The prayer dialectic…

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“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

ForsakenThoughts on Psalm 22

God’s promise and perspective: My early Christian beginnings were nourished in the victorious context of a prayerful missionary movement. I fed on the nectar of such Biblical promises from Matthew 7:7 and John14:14 – “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” My guiding principle was:

“Prayer means answer.”

What do I then do with the shuddering God forsaken cry that comes from a broken man?

“O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer…” v.2

What do you do in face of failure? How do you handle a cross? Jesus himself spent a lifetime resisting the Devil’s promises to answer prayer. The last temptation of Christ was to come down from the cross:

“Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”  Matthew 27:40

Theologians come up with two useful phrases that help me understand God’s apparent failure and weakness. Kenosis and Epistemological distance…the first is based on the humility of the incarnation, the fullness of deity, “making himself nothing kenosis(kenosis)” Philippians 2:7

The second speaks about a necessary limitation on the knowledge of God in order to protect our freedom to love. God doesn’t write his name high in the sky or play miracles to the crowd in order to impose Himself. He hides in humility, and sometimes pain, waiting to be discovered by those who long for true intimacy.

Perhaps my own prayer weakness may also be a sharing of the same principles? I am not a “prayer superman.” I need the discipline of learning obedient sonship, leading me, like Solomon in the face of the prayer promise – 2 Chronicles 1:7, to ask for more wisdom.

So should we all just give up and abandon the prayer promises? Surely not!

My experience is always less real than God’s Word and promise. In the face of transient non-answer and pain – Hang on! Be a limping Jacob, refusing to let go of the promise:

“I will not let you go unless you bless me.”  Genesis 32:26

In the Psalm, the suffering hero appeals to the Sovereignty of God and decides to praise Him anyway, whatever the circumstances – can we not do the same?

“Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel.” v.3

Other’s testimony and my experience: Are you sometimes overwhelmed by the victorious testimony of others compared with your own meager experience of victory? v.4 speaks of the testimony of history where “Fathers” trusted and were delivered. Others “cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.” Wonderful, Hallelujah, buy the DVD…But what about me!Fail

“I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people…” v.6

There seems to be a glaring contradiction in the heart of intimacy. The bridal delight of “Hephzibah” in Isaiah 62:4 seems to have been perverted into the restrained “delight” (Chaphets) v.8, of God towards his servant. I should be a glorious Bride…but I feel like a worm! Kenosis and distance are again at work.

What can I do? Appeal to destiny – throw yourself into the ultimate purpose of God.

“Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even from my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” v.9-10

Demonic oppression, yet victory in His presence: Bulls, lions and oxen speak of the fearsome reality of the demonic opposition let loose sometimes upon holy servants. Hearts turning to wax, being “poured out like water” v.14, are experiences of many burnt out, fearful – yet faithful, men and women of God. The “piercing” v.16, of hands and feet points us to Christ’s passion, but it is the same physical or mental torment of many of his people throughout time and geography.

BullsOnly the presence of the Almighty can give us strength in such times:

“But you, O Lord, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me.” v.19

The apparent contradiction of the opening “abandon” finds a deeper answer of intercession in the ultimate Presence:

“For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” v.24

My testimony: Intercession, prayer, praise and proclamation.

“I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.” v.22

My mission: Geographical – “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.” v.27-28

Social – “All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him-those who cannot keep themselves alive.” v.29 The whole social structure from the rich to the “dirt poor” will be impacted by such intercession from his Church.

Generational – Our lives of faith, prayers and sufferings lay a solid foundation for those who are to follow. Nothing is wasted. Can you believe that part of your mission is for the yet “unborn?” Those who sow in tears can be encouraged by this long-term perspective.

“Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn – for he has done it.” v.30-31

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