Friday, April 29, 2016

When the answer is NO


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Once there was a successful businessman who suffered a severe reversal of fortune.  He lost his business, his home, and his health.  He saw himself as downfallen and in need.  Since he was a Christian, he turned to his heavenly Father in prayer, requesting that his fortune be returned.  God did not grant it, so that man went around telling people that he had learned the hard way not to count on prayer.  He claimed it was completely useless.  As the Twelve were marching to Jerusalem, James and John had a request, that they get to sit in the places of honor in Jesus' kingdom.  Jesus replied that they did not know what they were asking - the honor had already been destined for two thieves.  John the Baptist was imprisoned for calling the king to repentance.  He wanted out, of course, so he sent two of his friends to ask Jesus Are you really the Messiah?  The assurance Jesus sent was His way of pointing out to John that special favors were not going to help nearly so much as the cross.

God was able to answer all these prayers.  He can always summon legions of angels to deliver His children from peril, but He can, and often does, say No.  We cannot tell how valuable what we are seeking really is.  Like the people in the parable, we may be completely caught up in the field, the oxen, or the wife, but the King's banquet is the greater good, for which He draws us to Himself.  According to St. John, there are two simple rules to guide us in praying.

Rule #1: It must be the prayer of a humble heart that believes in Jesus; not just Jesus the example, Jesus who is God Incarnate, the only Messiah of Israel, the one Mediator between God and man.  Concluding your prayers with the Holy Name is not some magic formula.  We identify ourselves as His disciples.  God does not hear our prayers without His mediation.  For this reason I have never believed that praying in public schools would bring about anything good.  It serves to make society look more Christian than it is.  In such a setting we want to practice toleration.  Do not think toleration is a Christian virtue.  It is not, but it is a civic virtue, a necessary trade-off in order to be able to practice our own religion.  However,  toleration turns prayer into confusion.  Better we should send our children where they can pray in Jesus' name.  Avoid public prayer that seeks any other God.

Please don't think that I'm claiming to know God's ways, at least beyond what He has revealed.  He wants very passionately to have fellowship with us.  He pursues us like an amorous suitor, begging for a few minutes in which He can behold each of us face to face, without the distractions that come from our agenda.  Sometimes, in order to do that, He has to deal with us as He did with the downfallen businessman.  Isn't it funny that we never complain when He gives us more than we ask for?  Even when He gives less, He is answering with kindness, however impatient that might make us.  The greatest kindness of all was the atoning death and mighty resurrection of Jesus.  We don't deserve His grace, but when we pray He still answers with kindness.

Now, Rule #2: We must pray according to His will.  Imagine what sort of world this would be if God granted all petitions.  If He granted what David asked for, a lot of people would have been wiped out, and those prayers were inspired by the Holy Spirit!  The point of those Psalms was not to teach us ethics, but rather how to handle our feelings, especially when they're as strong as David's.  The Holy Spirit knew he had to let them out, so He directed them into David's prayers.  Likewise when you feel that the lions are after you, that you've hit the wall, so cry out.  It's OK.  Not that God is going to take your prayer literally.  He knows your fear, your anxiety, He listens.  He wants to bring you closer to Himself, but not necessarily along the road you're thinking.  On the Mountain of the Transfiguration Peter wanted to build booths, but Jesus said No.  Peter's prayer was well-intentioned, but it was at cross-purposes with Jesus' mission.  He had to deny it.  God always answers prayer.  He risks the chance that you might become rebellious, but He answers in such a way that He remains the Leader.  He will not cooperate with your self-directed life, and Jesus experienced that same thing Himself in Gethsemane.

He was about to endure the most horrible injustice of all time, to be arrested by people who would mistreat Him terribly, then put Him to death.  The sins of the world were going to crush the life out of Him.  He had already resolved in His own mind to do this, but as the time approached, human nature shrank from it.  His prayer was as humble as can be, Father, if You are willing, remove this cup … The "cup" meant the horrors He would have to suffer.  God said No.  All the evil things that David wished on his enemies, fell upon his Greater Son.  The sacrifice that God did not demand of Abraham, He made Himself.  As Moses lifted up the bronze snake, so Jesus was lifted up, so that all who look to Him might be forgiven, to be the vessel of God's grace, the Righteous One suffered what we deserved.  That is God's will.  We must pray according to it, that is, pray as we're walking the way of the cross as Jesus did.

We cannot be too picky when it comes to God's timing of his answer.  Abraham was 100 years old before he fathered the child God had sworn by Himself to give him.  Abraham never gave up hope, although sometimes he tried to help and really messed things up.  It's like surgery:  sometimes you have to wait until your blood pressure goes down a little, or lose a number of pounds.  God knows the right time to grant what we seek, the time that will draw us to Himself, to the salvation He has given us in Christ.  He can, and will end our alienation from Him.  We trust His higher wisdom.  AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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