Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tonight: Praying for God's Help

Dear Good Shepherd,

We are, as you know, facing the possibility of great loss in December. The buildings and all that we have could be taken if the judge decides against us on the 12th.

Tonight (weds) at 6:30pm, we are going to gather at the church to pray for God's help and deliverance.

We know that our God is a God of power; that all things on earth and in heaven bow before him and serve his purposes.

Followers of Jesus Christ, then, have nothing to fear.

...have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matt 10:28-29)

Not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the Father's will, Jesus tells us, and the Church, the Bride of Christ, is worth more than many sparrows. We can be assured that nothing happens to us apart from his will. God "ordains" all things that come to pass either by directly causing them or permitting them to occur through the agency of some other cause.

And we can be assured that whatever does happen, even those things that might seem "bad", are, in fact good...that they will result in some benefit for us either now or in eternity.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

At the same time, when faced with adversity or the possibility of loss, God wants his people to come to him, to seek his face, his will, his mercy and his intervention on their behalf. In fact, he sometimes wills, before the fact, only to act in accordance with and in response to the prayers of his people. James writes:

You do not have, because you do not ask. (James 4:2)

Sometimes God sovereignly determines to withhold blessings or not to intervene unless or until we pray. Other times he works directly through the prayers we offer; he makes them the vehicle for his intervention in the world.

In scripture we find many models of this sort of of the more poignant and, I think, important for our present circumstances is Nehemiah's prayer. Nehemiah was a Jew serving the Persian King in Babylon during the time of the exile when a troubling report reached him from Jerusalem:

Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the capital, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” (Neh 1:1-3)

So what did he do? Did he get angry that God had allowed this to happen? Did he blame God for allowing Jerusalem to fall into ruin? Did he just sit there and hope that things would get better on their own? Did he jump right in and get to work? No.

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” (Nehemiah 1:4-12)

Nehemiah prayed. Pay special attention to the way that he prayed. Nehemiah's prayer is not one of entitlement. Nehemiah does not demand God's assistance. He does not suggest that God must act in order to be "fair". Rather Nehemiah recognizes that God is under no obligation, that any intervention is grounded in divine mercy and grace...not justice. Nehemiah trusted in God's loving kindness toward his people and asked God to have mercy, to act on their behalf, believing that it was in God's power to do so.

Using Nehemiah's prayer as a model (and his prayer is not necessarily unique in its various elements in scripture), these five elements are essential in our prayers for Good Shepherd at this time.

1. We pray, recognizing that we are seeking God's grace and mercy, not "fairness" or "justice".

2. We pray for victory, believing that God will be glorified before the world...a victory in court against such great odds would be a clear witness to his soveriengty over all things and it would, in the eyes of many, provide vindication for the truth of scripture, God's Word, on which we have taken our stand.

3. We pray, believing that God has the power to do what we ask (see Hebrews 11:6). We believe that God has the power to effect even the mind and heart of a secular judges.

4. We pray, believing that the power of our prayer lies in God's power not our faith. Faith is not a force. We cannot will God to do something by believing it hard enough. God will act always in accordance with his own will and purpose. We pray then that we are standing and walking in that purpose.

5. We pray, trusting that even if God's answer is "no" that he gives good gifts to his children...that when he closes one door, he opens another. That he has promised to provide for us in one way or another.

I do hope as many of you as possible will be able to make it this evening. 6:30pm, in the sanctuary. The meeting will last for half an hour.

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