Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Envelope, Please

Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.  The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.” – Daniel 10:12-14

Through his study of the writings of the prophets before him, Daniel was given understanding of the times and of the deliverance of his people from exile to return to Jerusalem.  Even though it was prophesied, Daniel prayed, confessing his sins and the sins of his nation, and asking that God’s will might be done according to the revelation given. 

In the film, Lawrence of Arabia, Lawrence famously counters the fatalistic determinism of his Mohammedan allies by saying, “Nothing is written.”  God does have a will, and the Son has called us to pray that the will of the Father be done.  We cannot be fatalists for we are the instruments of the Divine will.  Lawrence’s statement goes to the other extreme, exalting the will of man and making him the measure of all things.  

 Man can do what he wants, but he cannot change the truth.  The will of God is the truth.  To ignore it or defy it is to be broken by it.  To align ourselves with truth and reality, we must take in the sails of our own desires, fears, emotions, and insecurities that the fickle winds of worldly thinking might not seize control of our lives to overthrow us and sink us in the depths or cast us shattered upon the rocks and reefs.   

From the moment Daniel began to pray, he was heard.  There is often opposition and resistance that must be broken down in order for an answer to reach us.  As was the case with Daniel, the answer is not always as much an immediate manifestation as a confirmation or assurance.  God tells us, “You’ve got it.”  For us, much of the time, what impedes this assurance is not “a prince of the kingdom”, some dark external power, but our guilt, our lack of faith, and the contrary desires of our own fleshly thinking. 

I’m not sure there’s a lot we can do to assist warring angels in their battles.  For our guilt, though, we have the justification of the Cross.  If we need faith, it comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.  As Daniel’s faith came from reading Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, our faith is quickened and fortified as we study the Scriptures.  Putting aside the obstacle of my own will can be the roughest and most trying part of prayer as it is often bulwarked with rationalizations, dread of loss, and pride.  The discipline of persistent prayer aids us in breaking through this last barrier from our side. 

One thing about persistent prayer where I think there is sometimes a misunderstanding -- at least, I had a misunderstanding:  importune intercession is not necessarily long.  When some people pray, they seem to be making a case with God.  When Jesus taught us to pray to our Father in heaven, He did not urge us to use many words or to plead exhaustively.  In the illustration Jesus gave us of the persistent widow and the unjust judge in Luke 18, the plaintiff simply says, “Give me justice against my adversary.”  She knew her rights.  She knew the law, but she didn’t spend an hour giving the details.  Sometimes, “Help!” is all we need to say. 

Also, we should not be confused by the translation of Matthew 6:7 from the King James Version:  But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do:  for they think they shall be heard for their much speaking.  

The ESV gives a clearer understanding:  And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.  Don’t be afraid to pray often and repeatedly for the same thing.  Our job is to ask God to do His will – which is always the right, lawful and good thing that is needed.  It is not to nag Him into doing what we want or to win a debate with Him and convince Him to change His mind. 

God is our Father and our Sovereign Lord.  If His will is done, we are happy.


Rick said...

There is that pivotal scene in Its a Wonderful Life where our hero prays. I think of it often. Mr Stewart must have been there in real life to have pulled it off so well and shaking like that. He doesn't say much, but you know he means it: "I'm at the end of my rope, God. Show me the way. Show me the way.."
Least that's how I heard it.

Rick said...

mushroom said...

That's a great example, and a great scene.

John Lien said...

Timely post there Mush. I had to adjust my schedule in the last couple of months. What has suffered is my morning prayer and meditation. Feels like I've been losing ground. Upside is that I've been trying to sneak in little prayers all day. Might be a good thing since I tend to drone on if given the time.

mushroom said...

It probably depends on the person and what they are called to do. Usually, when you hear about people who pray for an hour or two hours in the morning, they are those called to traditional religious vocations. For most of us, it is, perhaps, as well or better to braid our routines, work and chores around God.