Friday, December 07, 2012

Our Great Cosmic YES!

There are two things I learned early on about prayer. The first is that we pray not to change God, but to change ourselves, so that we can be more ready for and more receptive to what God will do. The second is that God answers every prayer, but sometimes that answer is no. Recently, I have experienced the unsettling paradox of having some of the richest, most fulfilling prayer times of my life coupled with answers from my Father that were almost exclusively, "No." Loving, gentle, embracing no’s they were; but a no is a no is a no, and that can be hard. I cannot change God; but, these difficult times of prayer have changed me. And it is a good thing, indeed.

 As a believer, I am called to pray without ceasing.  As a frail human and constantly redeemed sinner, I fail at this calling.  However, I know there is one perfect prayer to pray whenever I cannot find the strength or will to pray anything else: Father, Thy will be done. So, I pray this as unceasingly as I can.  It is the ultimate prayer of trust; and, as hard as it is to let go of my own ideas about what God's will ought to be, it is the most freeing one I can fathom. His will is perfect; ergo, His will should be done. Something that I know is true, but sometimes have trouble believing, is Jesus' encouragement at the end of the Parable of the Persistent Friend: So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened (Luke 11:9-10). Ah, but these recent days have been full of asking, seeking, knocking, and no. Or have they been? In a struggle to understand that has both exhausted and edified me, I was not left unfulfilled.  For, while my specific prayers may be met with no after no, my meta-prayers have already been given a great, cosmic Yes in the person of Jesus Christ.

What in the world do I mean by meta-prayer? The prefix "meta" is Greek, and it is used to indicate a concept which is an abstraction from another concept that is used to complete or add to the latter. The Greek word can mean several things literally; my translation in affixing it to prayer would be "beyond." So, meta-prayers are the prayers that are beyond that about which we pray. That is, we may have very specific requests or issues that we bring before God when we meet Him in prayer; but, beyond what we even know we are asking and saying are our meta-prayers. These meta-prayers are the unspoken words of prayer: Are You there, Lord? Do I matter to You, Lord? Is there any purpose in this at all, Lord? Can You provide my every need, Lord? Are You really who You say You are, Lord? Can I trust You, Lord? We so rarely dare to speak these questions aloud, but they are there. And to those questions — questions we most need answered simply to exist day-to-day —— we have received our cosmic Yes.

Prayer is a gutsy and almost unfathomable thing.  We, bound by time and weighted by substance and sin, seek and engage in fellowship with the Most High. When I stop to think about it, I am always reminded of that part of Psalm 139: such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it. Were it not for my Yes, would I dare to come so boldly to His throne? It is because of this Yes that Paul could confidently write one of my favorite passages about prayer: Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, Rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Note well, in that passage from Philippians: Paul does not say to make our requests be known to God and He will be our magical genie and give us everything we want. One need only look at lottery results or sick children in hospitals, or pain and trouble all around to know that on this side of the veil, many prayers will be answered No. But this we are guaranteed: our sincere and constant prayers will bring us His peace, which is what we need, and better – how we must believe it to be better! – than anything we want. Paul, himself, was no stranger to no. I find comfort in his words from 2 Corinthians about his struggle against a mysterious (to us) "thorn in the flesh" about which he pleaded three times for the Lord to remove. The Lord replied, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Paul writes in triumph that he takes "pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distress for Christ's sake." Would that my own response be so filled with trust to my own replies of "no"! The weaker I am, the stronger I am in Him. Father, Thy will be done.

There are so many other biblical examples from which to take heart of mighty men and women of God who have had to face the answer "no." Job wanted to put God on trial for his sufferings; God said, "No," and then gave him a "yes" in the revelation of His glory and restoration of His servant. David wanted God to spare his illicitly-begotten son's life and fasted and prayed; God said, "No," and the boy died. But, He reaffirmed His "yes" promise to David's line in the birth of Solomon. Jeremiah, troubled and oppressed by the sin of his people and the coming wrath of his Lord, would pray without hope and receive every no he expected.  But, God said yes to the future renewal, regeneration, and return of his people, and Jeremiah clung to those promises, even as he wept.

So, when I pray for a rescue of an unrighteous, rebellious nation that bows before even darker gods than Molech, God must say, "No, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, for when they do evil, then they rejoice." But He has said to His children scattered across a wide and treacherous globe, "Yes, I will guard your hearts and minds through difficult times; be anxious for nothing. I will bless My remnant in the lands of their captivity." Father, Thy will be done.

When I prayed that an injury that would keep me from participating in an event I had long anticipated would be lifted immediately, God said repeatedly, "No. Your timing is not My timing." But, He also said, "Yes, I can heal and will heal everything in your life, even and especially the things you do not know are broken. And I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Father, Thy will be done.

And when I pray that a stubborn and unseeing earthly father will have his heart softened and humbled and come to know the living God through some spectacular Road to Damascus moment, God says, "Dearest, do you not know that this man has seen everything necessary to believe? That he has seen far more than many who came to believe?" But, He also says, "Yes, you can trust Me. It may not turn out how you thought it would; but know that I am Father to the fatherless." Father, Thy will be done.

And, in dealing with the frustration, confusion, and heartache of no, I hope that I never forget from what broken and bloody and beautiful circumstances my cosmic Yes has come.  For, in that Garden so long ago, sweat and blood dripping from His brow, Jesus prayed a fervent prayer: Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. That cup — a cup of scorn and mocking and torture and death — the very heart of the darkness of sin to be drunk by the source of all Light . . . at that moment, not even our very God incarnate could countenance the horror. But, our Lord and Savior continued, Father, Thy will be done. And when His will was done over those unspeakable hours on the cross, the Father looked upon His Son — can you not see the sorrow and pain and endless love in His eyes even now across the millennia?  and said, "No."

And that silent, deep, terrible No became our joyous, cosmic, eternal Yes.

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