Thursday, April 12, 2007

Lessons from the Prayer Rock

When we get up to the rock, one of the things we've been doing is looking at a book written by a guy named Mark Batterson. Some of what we are reading in his book, In a pit with a lion on a snowy day, is so exactly where we are right now.

Pulling from the highlights of what we read yesterday (some paragraphs removed, not word for word.) Taken from pages 94-99 - here are some good thoughts.

Unanswered Questions

We all have questions we've been saving for God, don't we? Positive uncertainties produce some of the most joyful moments in life, but I don't want to make light of negative uncertainties. They are painful and stressful. Someday God will answer all of our malignant questions. Someday God will explain all of our painful experiences. Someday God will resolve all our spiritual paradoxes. In the meantime, I have a Deuteronomy 29:29 file filled with things I don't understand.

Deut. 29:29 - There are secrets the Lord God has not revealed to us.

At some point in our spiritual journeys, we run into something called reality. Simple answers don't suffice, and God doesn't fit into the nice, neat boxes He used to fit into. They psychological term for this experience is "cognitive dissonance." We experience psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs. In other words, something happens that doesn't jibe with what we believe.

Dissonance comes in two primary flavors: unanswerable questions and unexplainable experiences. And I have tasted lots of both flavors.

It is during those times that I discovered what is now one of my favorite Psalms:

Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing.

That little phrase - "consider my sighing" - became a source of strength for me. I didn't know how to pray or what to say, but I knew God was considering my sighing. Even when we can't put our frustration or anger or doubt or discouragement or grief into words, God hears and translates those low-frequency distress signals we call sighs.

Maybe prayer is much more than a combination of the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet into words? I love Ted Loder's perspective in Guerillas of Grace:

"How shall I pray? Are tears prayers, Lord? Are screams prayers, or groans or sighs or curses? Can trembling hands be lifted to you, or clenched fists or the cold sweat that trickles down my back or the cramps that knot in my stomach? Will you accept my prayers, Lord, my real prayers, rooted in the muck and mud and rock of my life, and not just the pretty, cut-flower, gracefully arranged bouquet of words? Will you accept me, Lord, as I really am, messed up mixture of glory and grime?"

Sometimes it feels like God isn't listening, but He considers every sigh. Not only that, He is interceding for us day and night. Scripture says that God makes prayers out of our wordless sighs and aching groans.

"The Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don't even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words."

Here is an incredible thought: Long before you woke up this morning the Holy Spirit was interceding for you. And long after you go to bed tonight, the Holy Spirit will still be interceding for you. That ought to change the way we wake up and fall asleep. That ought to give us the courage to chase lions.

Connecting the Dots

The greatest hazard to your spiritual health is thinking that your past is haphazard or that your future is left up to chance alone. It is anything but. I can't promise that everything will make sense on the near side of eternity, but that shouldn't shake our confidence, because our confidence isn't contingent upon our circumstances. Our confidence is contingent upon the character of God. Our circumstances may not make sense, but we know that God is planning His work and working His plan.

When I was five years old, our family went to see a movie called The Hiding Place. The movie documented the story of a woman named Corrie ten Boom who miraculously survived the Nazi concentration camps. It was after watching that movie that I took my first step of faith. As my mom tucked me into bed that night, I asked her if I could ask Jesus into my heart.

I have often wondered if Corrie questioned God. She must have. Her family was hiding Jews. Why would God allow them to be captured? Her father and sister died in the camps. How could God let that happen?

Corrie used to speak to audiences about her horrific experiences in the concentration camps, and she would often look down while she talked. She wasn't reading her notes. She was actually working on a piece of needlepoint. After sharing about the doubt and anger and pain she experienced, Corrie would reveal the needlepoint. She would hold up the backside of the needlepoint to reveal a jumble of colors and threads with no discernible pattern. And she'd say, "This is how we see our lives." Then she would turn the needlepoint over to reveal the design on the other side, and Corrie would conclude by saying: "This is how God views your life, and someday we will have the privilege of viewing it from His point of view."

Corrie could have questioned why she had to suffer in Nazi concentration camps. It didn't make sense. It was unfair. But what I do know is this: Somehow God used that suffering of a woman named Corrie ten Boom living in Holland in 1944 to lead a five-year-old boy named Mark Batterson living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Christ more than thirty years later. I'm the beneficiary of Corrie ten Booms unanswerable questions and unexplainable experiences.

Some of your experiences won't make sense this side of eternity, but lion chasers know that God is connecting the dots in ways they can't comprehend. Lion chasers are humble enough to let God call the shots and brave enough to follow where He leads.