord—and the tears started to flow. I have no hope today, God, I silently confessed.Our Sunday School class was struggling with questions I knew Dave could answer, if only God would release him to the service he loved. Instead Dave was home, left with no answer to the unthinkable question: Will I need to be taken care of for the rest of my life?

I know the question comes with the depression and anxiety of having a chronic illness. But that doesn't erase the pain of the question, or the agony of not knowing. There is a truth in there that Jesus understood. Remember in the Bible when Lazarus died, Jesus wept. He felt deeply the pain that Mary and Martha felt. It didn't matter that He knew He could bring Lazarus back to life—understanding didn't erase the pain of the moment. He called out to God, and God heard—and answered—and Lazarus was brought back to life.

And isn't that what we all long for, the God who answers with His power and love? Then we know our prayers have been heard.

But God doesn't answer simply yes—or no or wait awhile. When Jesus cried out to God the night before His death, "take this cup from me,” Hebrews 5:7-9 says He was heard. The passage reads, “During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…”

God heard—but He didn’t remove the cup.

And God answered powerfully and with love as He strengthened Jesus' resolve to say "not my will, but yours be done."

We do not have a benign paternal God who looks down from on High with occasional sympathy. We have Emmanuel: God with us. The God whose Holy Spirit has chosen to dwell IN us. Do we stop to think what this means? The God who lived through intense anguish in His life on earth, continues to choose to live through it along with us. He doesn't merely see our pain; He says that "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Mt 25:40). He is hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison, along with us. When He says "never will I leave you, never will I forsake you," He means to impart a depth of love and grace that if we truly understood it, would take our breath away.

What you and I live through, often involuntarily, God has chosen to live through with us, intimately, daily, weeping with us.Why He would choose pain rather than immediately use His power to "fix" everything, I don't know—but I have a glimpse of some possibilities. I think Jesus knows that power doesn't erase pain—He wept when Lazarus died, even though he then went on to raise him from the dead. When someone lives through something with us—really cares—they can comfort in a way someone more distant can't. On a deeper level I sense, as strange as this may sound, that God thinks we are worth the pain He goes through with us—and that the prize He is seeking is us, is relationship with us.

Would we understand what Jesus was willing to go through to woo us if we didn’t experience some of our own suffering? Could we truly know the love He has for us?

In us, and walking with us, God is making possible a relationship that will fulfill us so much that we will look back and think the pain was worth it, was miniscule in comparison. We can't see that now, but one day we will. Pour your heart out to God. Grief and depression can't be rushed—and they are not without purpose. God is a redeemer, and He will redeem this time, and restore your soul. Cling to Him.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 says, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.”

The very sovereignty that allows our hard circumstances is the same sovereignty that protects us.

Finding our refuge in God means knowing He is good when life is not. He is sovereign when life seems out of control. He is loving when we feel alone or abandoned. His grace is sufficient for us and what we need will be there, even if what we want or think we need is not there. Seek first the Kingdom of God. Know that He hears when He appears silent, when it seems He is paying no attention. Know He answers—and He is near. He will give us grace in our time of need.

Grace in Our Time of Need, other posts:

~Part 1:  God's Joy
~Part 2:  God's Silence
~Part 3:  Can I Still Be Your God? 
~Part 4:  Lies and Truth
~Part 5:  God's Protection
~Part 6:  God Hears

Ps 71:20
Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.

Lam 2:19
"...pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord..."

Ps 73:21-26
When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Ps 13:1-6
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, "I have overcome him," and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.

See also Stories of Hope


Chris said...

I really needed to hear this today, as I've been going through some health issues again. Thanks so much for sharing, Merry! :O)


Kim & Dave said...

Merry-your posts are always so encouraging to me & usually just what I need to hear!!!

I pray for you often, as the Lord brings you to mind!!