Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Prayer of Faith in Times of Trouble

James (probably Jesus’ brother) wrote these words:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.But: he must ask in faith without any doubting!
For the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.  James 1:5-8
James’ insistence that we pray with faith, and without doubting is troubling to many of us.  Maybe not so much when we’re asking for wisdom, but what about when we are in trouble?  What about those times when we desperately need forgiveness?  

When I’ve sinned against God and my brothers and sisters, I admit my prayers are sometimes short on faith.  It’s hard to imagine God wants to give anything to me at those kinds of times.  Sure, when I’m strong and faithful, it seems like God should want to help me, but what about when I’ve been sinful and I’m in trouble, and I deserve what I’m getting? 

Two of the greatest men of faith of all time left us examples of such prayers. 

Jonah prayed from inside the stomach of the fish in Jonah 2.  If you know the story, Jonah had sinned by doing exactly the opposite of what God had asked him to do.  Not only was he willfully disobedient, his sin would surely result in the loss of many thousands of souls who needed to hear the message of repentance he didn’t want to deliver.  Talk about deserving his punishment, Jonah certainly did.  But even then, deserving his punishment and being digested inside a fish’s belly, Jonah prayed – and his prayer was in the PAST TENSE!  Jonah prayed as if he had already been delivered!  He knew he didn’t deserve it – but he also was supremely confident that God would hear him and would save him.  Read carefully, and you’ll see it. 

The past few days I’ve been struck by more such prayers from David; especially in Psalm 39, 40 and 41, and because they have many parallels to my own situation.  I have pasted Psalm 40 to highlight certain parts, but please study all three of these Psalms carefully and keep them deep inside your heart.  For if you aren’t now, you will someday understand the feeling one has when one is in great distress – made worse when it’s your own fault. 

Now read this over, and then I’ll comment below it on different things you should see as you read this prayer from David, a man after God’s own heart:
I waited patiently for Yahweh; & He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, & He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear & will trust in Yahweh. How blessed is the man who has made Yahweh his trust, & hasn't turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood.
 Many, Yahweh my God, are the wonders which you have done, & your thoughts toward us;
There is none to compare with you.  If I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count.
Sacrifice and meal offering you haven’t desired; my ears you've opened; burnt offering and sin offering you haven’t required.
 Then I said,
“Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God; Your Torah is within my heart.”
 I have proclaimed glad tidings of righteousness in the great congregation; behold, I won’t restrain my lips, Yahweh, You know. I have not hidden your righteousness within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I haven’t concealed Your loving-kindness and Your truth from the great congregation.
 You, Yahweh, won’t withhold your compassion from me; your loving-kindness and your truth will continually preserve me.
 For evils beyond number have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me, so that I’m not able to see; they’re more numerous than the hairs of my head, & my heart has failed me.
 Be pleased, Yahweh, to deliver me; make haste, Yahweh, to help me.
 Let those be ashamed and humiliated together who seek my life to destroy it;
Let those be turned back and dishonored who delight in my hurt. Let those be appalled because of their shame who say to me, “Aha, aha!” Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You;
Let those who love your salvation say continually, “Yahweh be magnified!”
 Since I am afflicted and needy, Let Yahweh be mindful of me.
You are my help and my deliverer; don’t delay, O my God.

Starting at the beginning of this prayer, it reads like a psalm of praise from a glad heart, doesn't it?  But as you read further on, you’ll see that his situation is not good.  There are people who are seeking to kill him. 

But this isn't his only problem.  Not only do bad guys seek to kill him, but he deserves it.  Do you see in the middle section (verse 12) that he has sinned?  Bad guys don’t just seek to kill an innocent man, but they want to kill a man whose sins are “more numerous than the hairs of my head.” 

But wait … it gets worse!  Not only is he suffering guilt, and being chased by bad guys who mock him and want to kill him … but he knows that God won’t be impressed by worship, vows or sacrifices!  In other words, there’s nothing he can do to soften God’s heart or do good things to win back God’s smile. 

This is the secret of the prayer of faith: it’s when we realize God is our only hope, and He cannot be bought, teased, loved, or worshiped into forgiving us.  We simply call out in confidence that He is gracious.  He is – THE Deliverer. 

Yahweh is our only hope.  He is loving, powerful and faithful to deliver us when we don’t deserve it. 

David begins his prayer with the end.  He will proclaim God’s grace, he will keep the Torah in his heart, and he will not conceal it.  This is evangelism!  This is what Jesus meant when he said: “make disciples,” and “preach the gospel [good news]!” 

If you and I will live acutely aware of our own need for God’s mercy – and confidently proclaim our own redemption – we will be living “as if” we've already been redeemed (which we have).  If your confidence is based on your own goodness, this will be hard to believe.  If your confidence is in your church, your doctrines, your family and friends, your money or other things … your faith will be as fragile as the despair you face. 

That’s why we work so hard to continually grow faith. Our increasingly strong faith doesn't save us – only Jesus’ blood can do that – but our faith helps us trust that God is strong and loving, and then we can proclaim it!  Our faith causes us to reach out to the only One who can save us – in confidence, like David & Jonah, even when we don’t deserve it. 
Especially when we don’t deserve it!

Go study those three psalms and see what I mean.  We deserve our punishment, and more – but God will rescue us.  

He’s the only one who can.
It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost.  Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever!
Amen  - - 1 Timothy 1:15-17

1 comment:

  1. This is super amazing off to live this lesson. ;-]]