Tag Archives: suffering

Losing my Religion

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NightWieselWhile thinking about the Auschwitz memorial last week I read the moving story of one of the inmates, Elie Wiesel, who wrote about his experiences in his book “Night.”

Because of the terrible persecution and massacre, Elie found himself losing his cherished faith in God. At Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, he was unable to bless the Lord, finding only words of execration in his tragic inner conflict.

“Blessed be God’s name? Why, but why would I bless Him? Every fibre in me rebelled. Because He caused thousands of children to burn in His mass graves? Because He kept six crematoria working day and night, including Sabbath and the Holy Days? Because in His great might, He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many other factories of death? How could I say to Him: Blessed be Thou, Almighty, Master of the Universe, who chose us among all nations to be tortured day and night, to watch as our fathers, our mothers, our brothers end up in the furnaces? …But now, I no longer pleaded for anything. I was no longer able to lament. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes had opened and I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy.”

This isn’t the intellectual atheism that comes from science and psychology – inevitably relying on its own fiduciary framework, but the bitter cry of the believer trying to salvage a faith that is being shipwrecked on the rocks of incalculable suffering.

Perhaps Christ himself battled with the same agony when he cried out:

“My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?”

This strident cry, owned by millions over the years, still questions the goodness of God in a world where there is both personal and universal suffering. Some noble fellows, like Elie, prefer to choose atheism – or agnosticism, in a brave effort to exonerate God from the responsibility of being a despot!

Every generation is confronted with the basic question of why a good God permits the manifestation of evil – a question which the thinker Leibnitz framed in the term “Theodicy”. Is it possible to answer both of the following questions in the affirmative?

Is God good?
Is God all powerful?

For Wiesel, an affirmation of God’s power was in contradiction to an affirmation of his goodness. Why didn’t the all powerful God step in and change things if he really is good?

I remember hearing a young Rwandan lady testifying. She hid behind a large chair while Hutu rebels invaded her home and began to massacre her Tutsi family. She watched them raise the blade of a machete over her beloved father and brother. She said how hard she had prayed at that moment, asking God for help and divine intervention. In spite of her prayer, the deadly blade still drew blood and killed.

“It was at that moment that I lost my faith,” she continued.

Is it possible to still affirm God’s goodness in the face such apparent contradictions?

The Biblical Patriarch Job faced the same contradictions in his own life. Why had he, a just man, been so painfully afflicted and suffered such unbearable loss? In his struggle for understanding – and it always is a struggle, he refuses to compromise on God’s goodness.

“Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised. In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Job 1:21-22

Never sin by compromising God’s essential character of love! Always begin your answer to the theodicy question with a relationship, with intimacy, with total affirmation of God’s goodness. Begin with the person before the power. This is the tragedy of Wiesel – having begun with affirmation God’s omnipotence he finds his faith overcome by the inability to equally affirm his goodness in the midst of such horror.

Convinced of God’s immutable love, we can now dare to consider the question of his power. Let God himself answer the question. The apostle Paul was faced with dreadful suffering from a satanic messenger. In spite of his earnest prayers and upright life he found no relief. In despair he cried to God and heard the Lord answer him.

“But he said to me. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…”  2 Corinthians 12:9

We need to reframe our idea of power. True omnipotence has vulnerability at its heart. The apostle John, weeping at the tragedy of world history, received a paradigm shift on power when he had a vision of the Sovereign throne of heaven.

“Then one of the elders said to me, Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals. Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” Revelation 5:5-6

Lions and thrones – the things of power, and yet at the heart of all that is a little, suffering lamb –“Slain from the foundation of the world.”lamb

We cannot simply affirm a pagan, totalitarian power to God. His power often seems totally defeated by evil, only to rise again in the perfect sevenfold strength of resurrection.

Paul, still painfully pierced by his thorn, also understood such a radical concept of God’s power which passes through a cross.

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Many have asked the very legitimate questions of why it is necessary to “rejoice in weakness.” No easy answers here. Suffering is always shrouded in a certain mystery. However, here are some thoughts?

My first advice is to always resist suffering in all its forms. Paul prayed three times! Don’t seek it out. There are basically three approaches.

Resist – A huge amount of suffering is a direct result of Satan’s attack on the human race. God has sown good seed but evil seeds are also sown in the middle of the night.

“An enemy did this!” Matthew 13:28

Before having the knee jerk reaction of blaming God, it might be worthwhile considering that there may well be an evil adversary at the origin of such suffering.

Linked to this, is the notion of suffering as a consequence of our own wrong decisions, sins and errors. The Apostle Peter speaks about this.

“But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.” 1 Peter 2:20

“If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” 1 Peter 4:15-16

Don’t blame God for the consequences of your own bad choices. Resist the enemy and he will flee from you. Turn away from your sins so that times of refreshing may come upon you.Hiding Place

Grow – St Irenaeus saw suffering as a necessary part of “soul making.” The simple, sin stained clay of Adam is destined to sit with Christ on a throne alongside God. When suffering comes it can purge us of human dross and transform us to Christ’s image.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:6-7

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:3-5

Purpose – Corrie Ten Boon, The famous Dutch author of “The Hiding Place” – which recounts her ordeal in the Ravensbrück concentration camp, saw suffering in life as two sides of a tapestry. Sometimes we only see the ragged, incomprehensible, disordered strands from our side. However, on the other side there is a beautiful tapestry woven in heaven. This is her famous poem which brough her comfort in the horrors of the camp.

“Life is but a Weaving” (the Tapestry Poem)
My life is but a weaving
Between the Lord and me;
I may not choose the colours–
He knows what they should be.
For He can view the pattern
Upon the upper side
While I can see it only
On this, the under side.
Sometimes He weaves in sorrow,
Which seems so strange to me;
But I will trust His judgment
And work on faithfully.
‘Tis He who fills the shuttle,
And He knows what is best;
So I shall weave in earnest,
And leave to Him the rest.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.
The dark threads are as needed
In the Weaver’s skilful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.

TenBoomTapersteryThere is a sense of some divine plan, some redemptive suffering, some purpose behind it all.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Suffering will always cause various emotions to rise up in our hearts. Let’s call them the tree “R’s”

Rebellion – This is the most natural emotion. It is important to give it space to come out, but do not let it take root.

Resignation – When you realise that you can’t actually change some things a certain stoic fatalism can set in. This is better than rebellion but must never be our final destination.

Resurrection Hope – This is the place of glorious victory – the place where the dry bones live again (Ezekiel 37:1-10), where a devastated Marie Magdalene hears her name (John 20:16) and where the world finds hope.

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:19-20

God was not entirely lost to Elie Wiesel. During the hanging of a child, which the camp was forced to watch, he heard someone, outraged by the cruel spectacle, ask:

“Where is God? Where is he?”

Not heavy enough for the weight of his body to break his neck, the boy died slowly. Wiesel filed past him, seeing his tongue still pink and his eyes clear.

“Behind me, I heard the same man asking: Where is God now?
And I heard a voice within me answer him:
Here He is – He is hanging here on this gallows.”

We end with a paradox. Is God hanging dead in the Nietzschean sense – overcome, vanquished by horror? Or is he hanging with us in our deepest sufferings, identifying fully with our pain as the little slain lamb and leading us to the hope of resurrection?

Suffering – Ten lessons from Peter

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Everybody hurtsI have never met anyone who has never known some degree of suffering in their lives. As the famous song from R.E.M. says,

“Everybody hurts sometimes.”

The key is understanding how to glean the best from such experiences, how to light a candle in the dark rather than just cursing the abyss. Peter’s first letter to a suffering church gives us some good guidelines.

Before I begin I need to say that I am not a masochist! I do my very best to avoid needless suffering. I pray for Shalom and protection every day. The tradition of the Church has sometimes earned a bad reputation for a kind of perverse glorification of suffering coupled with a hatred of the natural body. I certainly do not want to lead you down that path. However, in rejecting the extremes, let us be careful not to throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water. There are some difficult verses in the Bible concerning suffering. What does Paul mean in 1 Colossians 1:24?

“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”

There can be no insufficiency in the Lord’s finished redemptive suffering on the cross. What is lacking is the application of that redemption, via the mission of the Church, into the world. Suffering must have a purpose, a missional purpose. The lasts posts have dealt with such missional suffering via intercession.  This was Peter’s message which he condenses into ten lessons to help his flock understand and cope with their own persecution and suffering.

1) Suffering tests and builds up faith.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith– of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire– may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:6-7

2) Suffering unjustly is a grace, giving us deeper intimacy with Christ.

“Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable (charis – grace) if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.” 1 Peter 2:18-19

3) Don’t experience “useless suffering” through your own sin.the scream

“But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God… If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.” 1 Peter 2:20 & 4:15

4) Suffering is part of our calling as we follow Jesus and take up our cross.

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21

5) Suffering sanctifies our lives and character – it gives us depth.

‘Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” 1 Peter 4:1-2

6) Suffering is a normal part of the Christian experience – everybody hurts sometimes.

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:12

7) Suffering, not in the present experience but in the wild faith perspective, calls us to rejoice in our missional communion with Christ.

 “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:13

8) Suffering releases a hidden blessing and anointing on your life.

“If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” 1 Peter 4:14

suffering9) Suffering builds confidence and faithful perseverance in our mission.

“So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” 1 Peter 4:19

10) Suffering is limited in time but it makes us strong, giving us an indestructibility which fits us for eternity.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:10-11

So, do not lose heart, focus on the invisible, focus on the Lord Jesus.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Intercession – My heart’s desire and prayer

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praying chrch movement diamond 2We saw in the last post how the woman in Revelation 12 could be seen as Israel. Now we look at the second option of her as the Church. This time the twelve stars could be seen as the twelve disciples and the sun and moon representing the breadth of the Church as her members “shine like stars” in a dark world. However adding metaphor to metaphor is not the real point. We, as a Church,  are a people called to pray.

The early apostles set the identity of the Church and Paul, like a Moses of old, wrote down the grace principles in his letters and his life. In one word Paul modelled intercession. He, like the sign of the pregnant woman, knew all about making disciples through painful spiritual travail.

“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” Galatians 4:19

We see this same committed intercession at the end of Romans 8, a passage which “hinges” significantly to the beginning of Romans 9, and which shouldn’t be stopped by the chapter numbers,  but should flow on to reveal Paul’s pained identification with his brother Israelites. One thread  of chapter 8 is the incredible commitment and love that God shows in Christ to His people. There is NOW, “no condemnation”. For If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”  There is also no accusation:Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died– more than that, who was raised to life– is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” And no separation: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”  Romans 8:31-35

The climax to all this come in the last verse as Paul emphasises the certainty and indestructibility of our place in God’s heart:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” v.38-39

He is emphasising the “no separation” love he knows of Christ – and yet he is prepared to go beyond promise, beyond even his own blessed experience of Christ’s intimacy, stepping boldly into the realm of identification and suffering for his own people.

“I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit – I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers , those of my own race, the people of Israel. ”  Romans 9:1-4

The man who so confidently proclaimed to the Philippian church: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” now has unceasing sorrow for his brothers. This is the paradox of our Christian pilgrimage on earth. Sorrow and joy often meet in the same heart, sometimes in the same instant, both intensely real and yet not hijacking one another in the mature believer. Tears and laughter can share an instant in the hidden heart of the intercessor.tears and laughter

Like his ancestor Moses of old, and his beloved Jesus of the cross,  he is willing to sacrifice even his own salvation, such is the passion of his prayer.

“But now, please forgive their sin– but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” Exodus 32:32

Christ’s living body on earth also modelled the obedience of intercession as an almighty God identified with the pain and lostness of His people with powerful tears.

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”   Hebrews 5: 7

Before a waiting and watching world, imprisoned in the depths of sadness and suffering, the Church, the body of Christ, stands. May the multitudes see our tears and prayers as we are sent out in the same intercessory spirit as Christ himself.

Paul makes an interesting statement of Christ’s passion in Colossians 1:24,

“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”

What is lacking? Surely there is no lack on the side of Christ’s full redemptive act. The lack is on the other side of the cross, as the Church is challenged to pick up the missionary baton of intercession and take Christ’s love to the end of the earth – on knees first, and then aeroplanes! It is not a redemptive lack, but an intercessory missionary lack! The power and passion awaits those who dare “rejoice” in suffering for the Gospel.

“To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” v.29

This is a call for the church to “labour”, to birth the reigning male child, Christ’s Kingdom, into the world.

I’ll end by going back to Romans 10:1, which encapsulates Paul’s longing – the Church’s longing and hopefully our own longings in intercession, for people to be saved. Paul prays for his brother Israelites here, but you can use these lines to pray for those closest to your own heart.

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.”

Intercession – A sympathetic God

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Mind the gapHaving come to the end of our series on prayer, let’s begin another journey into intercession. First question:

“What is the difference between prayer and intercession?

Much good material has been written on this. Most people would agree that it might be unhelpful to make too dogmatic a distinction as there are many overlaps and grey areas between the two. A person who prays much may also find himself in the place of intercession whether he knows it or not. Intercession is more of “a standing in the gap” on behalf of someone else, some situation or nation.

For me, intercession is the place where your own prayers take on flesh. After a prayer meeting, you can go home and forget the prayers you prayed and carry on with your life. An intercessory prayer will stick on your insides – it will not let you go, it becomes part of your life. Psalm 109:4 puts it well as it literally states:“…but I am prayer.”

Intercession is when you become your prayer. It goes beyond words into a lifestyle.

Isaiah 53, is a prophetic passage speaking of the crucifixion – the ultimate intercession where the innocent Lamb of God took our place and punishment for the guilt of sin.

“Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

Ezekiel 22:30 also offers a good description of such intercession which stands on behalf of someone else.

“I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so that I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.”

Great intercessors of the Old Testament can be found in Abraham’s prayer for Sodom and Gomorrah, Hannah’s prayer for a child, Nehemiah’s prayer for Jerusalem, Daniel’s spiritual warfare intercession to see the promises of God for his nation accomplished, Moses prayer on behalf of wayward Israel in the desert and many more.gap

Psalm 106:25 speaks in the same terms about Moses’ intercession:

“So he said he would destroy them– had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him to keep his wrath from destroying them.”

And Moses himself comments the event in Deuteronomy 9:25:

 “I lay prostrate before the LORD those forty days and forty nights because the LORD had said he would destroy you.”

Jesus’ earthly life as well as Paul’s and the apostles’ were all about crying out to God and living on behalf of others:

 “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Hebrews 5:7

Jesus is still operating in this vital ministry of intercession which burst forth once and for all from the cross and resonates into our present day and circumstances:

“Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” Hebrews 7:25

Let me give you three major attributes of intercession.

1. Identification – Sympathéo

You cannot just say words. There is a taking up of a position of identification with the situation prayed for. A missionary paradigm enhances the power of intercession as languages are learned and cultures assimilated in an incarnational process. We have a God who identified with His creation:

 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise (sympathéo) with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are– yet was without sin.” Hebrews 4:15

???????????????????????????????????????Pathos is the Greek word for suffering. Sympathéo – from where we get our English word sympathy, is much more than just a sad feeling for someone; it is an intentional taking on of their pain. Such identification may take the form of fasting, nights of prayer, sacrificial giving and service. It is important to allow the Holy Spirit to lead you into such things as man’s good or guilty intentions will only end in failure and spiritual pride.

2. Suffering – Dolor

Identification will lead us to suffering. Jesus, the “man of sorrows”, knew all about this. We will all need to negotiate our own “via dolorosa” through life as we follow Jesus, carrying our own crosses.

Romans 8:18,26 opens by talking about such suffering, but rather than seeing it as some huge crushing curse, it goes on to show how the Holy Spirit can take our local suffering and give it global, intercessory significance. Who knows what caused David to cry out in his Psalm, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” Hundreds of years later his local cry of pain became a cosmic redemption on the Son of God’s crucified lips. Who knows what glory and significance our own groans might carry?

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us… In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”

3. Authority – Exousia

After a cross there is always resurrection. The suffering endured on behalf of others gives a moral and spiritual authority to our lives and prayers. It puts substance into our faith and quality into our character. Each successive event and  place of intercession gained builds up our own personal curriculum vitae of credibility before God and men. Desmond Tutu, in his book “No Future without Forgiveness”, commenting about Nelson Mandela’s authority to plead for the reconciliation of a nation, writes the following:

“It would be easy to say that those twenty-seven years were utter shameful waste: just think of all he could have contributed to the good of South Africa and the world. I don’t think so. Those twenty-seven years and all the suffering they entailed were the fires of the furnace that tempered his steel, that removed the dross. Perhaps without that suffering he would have been less able to be as compassionate and as magnanimous as he turned out to be. And that suffering on behalf of others gave him an authority and credibility  that can be provided by nothing else in quite the same way. The true leader must at some point or other convince her or his followers that she or he is in this whole business not for self-aggrandisement but for the sake of others. Nothing is able to prove this quite as convincingly as suffering.”Mandela at Church

Jesus stood on a mountain before a discouraged band of disciples. Some worshiped when they saw him while others doubted. Doubt and worship form the beautiful vulnerability of the missionary context where the splendour of God and our own inability form a glorious – if not contradictory, alliance.

Jesus spoke these majestic words of authority encouraging a handful of ordinary people to take on the world:

“All authority (exousia) in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” Matthew 28:18-19

His authority was the fruit of His passion, the fruit of intercession.

May we rise to the challenge to bear such fruit in our own lives.

 

 

 

Satan has asked…

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Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”             Luke 22:31-32

Why do bad and tragic things happen to the nicest of people? Why is there suffering in the world? While philosophers and theologians have sweated over these questions for years trying to come up with some convincing theodicy, I would venture to contribute a very simple answer to the debate.

Bad things happen because “Satan asks”.

It is as if the generous faculty of prayer which God has offered and built into his creation has been profoundly understood, yet usurped, by the prince of darkness and deception.

One of the earliest books of the Bible ever to be written is the book of Job. In the very first chapters, Job 1:6-11, we see a kind of angelic prayer meeting as the “sons of God” come to present themselves to the Lord. Satan joins in the gathering and tries to undermine the divine eulogy of Job by saying that his integrity is based merely on self interest. “…Stretch out your hand and strike everything he has and he will surely curse you to your face…”  Satan has a perverse logic in his asking that demands a response from the Lord. Simply destroying Satan would leave his perverted prayer unanswered, raising a question mark in eternity. So the Lord chooses to answer, through the suffering of his servant – a suffering which prefigures the ultimate answer to Satan’s jibe which came in the suffering form of Christ at Calvary.

Satan asks about Job, but he is continually asking about the servants of the Lord. Now it is Simon Peter’s turn to become the unfortunate object of Satan’s prayer. I wonder how many mighty leaders may have underestimated the terrible power of this demonic asking and found themselves in compromising circumstances? How many tragic events in world history may also find their origin in this shadowy orison?

Satan has been asking throughout history. Even when the Father affirmed his pleasure in His Son Jesus by declaring in Luke 3:22:

“You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Satan counter attacked with the twice twisted prayer question: “If you are the Son of God”, hammering home his final prayer proposition to usurp the very position of God.

“…if you worship me…”

The world suffers under this Satan onslaught of damning prayer. Many never seem to be able to rise above the dark tide. However, good news is on the way. For those who believe, there is a greater asking. “But I have prayed for you”

God himself has incarnated into intercessory prayer which at the same time satisfies and overcomes the enemies’ demands. He bled out a greater cry of victory in a prayer that straddles the history of mankind and redeems us from the claims of the evil one.

What might Jesus have prayed?

The great intercession of John 17 gives us some direction. “Glorify…” Jesus quest was always glory for the Father through his own glory. This can also be our own prayer in the midst of suffering. “…What shall I say? (pray)…Save me?…No…Glorify your name…” John 12:27-28

This prayer for glory opens heaven –“it thundered”, casts out and annuls the supplications of the enemy.

“Now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” John 12:31

Jesus also prayed for protection for his chosen ones. “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name…protect them from the evil one.” John 17:11 &15

In Zechariah 3:2 we can also overhear the Lord’s stinging rebuke of the evil one’s prayerful accusation. “The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you!”

Jesus prayed for Simon, and he is praying for you. He ever lives to intercede for his people – Hebrews 7:25.

Jesus prayer means that your faith will not fail. Don’t ever give up – maintain your place in the prayer of Christ. The only reason for a failure of prayer is in its ceasing! Jesus, ever lives to pray so never stop! Enter more fully into this “slow burn” prayer of victory.

You can always come home! This was a lesson the prodigal son learned and we must all recognise that, in the heat of the battle – and even in dismal failure, we can still overhear the victorious prayer of grace echoing down from the cross through the ages, and we can find our way back to the Lord.

The school of hard knocks holds much wisdom, and when we return, like Peter, we can indeed strengthen our brothers and sisters. The body of Christ in the world today needs the encouragement of grace filled servants, possessing the word of God on their lips and the intercession of Christ in their hearts, to be strengthened for the last battle and powerful to resist the Satanic supplications of the enemy’s asking.

May we continually enter into a greater asking, basking in the overcoming prayer of Christ.

“I have prayed for you…”

 

From Apathy to Sympathy

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Icon of Jesus Christ

 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses…” Hebrews 5:15

 The ancient Greeks highly valued the quality of being beyond the reach of pain. “Patheo”, suffering, was a too earthly ignoble thing. They worshipped a God beyond “patheo”, an apathetic God.

It is often said that we are what we worship. A God with no “passion”, no vulnerability produces a people immune to genuine human experience. On the one hand we see hard faced hordes addicted to busyness and decadence in order to escape the glance into the abyss, and on the other, prostrate practitioners bereft of feeling, willing to cause untold misery in the name of religion.

Some argue that without an “apathetic” God we have no sense of Sovereignty. God, indeed does not change, no-one can force God to suffer or impose suffering upon Him from outside of His own being.

However it may be worth considering two other possibilities.

  1.  God is free to change Himself.
  2. He is free to allow Himself to be changed by others and to allow them to make Him suffer.

God’s suffering is not suffering imposed on Him from the outside because of some weakness in Himself, but the suffering of love, an active, chosen, dynamic suffering.

Jesus’ words in John 10:18 hint at this principle of the sovereign choice of suffering.

 “No one takes it from me, but I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

 In Revelation 5:6, expecting to see the triumphant Lion of Judah, we see instead a “Lamb looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne.”

 At the very heart of God’s sovereign rule we find vulnerability and chosen suffering.

Even the very foundations of creation and history are imbued with the overflow of God’s intentional love and suffering in the Agnus Dei, “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” Revelation 13:8

 The early Rabbis translated Psalm 18:35 (NIV – “you stoop down to make me great.”)

“You show to me your greatness through your self-humiliation.”

 God’s true greatness lies in His chosen self humiliation in Christ.

Rabbi Hershel saw in the Old Testament prophets a theology of “Pathos”. He saw their cries reflecting the wounded heart of God for His people. His wrath, a fiery curative expression of His own passion. Wrath and apathy never mix. So, far from being distantly apathetic, God is passionately caught up in human existence. He sympathises with us. He shares our very sufferings.

In the Trinity we see a sacrificing Father, an abandoned Son in the power of holy sacrifice called Spirit. This event explodes into the world bringing healing, hope, reconciliation and resurrection.

As the “apathy” of  ordinary Western life calls us away from the true “sympathy” of the Christ life  event when God stepped down into the world as a tender babe, let us turn away from our tearless idols, let our hearts be softened and let us sympathise with our fellow-men.

Handel’s Messiah begins with the description from Isaiah 40:11 of a shepherd God, gently leading His people.

 “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

 Let the Lord carry you close to His heart this day.

Being close to God’s heart is the very opposite of apathy. It may well lead us into suffering, echoing the Lord’s words to the “chosen instrument” Paul in Acts 9:16.

 “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

 The theologian Jurgen Moltmann liberates us from a purely negative, fearful view of suffering.

“How is this to be understood? The person who suffers does not only protest against his fate. Indeed, he suffers because he lives, and he is full of life because he has an interest in life and because he loves. He who no longer loves becomes apathetic and no longer even suffers. Life and death are for him a matter of indifference. The more one loves, however, the more vulnerable one becomes. The more one becomes capable of suffering, the more one becomes capable of happiness. The reverse is also true. The more one is capable of joy, the greater one’s capacity for sorrow. This could be called the dialectic of human life. Love gives vitality to living, but it also makes man mortal. The vitality of life and the deadliness of death are experienced at one and the same time through that interest in life we call love.”

May you indeed  know that “interest in life” we call love.

That love that shone out from the face of Jesus – Godhead veiled in humble flesh. Pure Sovereignty stooping down into the mess of this world to make us great…but more indeed to show His greatness.

 

Moravian Seal, or Agnus Dei, stained glass win...