I’ve heard her say it many times, in many critical moments of our 35-year marriage. When our children are sick, our grandkids in crisis or our home under attack. When friends are suffering, leaders are sinning or nations are shaking.
She boldly marches her 5’4″ frame before the Throne and wags her skinny finger in the face of the Almighty. Unafraid and unrestrained–like she is supposed to be there!
I have to say, getting all up in God’s face scares me a little bit.
It feels a bit like prayer drifting out-of-bounds. So insistent. So demanding. So intense.
And so much like Jesus told us to pray.
He told the disciples “a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit.” (Luke 18:1-8, MSG)
Jesus spins this yarn about an unjust judge who didn’t give a rip about God or people constantly harassed by a widow fussing about her rights being violated. The judge wouldn’t give her the time of day and she wouldn’t give up.
Like a dripping faucet, she perpetually hounded him insisting that he do what only he could do–make a lasting difference in her painful circumstance. “Protect me!”
Finally, “because this widow won’t quit badgering,” the judge grants what she’s been asking.
I honestly don’t know what to make of a story like that coming from Jesus.
- Is Jesus comparing His Father to a reluctant and unjust judge?
- Is He promoting a kind of beggarly approach to the God He called “Abba”?
- Is God so hesitant to bless that only arm-twisting prayer will irritate Him into action?
None of the above.
Instead, Jesus draws this conclusion: “What makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for His chosen people who continue to cry out for help? Won’t He stick up for them? I assure you, He will.”
The story isn’t about how much God cares. It is about how much we care.
Prayer is the barometer of my compassion. When my family, my friends or my world is broken, do I care enough to insistently intercede?
It can seem so primitive and out-of-vogue to actually pour out my concerns before a God who has much bigger things to handle. “You’re in my prayers” has become a trite way to end an uncomfortable conversation with someone facing pain to which we don’t know how to respond. It surely can’t mean I am actually going to go get all up in God’s face about it…right?
I am convinced of two things:
- The stark faith and raw passion of my wife before God with her insistent prayers has radically transformed the most painful circumstances in our lives.
- God loves people with that kind of faith who are aggressively surrendered to His plan and unalterably convinced of His love.
Living more than half a century leaves one with a cup full of disappointments. For me, many of those come in the form of what I might see as “unanswered prayers”.
The truth is the pleadings of my heart weren’t really unanswered. They simply did not get the response I’d hoped for. I can only ask from that personal perspective. My prayers are based on my limited view of the circumstance.
God is OK with that…as long as I am OK with the reality that He has a much better view.
So why do I still pray in the face of those “unanswered prayers”?
- I am desperately in need of a God who is bigger than I am. Especially when I face problems bigger than I am. I have often faced daunting situations that were so far beyond my control that I was paralyzed to even take the next step. Until I laid them out before God. Understanding that He knows and seeing how He cares reduces the power of these giants to create fear and futility in my world.
- I am utterly convinced that life is no accident. Too many things in my life happen that are not random–they fit, like a piece of a great puzzle the picture of which I cannot yet see. I have seen God’s fingerprints all over things in my life that made no sense. I have watched as He picked up pieces and made something new out of what was so obviously ruined. The hints of an underlying purpose to my life are the breadcrumbs of grace that keep me asking for more.
- I am absolutely sure that God loves the people I care about more than I do. As much as I care, as deeply as I feel, as intensely as I long for good to be the overarching atmosphere of those I hold most dear…He is unfathomably more concerned. In fact, in all my loves there is at least a hint of selfishness–I get something out of every answered prayer for those I love. But God’s love is pure and unpolluted. He simply wants what is best–period.
- I am completely confident that God at His deepest core is good. My heart clings to the reality of a good God with good intentions, fulfilling His good purpose to rescue His good world. With all the evil and pain so evident in my sphere of living, there are still so many glimmers of beauty, stories of hope and moments of grandeur that I know at the rock bottom of my formative understanding that a good God is still in control.
So I pray.
I simply drag all my concerns, questions and crap before the Almighty. Like the Old Testament king, Hezekiah, I stand in God’s presence, unroll the scroll of my Enemy’s nasty plans and simply ask, “What are you going to do about this?” (2 Kings 19:14ff)
I never want the words of James to be said of me: “You do not have because you do not ask God.” (James 4:2) When I don’t ask, it demonstrates that I have lost grip on His goodness.
Life as it is has a way of shaking lose the moorings of faith. But…
- In the face of those painful circumstances I neither understand nor embrace
- In the shadow of impending sickness with all its dark and scary implications
- In the wake of challenges that broadside me like an out-of-control cigarette boat leaving me gasping for air and clinging to wreckage
When I face all of these things that are so much bigger than me and are designed to make me wonder if God can or will help me…I lean into the words of Jesus.
“I assure you, HE will!”