The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Prayer (page 1 of 3)

But If Not

“The Lord is strong enough to rescue me
if he chooses.
But if not, I will not give in to sin.
My God is able to heal me
if he decides it best.
But if not, I will not forsake my confession of faith.
My God can undo this disability
if he but speaks the word.
But if not, I will trust in the God
who will raise me from the dead.”

Those faith-defiant words
belong to Greg Morse
in a desiringgod.org blog
(https://www.facebook.com/1595029729/posts/
10214939297667998/)

my younger daughter sent me.

They’re easier said than said.

“I will pray, oh, will I pray,
‘Lord, deliver me from evil.’
I will pray, ‘Father, let this cup pass from me.’
I will pray, ‘O my God, let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.’
I also will pray,
‘But not my will, but yours, be done’.”

Easier said than said.

(Morse asks) “Do you see him sympathizing with you?
Do you see him suffer for you? As all else fails,
is he enough for you?
Do you believe his promise
that soon you will suffer no more?
Do you see him with you?
Do you know the depths of his love for you?
Do you know he is strengthening you,
even in this, even now?
Are his scarred hands holding yours
as he whispers of glory to come?”

I’m fighting the biggest faith-fight of my life.
But I’m not forsaking my confession of faith.
I’m still trusting God—who else do I have?
I believe I will “wake to see his face in glory”.

But that’s just it.
(Dare I publish this?)
My desire is not
to depart and be with Christ.
I believe as Paul wrote
that it’s better by far.
But I want to stay here longer.
I don’t want this cancer to kill me.
Don’t want this PLS to deaden my legs.
I want to help carry Lois’s burdens.
Want to celebrate my children and grandchildren.
Want to serve through this blog.
Want to walk again.
O Lord, make it so!
But if this cancer spreads and PLS persists, what then?

I will take courageous faith
from Morse’s blog.
I will pray for power
to hold to my confession of faith
and trust my Lord.

And to the very end I will pray,
“Lord, stop this cancer-spread.
Reverse my PLS symptoms.
Just a word from you,
and it will be done.
Then I will enjoy great good,
and from me you will receive great glory.”

O, but I’m bargaining.
Trying to convince him
it’s in his best interests to heal me.
A fox-hole “Christian”:
“God, get me out of this
and I’ll serve you forever.”

No, I’m not above bargaining.
But, only briefly.
Again and again I come back to:
“If you’re willing,
you can make me well”.

But that’s too little, isn’t it.

I have to end with this defiance:
But if not, I will cling to my faith-confession
and trust you, my Lord.”

Easier said than said.

So, also, in my sinfulness,
I will pray for sufficient grace.
And in my weakness,
I will pray for his power
to be perfected in my weakness
that even “if not”
he will be glorified in me.

 

 

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My Glory

” . . .  my glory,”
and the one who lifts my head.”

Memorable words from King David to the Lord.
In this dark psalm
he flees from his son, Absalom.

Absalom conspired
to steal the kingdom.
He turned the Israelite’s hearts.
David fled before escape was blocked.
“So the king left,
followed by all his household . . . ” ( 2 Samuel 15).

“O LORD, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’
But you are a shield around me, O LORD;
you’re my glory and the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:1-3).

David had slain the giant Goliath.
But he doesn’t stand his throne like a warrior.
Instead he  sadly, slowly slinks away in weakness.
His ears hear onlookers’ gossip:
God will not deliver him.”

He  whispers– in faith–to the LORD,
” . . . you are a shield around me;
I find my glory just in serving you;
you raise my head high.”
Outwardly, David is defeated, humiliated;
inwardly, he’s rushing to the LORD his refuge.

Not only so; he prays,
“Rise up, O LORD!  Deliver me, O my God!”
It’s a prayer of hope
in depressing, degrading circumstances.
The LORD will restore him.
David expects to recover the throne.

Our kingdom hasn’t been usurped.
We’re not slinking out the city,
hearing God’s-gone-gossip,
humiliated, disgraced, disowned.
Even so, today we may trudge along,
much of what we once were gone.
Life was good,
under control.
Now, like David, our steps are heavy,
kingdom lost, God gone.

But dare we repeat David’s wonderful words?
Can we rightly claim them as ours too?
“But you are a shield around me, O LORD;
you’re my glory and the lifter of my head.”
Is the LORD to us who he was to King David?

David repeats what he hears:
“Many are saying to me,
‘There is no help for you in God’.”
So came mockers to Jesus’ cross:
“He trusts in God; let God deliver him now.”
The Son of David heard the same cruel words.
Of course, unlike David, God didn’t deliver him
–just let him die.
But God was Jesus’ glory, as he was David’s,
the One who lifted his head.
On the third day he raised Jesus to life.

The psalm applies to Christ,
so it applies to us who are in Christ.
The LORD is a shield around us.
He is our glory.
He is the lifter of our head.
We can sing it to him in worship,
and find it is so . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cup

 

“Father, everything is possible for you.
Take this cup from me.”
The words poured from Jesus’ lips,
a plea from the soul-mourning Son.
The dark of Gethsemane’s olive trees
hid him from foes—for a time.
The same black branches
reached to accost him in secret.
The night was dark; evil marched.

He had come, from Passover Supper, to pray,
bringing the Twelve, then three only, to watch.
Soon they slept while he went alone
deeper among the trees, deeper into the night.

His soul grieved unto death.
(Who can grasp his sorrow?  His desolation?)
His mourning became a bodily weight,
crumpling him to the ground in prayer.

He knew the cup that lay ahead.
He could see it, taste it–
the cup of suffering beyond bearing,
crucifixion—
the weight of the Father’s wrath
against the world’s sin.
From trembling lips, he prayed.
He didn’t want to bear it.

My cup can’t compare,
as different as day from night.
Yet my suffering persists, years now,
wheelchair- and weakness-bound,
cancer, too, that will surely spread,
unless stayed by the Voice that stopped the sea.
So I pray, “Take this cup from me.”

Apostle James, (against reason?), urges,
“Count it all joy, when you meet trials of any kind,
because you know this tests your faith;
your endurance makes you mature and complete.”
James, I welcome your word;
it reveals God’s good in suffering.
But, I detest the cup;
I grieve at it and long that it be gone.

And, later, James invites the ill:
“Is any one of you sick?
He should call the church elders
to pray over him
and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.
And the faith-prayer will make the sick well;
the Lord will raise him up.”

James would have me welcome trials with joy
and have church elders pray that the Lord remove them.
(Latter done, still working on the former.)

Apostle John adds a condition:
“ . . . if we ask anything according to his will,
he hears us . . . and we know that we have
what we asked of him.”
The Father, then, will give us only what he wants;
his (good) will be done.
But it’s against all in me
to stop pleading,
“Take this cup.”

Surely Jesus fell silent after asking.
Surely he waited for the Father
to hear his cry and carry off the cup.
But heaven stayed still.

“Yet not my will, but yours be done.”
The words came in surrender.
Resolute surrender.
Granite-faced surrender.  Unfaltering.
(I presume to know what lay ahead for him,
what he endured starting that dawn.
I read Gospel reports, try to imagine.
But I can’t comprehend.
Crucifixion.  Sin- and wrath-bearing.
Beyond my grasp.)

“Yet not my will, but yours be done.”
To drink the cup; it was his Father’s will.
Is it, too, for me?  For my cup?

Shall this be my prayer?
Shall I, too, surrender?
Father, take this cup from me.
In the Resurrection a new body?
Yes, I believe.
In this life healing?
Yes, my heart still pleads.

But this I must pray:
“Yet, not as I will; but your will be done.”

A story is told of two women
Both ill for years, both praying healing prayers.
The first, a missionary.
After eight years she gave up,
surrendered to God’s will.
Shortly after, he made her well.

The second, Catherine Marshall.
Tuberculosis—she prayed long.
Finally: “I handed over to God
every last vestige of self-will,
even my intense desire for whole health.
‘Lord,’ I said, ‘I understand none of this,
but if you want me an invalid—
well, it’s up to you.
I place myself in your hands,
for better or for worse.
I ask only to serve you.’”
That same night,
Jesus appeared and healed her.

This Prayer of Relinquishment
(coined by Catherine)
mustn’t be manipulation,
but full-blown, white-flag surrender,
a laying down of “please, heal me” prayers,
a true, “Thy will be done”.
To resist is mad—he will do as he wills
without my will opposing.
So what’s to be lost by losing control?
No thing.

And what’s to be gained by giving in?
Relief.  Peace.  Intimacy.
If I plead only, “Take this cup”,
do I make him merely means?

I must also pray: “Your will be done”
. . .and fall into his arms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If You Are Willing, You Can

News about him spread all over Syria,
And people brought to him

all who were ill with various diseases,
those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed,
those having seizures, and the paralyzed,
and he healed them (Matthew 4:24).

 Then Jesus said to the centurion,
“Go! It will be done just as you believed it would”.
And his servant was healed
at that very hour (Matthew 8:13).

 When evening came,
many who were demon-possessed were brought to him,
and he drove out the spirits with a word
and healed all the sick (Matthew 8:16).

 Jesus turned and saw her.
“Take heart, daughter,” he said,
“your faith has healed you”.
And the woman was healed
from that moment (Matthew 9:22).

 Aware of [the Pharisees’ plot],
Jesus withdrew from that place.
Many followed him,
and he healed all their sick (Matthew 12:15).

Then they brought him
a demon-possessed man
who was blind and mute,
and Jesus healed him,
so that he could both talk and see
(Matthew 12:22).

 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd,
he had compassion on them
and healed their sick (Matthew 14:14).

 . . . the people . . . brought all who were sick to him,
And all who touched [the fringe of his cloak]
were healed (Matthew 14:35,36).

 Then Jesus answered,
“Woman, you have great faith!
Your request is granted”.
And her daughter was healed
from that very hour (Matthew 15:28).

 Great crowds came to him,
bringing the lame, the blind,
the crippled, the mute and many others,
and laid them at his feet;
and he healed them (Matthew 15:30).

 Jesus rebuked the demon,
and it came out of the boy,
and he was healed from that moment
(Matthew 17:18).

 Large crowds followed him,
and he healed them there
(Matthew 19:2).

 The blind and the lame
came to him at the temple,
and he healed them
(Matthew 21:14).

 I see Jesus,
walking through Galilee.
In his wake the hopelessly sick
are joyously well.
And, Jesus is the same
yesterday, today and forever.

I know Jesus healed the sick
to reveal his kingdom,
where all the sick will be always well.
But he healed out of compassion, too.
So I plead his compassion now.

A verse from 1 John intrudes:
“And this is the boldness
we have in him,
that if we ask anything
according to his will,
he hears us.
And if we know that he hears us
in whatever we ask,
we know that we have obtained
the request made of him.”

I say “intrudes”,
because his will trumps all.
So, a leper kneeling begged Jesus,
“’If you are willing, you can make me clean.’
Filled with compassion,
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.
‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’”

 What, I wonder, made Jesus willing?
Compassion?  Faith?
Either answer, he didn’t heal everyone.
Nor does he today.
Healing is a miracle.
And miracles, by definition, are rare.

Listing those healing verses above,
I want to shout: “Let faith arise!”
–as if he will always give me good health,
as if illness can always be conquered by faith.
All things are possible;
at his command disease must flee.

I must have faith, but I can’t claim what I want,
as if healing were a prize,
and I held the winning ticket.
Healing is a mystery,
wrapped in the hiddenness of Jesus’ will.

So, I must kneel, humbly, like the leper and pray,
“If you are willing,
You can make me well.”

 

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Even If God Does Not

King Nebuchaddnezzar built a giant golden statue,
a self-image rising magnificently on the plain of Dura
in his empire of Babylon; it is for worship.
The herald calls to one and all:
“O people, nations and languages,
when you hear the sound of the horn,
you are to fall down and worship
the king’s golden statue.”

Thus, when the music sounded,
all Babylon within earshot bowed low
and worshiped the king–
except three.

Three among exiled Jews in the empire,
three chosen to serve in the king’s court,
three who now stand to answer the king  in his court,
because Babylonians, eager to denounce Jews,
pointed fingers at the three:  “Treason!”

Furious the king:  “Is it true?”
“It is,” confessed the three.
“One chance more,” the king replied,
or a blazing fiery furnace will be your fate.”

One expects a pause, a waiting to weigh their choices.
But the three speak quickly–and bravely.
(Or is it foolishly?)
“We have no defense, O King.”
It’s true–no defense, no power.
“We speak only this:
‘If we are cast into the blazing furnace,
the God we serve can deliver us,
and he will, O King.
But even if he does not, know this, O King–
we will not serve your gods;
we will not worship your image of gold.'”

The climax, we know.  Into the furnace the three are cast.
Enraged, Nebuchadnezzar peers to see his enemies burn.
Instead, he sees not three . . .
“But I see four, walking freely, unhurt in the fire,
and the fourth is like a son of the gods.”

So we celebrate, and we debate who truly is the fourth.
But  it is the words of the three that capture me
(To a furious despot before a blazing furnace):
“Even if our God does not deliver us,
we will not worship the gold image you’ve made.”
“Even if . . . ”
No assurance of deliverance, no promise of rescue.
This belief sure:  our God can . . .
This outcome in doubt:  he may not . .. ”
This devotion firm:  “Even if he does not . . . ”

This, then, is where we stand.
Not outside the fire, but in.
And we are not unhurt.

Shall we think our God absent?
Shall we say he cares not?
Shall we quake with fear and anger?
No!  We shall sing.
Stubbornly, defiantly, we shall lift our hands
and sing.
And if we cannot sing, we shall speak.
And if we cannot speak, we shall whisper.
And if we cannot whisper, we shall mouth:
“I know you’re faithful and I know you can
save through the fire with your mighty hand;
but even if you don’t my hope is you alone.
I will not bow down to the gods of unbelief.”

And we will remember, even if we see him not,
Or feel him not:
We are not abandoned, not alone;
One walks with us in the flames.

*Special thank you to my daughter, Meridith, and niece, Michele, for sending me this song!

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He Listens

“Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing.
Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait in expectation” (Psalm 5:1-3).

Jesus, the Lord, sits on a flat rock, comfortably.
In my imagination I approach.
How will he receive me?
Warmly he smiles, lovingly his eyes look.
I sit at his feet.

“ O LORD, you hear my voice . . . “
Jesus, Lord of creation, of eternity, listens.
As if I am alone of all men,
as if my words are weighty,
needing hearing.
He attends to my speaking,
without a hint of disinterest.
The Lord listens.

“ . . . in the morning I lay my requests before you”.
I give words to my weakness, admit my fears
and ask him to heal.
But more than requesting his help
I tell him my mind, my heart.
Though he is Lord, he listens as friend.
I unburden my soul.
Not once does he turn away
“O LORD, you hear my voice.”

Here, on my mind’s hillside, is the throne of grace.
I come as if a little child,
but a child of the King.
So I come expecting (like a child)
to receive mercy and grace to help
in my time of need
“ . . . and wait in expectation.”

 I remember a younger man,
who thus prayed often.
Not a carefree man
(the cares of his flock were heavy).
But healthy and strong he was–
capable, expectant.
He’s turned old, ill, weak,
needing care.
His feelings darker, words heavier.
But the Lord listens.

Now:  I’ve outpoured my heart to him.
He still sits, eyes searching my soul,
smile warm and caring,
hand on my shoulder resting.
His eyes mist, bringing tears to mine.
“O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice”. 

All for now has been said; he bids me go.
Outwardly, nothing’s changed.
Weakness is still mine.
Death still threatens.
But for moments, I’ve sat in a safe place,
a peace-place of hope.
The Lord has listened.
I go–to wait in expectation.
To see what he may yet do.
I go knowing he knows—
and somehow he stays with me.

 

 

 

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Your Prayers

 

Through the endless desert,
from oasis to oasis,
Moses led the Israelites.
Freed slaves seeking their Promised Land.
They dragged into Rephidim parched for water.
But Rephidim was desert-dry.
They raged at Moses;
He bore the brunt of their blame.

Amidst the furor fury came from outside.
Warring Amalekites attacked to destroy weaker Israelites.
Moses called Joshua to lead the fight
While he, Aaron and Hur retreated to a nearby hill.
With him, Moses carried the staff of the Lord,
The same staff with which he’d commanded the Sea to part.
He raised it now, over the battle below;
It was the Lord’s war
So long as the staff was held high.

But Moses grew weak
Arms, shoulders, wrists strained
Until the Lord’s staff was barely above ground
And then the Amalekites prevailed.

On either side of Moses, Aaron and Hur stood
Unsure what to do, afraid of the old man’s reaction.
Israel’s fate, though, now laid in their arms.
Quietly, simultaneously,  they grasped the old man’s weakened arms
And hoisted them high, the staff ruling over the fight.
Below the battle changed, almost imperceptibly at first
But now, now it was clear
The outmatched former slaves were putting warrior Amalek to flight.

 

I’ve thought often of that battle in Exodus 17.  It reminds me that the Lord rules, even over those battles we seem to be losing. Like Moses, I grow weary. My faith weakens as my symptoms grow worse.  I can’t fight alone.

You are Aaron and Hur to me.  Your prayers hold up my faith.  I’ve read your comments on my blog and on Facebook and email:  “We’re praying for you.”   Thank you.  Thank you for standing alongside.  Thank you for sharing your strength in my weakness.  Thank you for believing with me that the Lord is sovereign.  And he wins even the battles we seem to be losing.

 

Fingers dug into clay, searching for edges to grasp.
Slowly the stubborn roof yielded, the hole widened.
A rooftop for cool summer sleeping
Was becoming a doorway to healing.

The four friends had carted the paralytic on his mat
Across town to Jesus.
The house bulged with listeners, friend and foe alike.
They stood five deep outside
But the four would not be denied.
Their friend had been prisoner to his mat.
Day after day, night after night
He gazed at the clouds–and wondered why the Lord was silent.
His friends, too, lost hope
Until they heard Jesus was near,
Jesus who cleansed a leper
Could surely make a cripple walk!

Sweating and grunting they had dragged their friend up,
Determined, believing they dug the roof open
Until debris fell inside and arms-shielded eyes looked up.
Then  hands reached up to lower a mat and its prisoner.
And the paralytic lay before the Healer.
But Jesus saw more than a cripple, more than a broken roof.
He saw four friends’ faith:
“Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Pharisees present fumed, only God can forgive sins.
“So you know that I can”, he said to the paralytic,
“Get up, take your mat and go home.”

Silence fell, for a full moment,
Spectators waiting, wondering,
The paralytic unsure he could,
Then he rose, his legs restored.
He grabbed the mat he no longer needed
And with a glance of gratitude up at his friends
He went home.

 

Thank you for being my friends.  Thank you for carrying me to Jesus with prayers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I Am He

The woman lugged her empty water jar to the well, as the relentless noonday Samaritan sun beat down on her.  Her heart was as empty as her jar.  A line of five former husbands crowded her mind.  No matter who was at fault.  Each marriage ended.  And the man she now had promised no happier ending.

Noon was the hottest part of the day to fetch water.  But it protected her from the wagging tongues of the town’s women.  So she came when they wouldn’t.

She, a Samaritan, was surprised to find a weary Jew at the well.

“Will you give me a drink?”

Even more surprising that a Jew would ask a favor of a Samaritan. For Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans.

“How can you ask me for a drink?”

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

She wondered aloud how he could draw water from the deep well.  From where he would get this “living water”, if he thought himself greater than father Jacob who gave them this well.

“Every one who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up into eternal life.”

She wanted this water.  Forever-thirst-quenching-water meant no more struggling, stealthy trips to the well.

“Go, call your husband and come back.”

His command perplexed her.  She hesitated.  Then claimed to have no husband.

Shockingly, the weary Jew peered down the sad years of her life and agreed.  She’d had five husbands and her current man wasn’t her husband.

“Sir, I perceive you are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim we must worship in Jerusalem.”

“Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem . . . a time is coming and now is when true worshipers will worship in Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”

“I know that Messiah is coming.  When he does, he will explain everything to us.”

“I who speak to you am he.”

* * *

I read that encounter in my devotions this morning.  “I who speak to you am he” stopped me in my tracks.

I’d read it dozens of times.  From verse 1 I knew what the Samaritan women didn’t—that the weary Jew who met her was the Messiah.  It no longer startled me that he was weary and dusty.  No longer startled me that he had arranged to travel through Samaria at noon and sent his disciples away for food.  No longer startled me that he chose to give his most profound teaching on worship to a sad, sinful, Samaritan woman under a hot noon sun.

This is what startled me: “I who speak to you am he.”

For this is whose words I was reading.  This was who I was praying to.  This was whose presence I was seeking.  This was the One whom the prophets had promised.  This was God’s “Yes” and “Amen”—the One who will fulfill everything God had promised.

“I who speak to you am he.”

It struck me how easily and often I forget.  I sit before him as if he were . . . well, I don’t know what.  Someone less.  Imaginary almost.

The One whose words I “hear” on the sacred page, the One whose presence I seek to enjoy, the One to whom I make my familiar petitions—is Messiah.

Do I even realize the miracle?  The majesty?  The marvel?  The wonderful mystery?

As I’ve said before, my prayers inevitably are, “Heal me.”  The plea is a frustrated, weary, faith mixed with tiny expectation.  “Heal me; but I’ll be surprised (wonderfully) if you do.”  (I’m not crass enough to say that; but the words hide in my heart.)

“I who speak to you am he.”

The Samaritan woman never asked the Messiah-claiming Jew for anything.  So excited over him, she ran to tell the town’s women (from whom she had hidden) whom she had found.

“Jesus, Messiah.  Catch me up today in the wonder of who you are who speaks to me.  Who seeks me out in my emptiness.  Who comes to me.  Who offers me living water—a well springing up to eternal life.  Reignite my excitement in you.  Renew my wonder over you.  Open my ears to hear you say to me:  “I who speak to you am he.”

 

 

 

 

 

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So the Pope Said to the Interviewer . . .

Sounds like the start of a joke.  I wish.

According to “The New York Times”,  Pope Francis, in a TV interview, said the common translation “lead us not into temptation” was “not a good translation from ancient texts”.  He suggested, “Do not let us fall into temptation might be better, because Satan, not God, leads people into temptation.”

“Do not lead us” comes from the Greek word, icephero.  A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by Arndt and Gingrich cites its literal usage in the New Testament.  Of the men who broke through the roof, since they could find no way to “bring in” their paralyzed friend (Luke 5:18,19).  Of the fact that we have “brought” nothing into the world (1 Timothy 6:7).  Of the blood that is “brought into” the sanctuary (Hebrews 13:11).  And to forcefully drag in (Luke 12:11–“When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say . . . “

Figuratively, icephero is used of bringing something to someone’s ears (Acts 17:20–“You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.”  The only other place where it’s used in the New Testament is the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 5:13; Luke 11:4).

So the Greek is not ambiguous.  To change the meaning to suit one’s theology is bad translating.

Why is this important?  Words are the objective revelation of God.  Think about this for a moment.  God has supremely revealed himself to us in his Son.  But we know of the Son, and what he did and taught, through words.  God has also revealed himself in creation.  But we need God’s Word to interpret creation’s revelation and to know the gospel by which we’re saved.  So words are crucial.  And getting the correct translation of the Hebrew (Old Testament) and the Greek (New Testament) is also crucial.   If we pass over the clear meaning of words, we corrupt the objective revelation of God.

So, what does, Do not lead us into temptation” mean?  Denny Burk (professor of Biblical Studies, Boyce College) makes these three points:

One, “A negative request does not necessarily imply that the positive is otherwise to be expected.”  If a man says to his wife, “Don’t ever leave me”, it doesn’t mean she’s planning to go.

Two, God may lead us into temptation to test and fortify our faith.  Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am”” (Genesis 22;1).   “Remember the long way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments” (Deuteronomy 8:2).  Testing almost always involves temptation to disbelieve or disobey.  Hence, the Lord’s Prayer is a request that God not put us in such a situation.

Three, we’re right to pray for deliverance from temptation and testings.  Jesus did–“And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want'” (Matthew 26:39).

Paul did–“Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me” (2 Corinthians 12:7,8).

It’s uncomfortable to think God may lead us into trials, even temptation.  Some reject the idea entirely making Satan the agent.  But, if Job’s narrative is true, Satan is the culprit only by God’s permission.

“Lead us not into temptation” is a good prayer.  It humbles us before God.  It expresses our dependency on him in the face of trials.  It reminds us of the possibility of God leading us into painful circumstances we don’t want.  It brings us face-to-face with a humbling, but gracious, truth . . .

God’s loving, providential care reaches to every part of our lives–even trials which often contain temptations to our fallen desires.

 

 

 

 

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My Muddled Prayers

Puritans held a high view of God’s sovereignty and humans’ sinfulness.  Nothing happened outside his will.  He is the King and his kingdom rules over all (Psalm 115:13).  Humans are depraved and incapable of doing anything toward their salvation.

Here’s a sample from a Puritan prayer in The Valley of Vision . . . 

“I can plead nothing in myself
in regard of any worthiness and grace
in regard of thy providence and promises,
but only thy good pleasure . . .

Help me to pray in faith
and so find thy will,
by leaning hard on thy rich free mercy,
by believing thou wilt give what thou hast promised . . .

So shall I wait thy will, pray for it to be done,
and by thy grace become fully obedient.”

The prayer harmonizes with the apostle John’s promise and with the psalmist’s proclamation . . .

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us– whatever we ask– we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14,15).

“The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19).

I draw two conclusions.  One, my illness is God’s will.  Satan may be involved in some way, but ultimately the sovereign God has allowed it as what he wants for me at this time in my life.  Two, I must pray for God’s will to be done with me in this illness.

Does that mean I should pray for contentment with him, for grace sufficient to endure?  Or can I pray for healing?  If I were content in him, he would be glorified. If I were miraculously healed, he would be glorified.  How I should pray—and what the results would be (whether contentment or healing)—would result in God’s glory.  So God’s glory doesn’t tell how I should pray.

I’ve written here before that in his weekly phone call my brother-in-law prays for my healing.  So does a prayer group in his church (the church in which Lois and I grew up).  And so do I, pointing to Matthew 14:13,14) . . .

“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

And I pray: “Jesus see me.  Look on me with compassion.  And please heal me.”

I pray relying on Jesus’ mercy, because, while I have great confidence that he can heal me, I don’t have great confidence that he will.  So sometimes I pray for a gift of faith.   Often I’m just confused.

Praying for contentment in the Lord while enduring this illness seems like surrendering to it.  Everything in me wants to fight back.  To stubbornly refuse to give ground.  To stomp it out.  (Not by myself—with the Lord’s grace and healing work.)

Yet I find a certain peace in simply praying, “Your will be done.”  I can rest, not be agitated over healing I want but so far can’t have.  I can focus my thoughts on the Lord.  (Sounds so spiritual.  Honestly, often when I do the question intrudes, “But why won’t he heal me?”)

Despite that nagging intrusion, I think I should pray, “Your will be done” (keeping my prayer for healing on the perimeter).  The sovereign Lord has led me into this valley for this season of my life.  He will keep me here as long as he wants—until my dying day or until my healing.  (Either way, he has eternal healing for me!)  And here, instead of slipping into a mire of depression, I can meet with him in his Word and in prayer.  I can seek contentment in him.  I can admit what is more than ever painfully obvious:  I am utterly dependent on him.  Instead of withdrawing in anger or disappointment, I can draw near to him.  I can know Jesus in the fellowship of suffering (Philippians 3:10).  I can pray this Valley of the Vision prayer . . .

LORD, HIGH AND HOLY, MEEK AND LOWLY,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin, I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox

          that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,       

          that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells
and the deeper the wells the brighter the stars shine.

Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

( I will inevitably sneak in:  “And if you want to heal me today, please do!”  That’s okay, right?  Ah, my muddled prayers!)

 

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