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Bothering Jesus

Posted Tuesday, March 20, 2007 by Brian Beers
Categories: FaithChurch  

I have started attending Wednesday night prayer meeting again. I promised my wife that I would. She is tired of taking our children to Wednesday night activities by herself. Over the past year, I have skipped more than I have attended. I have been avoiding prayer meeting because I couldn’t stand that we prayed as though we were afraid to bother Jesus. Nearly one year ago, Diane was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, one of the most aggressive and deadly cancers. As her cancer progressed, our church started praying for her to die comfortably and quickly. This kind of prayer is not advocated in Scripture. Instead, we find audacious prayers and requests.

In Mark, we come to the story about Jairus and his daughter. Mark recounts how Jairus came to Jesus and begged him to come and heal his daughter and that Jesus went with him. Mark interrupts this story with the woman healed by her faith which is demonstrated in the act of touching Jesus’ robes. Then Mark interrupts again with the appearance of men from Jairus’ house who tell him, “You’re daughter is dead. Why bother the teacher any more?” In my experienced opinion, the men from Jairus’ house must have been Baptists for we Baptists still do not want to bother Jesus.

We know the natural progression of cancers. Certain kinds of cancers may be overcome medically. For people with these kinds of cancers, we pray for strength and endurance and a return to health. Other cancers are like Diane’s, aggressive and deadly. For these people the prayer is for a quick and easy death. And for indeterminate cancers, we pray uncertainly. Perhaps we pray that it won’t be a deadly cancer. Maybe we pray that the cancer will agree to go into remission.

Our prayers are decidedly timid. If Jesus walked the earth today we might be the ones who sneak up in a crowd to touch his robes. But since he is not walking the earth today, we suffer much at the hands of doctors, scientific shamans who scare us with dire prognoses. Shamans who have made a religion of medical predictions. Shamans whose world-view does not include deity—or if it does include deity, deity certainly doesn’t work miracles against the natural order.

So we don’t ask for miracles.

Why not?

Do we fear the disappointment?

It is dangerous to hope for something. We make ourselves vulnerable when we admit to wanting something. It is this admission, confessed out loud in prayer, that strips away the safety of plausible deniability. But if I remain silent about a desire, and I don’t get it, I can pretend that it wasn’t really all that important to me. That pretense, a defense mechanism against possible disappointment, is a denial of the goodness of the world as it was created. It is a denial that the world can ever be good. It is acceptance  and tacit approval of the corruption of sin and death.

God has filled us with his Spirit. He has given us a divine dissatisfaction with the sinful state of this world. But this dissatisfaction is quenched in our prayers. We pray for the doctors to be skillful, for the person’s body to be strengthened, for them to not lose hope. Ignore the fact that we have lost our hope.

 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.
Matthew 21:22

 The Lord is at hand;  6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:5-7

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
1 John 5:14-15

 Through prayer, we learn God’s will. In one sense this is an immediate discovery that must be made each day, in each situation. We can’t discover what God will always do in each situation. He is a person who can make a decision differently every time he is asked. But we can begin to learn how he is moving us – how we fit into his purposes.

We can learn this, though sometimes I cloud this with my own desires. Sometimes I try to find ways to use God’s plans as an opportunity to gratify my desires. But sometimes I simply misinterpret what God has done.

Have I asked for things in the past that I have not received?

Yes. I have.

Then how did I interpret this disappointment? Did I conclude that God didn’t want to take that action right then, in that situation?

No. I concluded that God simply doesn’t do that anymore. Maybe call it extreme cessationism. I did not consider God to be a person who could make decisions according to the situation. God is absolutely just and impartial so he set up rules by which he makes decisions. He sticks with those rules without exception. This means that any time I find myself in this same situation (don’t question my perception), God will behave exactly the same way.

Sometime we misinterpret the answer we receive. My first quarter of college, I knew I was going back home for Thanksgiving. I had a friend whom I had witnessed to, and whom I wanted to come to know Jesus. I spent the weeks before Thanksgiving pouring my heart out to God. I was literally on my face, pleading with him to move in her heart. When the time came when I got to talk with her, I began in what I intended to be a non-threatening way, “I have been learning all sorts of cool things at school!”

She responded flatly, “I think you should stop pushing your religion off on other people.”

I was dumbfounded. I had poured my heart out to God, and he had left me high and dry. I was bitterly disappointed, and this lie from the enemy took root in my heart. When I returned to college and related this situation to one of my professors, he responded with the right interpretation, “Wow! The Holy Spirit must have been working her over pretty hard!”

If only I had wholeheartedly latched onto that assessment of God’s character – that he did answer my prayer. But I went with my fear, and have lived in desperate fear that God would simply entice me out again to disappoint me when I fully cast myself upon him.

Am I the only one who tries to consider God as an automaton? I replace steadfast character with rote responses. I do not understand his character according to the Bible or by his love for me in the now. I believe that the boundaries for God’s actions are the limits of science.

But this is not right. It is not true.

Now I see my own heart, shriveled and dry because I am afraid to trust God with my heart’s desires. I find myself despising prayer meeting because we all pray the same way – to the same God who only works within the limits of science. And I know with great certainty that if God can only work within the limits of science then I have no hope of him giving life to my heart.

So I had separated myself from the unbelief that prayed for someone to die. But I could not find life alone any more than with others. I confess to harboring the lie in my heart – that God did not keep his promise. Now I am getting on my knees before God asking him to make me alive again because of who he is rather than because of my stunted faith.

I am like the father of the demon possessed boy in Mark 9 (who first sought healing from the disciples):

“I believe; help my unbelief!”

Wednesday, March 21, 2007 12:38 PM

Eric wrote: 

I really liked a lot of what I read here.  I have experienced similar circumstances in my own life, times when I questioned God's response to my prayers.  It has helped me to remember during those times in my life, that prayer is not about me, and it is not about realizing my hopes.  Nor is prayer about my faith.  God is good, always, and prayer is about communion with God.  It is only in the midst of that divine communion that I can come to understand God's goodness in the midst of terrible times.   And even then, there are times when my prayer for understanding is unanswered.  This is when faith becomes my crutch and cross.

I hope that you find encouragement in arms of your fellow believers and I pray for a healing in your wife that can only be attributed to God's healing hands. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2007 8:26 PM

Sam wrote: 

Eric...perhaps you don't know Brian's wife.  Her name is not Diane...not that we don't want to pray for Diane's healing, but I wanted to clear up this confusion quick.

 I want to take exception about the line, "prayer is about communion with God."  I think this is partially true, but inadequate.  Praying for the sake of being closer to God is not the primary teaching or example in the Bible.  There probably are some, but I cannot think of a single recorded prayer that doesn't have either praise (usually over what God has done) or request (needing/wanting God to do something for us) as its purpose.  I know it is popular to talk about prayer as something that is relational...one of my favorite groups from back in the day, Hocus Pick Maneuver, had a song entitled, "If God's your father, then call home."  It was all about how God wants to hear about our day.  I'm sure he does, but prayer is more than just communion, it is also about turning to the one person who can actually fix the things that are going wrong here.  This is what God tells us to do, "Cast your cares upon Me, for I care for you."  Even the disciple's prayer is full of "give me" and "do not do this, but rather, do this." 

Let us not water down our prayer life and abandon pleading with God.

Thursday, March 22, 2007 7:24 AM

Eric wrote:  Thanks for the clarification Sam.  I have never met Brian, so just an embarassing miss reading.  "Prayer is about communion" does not mean that that is all that it is about.  However, I think there are many examples of prayer as simple communion without expectation of a favorable response.  Witness Jesus in the garden.

Thursday, March 22, 2007 8:19 AM

Brian wrote: Misunderstanding

Sorry about the confusion, Eric.

I should also let everyone know that the prayers that I hated were answered. Diane passed away last summer. I brought it up here because I promised my wife, Kristina, that I would begin attending prayer meeting every week. The fact that she needed to ask prompted me to write out the reasons that I had been avoiding prayer meeting.

Thursday, March 22, 2007 8:25 AM

Sam wrote:  On the contrary, I think Jesus' prayer is a brilliant example of throwing ourselves down before an all-powerful God. Jesus may know that the Father will not allow him to avoid the cross, but all the same he asks for it. This prayer proves my point, i believe, not yours. He is not in the garden "hanging out with God," he is desperately begging God to do something incredible...to the point of bursting blood vessels (or capillaries or whatever). This scene does not reflect the old hymn, "I come to the garden alone, while the dew is stil on the roses, and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known..." Also, a lack of expectation of a favorable response does not mean we should not hope or wish or pray for one. No, it may be in those desperate moments that we should turn to God most desperately. Whatever he answers is his will, and his will is best. But we seldom know it until it has come to pass.

Thursday, March 22, 2007 10:57 AM

Eric wrote: 

Well, again, my point was not that the only purpose of prayer is communion.  But I think you are really overstating the case that prayer is about asking God for things.  Who could argue that part of prayer is asking God to do the impossible?  I preached a message some time ago on "My Buddy Jesus", and I basically said similar things to what you do here.  It is easy to loose sight of who God is, but it is easy to slip the other direction where God becomes our Santa in the sky. 

 My point I guess is for balance.  When Christ told his disciples to pray, he told them to pray to their Father, a term of respect and endearment.  When we are told to pray without ceasing, this doesn't mean every word is about praise or petition.  While we are unworthy, God does desire a relationship with us, and I think this is meant to be a meaningful relationship with all of the ups and downs you normally see in a relationship.  

This means that there are times when we can be angry or upset and express those emotions to God.  I think Jesus in the garden is an example of this.  I think Job is an example of this also.  While Job was not completely accurate in his understanding, he was blameless, which is significant.  The result of his conversation with God was that he became closer to God and came to understand Him more fully. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2007 8:41 AM

Charlie wrote:  I have praying for some time that people would be healed when they are very sick (mostly due to the influence of my wife), but my attitude is that there is not a high chance it will happen. But I have seen it happen where someone gets better when they really shouldn't. So do all of you think it is legitimate to pray and not really expect God to answer most of a certain kind of prayer?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007 9:14 AM

Brian wrote: 

Could this be a matter of believing God incapable of working miracles?

This may be a by-product of the way that we hold to cessationism. I believe that the sign gifts have ceased because God no longer chooses to prove the authority of men to speak for him. What I hear from some cessationists, though, make it sound like it would be wrong for God to implement sign gifts again. Since sign gifts are miraculous, and God doesn't do sign gifts anymore, we infer that he doesn't do miracles. And this affects our expectation of answered prayer.

Thursday, March 29, 2007 8:20 AM

Charlie wrote:  Well, it certainly could be an example of not believing God is capable of doing miracles, but I certainly feel like I do not believe that. I completely believe that he is capable and that sometimes he does. I'm just not convinced that he is going to do so on a regular basis. I disagree with the Third Wave movement that says that if we are not seeing healings on a regular basis something is wrong. But I do pray that would heal people, because that is what I want to happen. I do rather think that we should be at least honest in our prayer life. I really want these people to be healed, therefore I am going to ask God for that. Obviously, we cannot expect God to give us all that we want, and we have to use discernment, but it does seem good to express your desires in prayer. Anyway,  Brian, do you expect to see miraculous healings on a regular basis? Can we only pray for something if we have a fairly strong assurance that God is going to do it?

Thursday, March 29, 2007 8:46 AM

Eric wrote: 

I think that the question of how God answers prayer is a really tough one.  We have so many examples of Scripture where we are told to pray for healing (James 5) and told the "Prayer of faith will heal the sick". 

 Many years ago I did some research on the power of prayer and found that many studies have been done in this area.  The remarkable thing is that the statistically speaking, prayer was demonstrated in the studies that I read to be more effective than treatment.  I wish I could remember the names of the key studies off the top of my head, but perhaps I can pull them out when I get home later tonight.

Those studies and the Scripture stand juxtapose our experiences where we have been disappointed by God's responses to our prayers for the impossible.

I suspect that the problem is not one of God's response but our perspective.  If I pray for the healing of a terminally ill person, and they die, did God fail me?  Or did God choose to heal them by taking them home? We pray that people won't die, but wouldn't Christ say that they are already saved, worry not over the loss of their body?  We pray that we might have faith to endure trials and that God would bring us out of our personal nightmare, but isn't God's response often, "My child this is how I will create the faith you need to endure."

Was the point of Christ's instruction to his disciples, that if they had the faith of a mustard seed God would answer, refering to their lack of faith?  Or was the purpose of that teaching to demonstrate that God's response is not based on the quantity or quality of their faith?

Thursday, March 29, 2007 10:12 AM

Brian wrote: 

My purpose in writing this post was not to encourage Baptist revival/healing servies. I want us to pray with our true desires laid out before God. I don't like how I hedge my prayers in order to avoid disappointment. I don't like how we do this corporately either, but it is easier to tell everyone else that they are wrong.

Our faith is that God is a person who can choose to respond to our prayers by his own free will. Prayer is an activity of submission to God. We express our desires to God without reservation, and we accept whatever answer he gives. The prayer offered in faith will not call God a liar or deny his goodness if we don't like the answer. When we pray in faith, we learn to interpret the outcome according to the Bible's testimony about God's character. When I prayer that time in college, I had a Godly professor who showed me how to interpret the outcome correctly, but I rejected that and my faith suffered ever after.

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