Thursday, April 4, 2013

Field Notes from the Prayer Trenches

So...I received this prayer burden today (an extra measure of spirit-tugging beyond what has been a nearly 4 year calling) and somehow, before the day was out, it became a determination to spend the next 5 days praying for a pretty lengthy list of people and situations. I'm very excited...and a bit overwhelmed. It's strange how prayer always seems like the least you can do for someone...until you really hit your knees and hunker down on the prayer front. Then, suddenly, the idea of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and sweating blood doesn't seem so far fetched. Prayer can be nearly an athletic endeavor sometimes—truly exhausting!

I spent part of the day meditating on Hebrews 4:15, which reminds us that Jesus is our greatest comforter because He has experienced and risen above every weakness, sickness, and temptation that comes to us through sin. By the time I came to prayer late this evening, I'd really started thinking about how profound that is. I had in mind the horrific tragedies people experience, and live to tell about, in life. One friend lost a dear one in the World Trade Center attack, another found out she has breast cancer, several others have out-lived their children, someone else was raped...and it goes on and on. I stopped and wept over one particular situation that someone we love has endured. My heart was stirred deeply as I held fast to the hem of God's garment and pleaded for His attention and blessing in prayer.

There amid my tears and prayers it hit me. There are some circumstances in life that can only be comforted by the Lord Jesus, who really gets it. I thought about Job, and what it must have been like to receive wave upon wave of horrible news—his children, servants, livelihood, and health all gone. And with them all but a strand of faith dangling over a pit of despair, the Slough of Despond

As I wept and prayed for our dear one it occurred to me that some life experiences bring home to us the idea that nothing and no one on this earth is "safe" from anything. Not one breath is promised...not one moment of peace or innocence can be protected from violation. Once you come to that realization by way of hard times and tragedies, it's not so easy to just call up a pile of comfort from within. The thing about tragedies is that they leave us with a sense of emptiness and depletion. They fill us with fear for what could be next to count among our griefs.

I wept harder as I continued to pray and wonder what it could possibly take to restore people who endure unimaginable tragedies and losses...the things we dare not speak of because they are our worst fears. My breath went away from me momentarily. How, I wondered, does anyone endure the nightmares of this life? When the hideously unimaginable comes home to roost, how in the world do we hold onto hope and let go of fear?

The answer came to me in the verse I started with. There are times and seasons and circumstances in life that rock us to our core, and that cause our souls to bleed with pain that defies our best explanation. The agony cannot be reasoned away; it can only be given over to the One who understands and can truly empathize with our sufferings because He has experienced them all himself...even though He was sinless. Jesus—Wonderful, Counselor Jesus—endured it all. And yet He did something amazing. Jesus gave it all, paid it all, so that we would not be left without a genuine whose agonies included and exceeded our own. Then He did something even more amazing. HE LIVED.

Isn't that an incredible model? Jesus gave his flesh—all the sin, death, and temptation this world could hurl at him—and received, whole, healed, blessed intended to be given away for our sake again, and again, and again. Wow!

As I sat there, poured out before Jesus in prayer and meditating on why and how it could be so comforting to know that a sinless man from over 2000 years ago understood and sympathized with our troubles, I asked God this question. What difference could it make that anyone (sinless or not) cares about our times of tribulation and really sympathizes? That brought on more weeping for our dear one's suffering. Then...light. I remembered what made our King Jesus and his sympathetic comforts so special. 

I envisioned Moses hearing the news that he would not enter the Promised Land. I imagined Job confronted by God while in the throes of grief and unexplained tragic losses. I thought about Elijah fleeing from Jezebel and suddenly encountering God. There was a truth I'd neglected to examine and bring into focus. The reason we don't read about Moses, or Job, or Elijah growing dark with fear and despair after their personal experiences with God is because He is Light and Life. He is the one the angels called "Holy, Holy, Holy." His faithfulness is great.

We can receive comfort from even the most heinous disasters when we focus on not only the humanity of Jesus who knows our troubles by way of personal experience, but  also when we focus on the breathtaking deity of Jesus who overcame sin and death through His perfect holiness...all so that we can live and live fully. If you are struggling to find the hand of peace and life in your darkness, meditate upon His humble humanity and His glorious holiness. Give him your fears and ask for life in return. Then...praise Him.

I promise...He will not fail you.

"Oh praise the One who paid my debt, and raised this life up from the dead!"