In This Is My Father Glorified

The Bible says many things about fruit bearing, but John 15 makes a distinct connection between bearing fruit and prayer:  the fruit here being the answers to our prayers.

John 15:7&8:  “If ye abide in me and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.  In this is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.”

And verse 16:  “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatever ye shall ask of the father in my name, He may give it you.”

The one who is abiding in Christ should be bearing much fruit; that is, he should be getting his prayers answered! All men know that the Bible promises great results to those who pray and that all good comes from God through prayer.  When what is promised is not realized, God’s Word and His very name are dishonored.  Faith, both ours and those who are listening to our prayers, becomes feeble by our asking and not getting.  E.M. Bounds who wrote the definitive works on prayer, once noted that it would be better not to pray at all than to pray and not secure results.  He says: “Prayer is the helpless and needy child crying to the compassion of the father’s heart and the bounty and power of a father’s hand.  The answer is as sure to come as the father’s heart can be touched and the father’s hand moved.”

Jesus said it this way: “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?”  Matthew 7:11

How important it is, then, to learn to pray effectively!  Prayer must be more than beautiful words.  The most stately prayers can lack heart and soul. The Pharisees prayed these prayerless prayers.  Effective prayer must spring from ardent desire and earnest faith:  not faith in our prayers, but faith in the One Who can do anything!  Prayer is all consuming.  It is desperation.  Jacob wrestled with God and said, “I will not let Thee go except Thou bless me.”  Prayer is strenuous, exhausting striving and laboring.  For Jesus in the garden it was agony.

The importunate widow demonstrated both the difficulties in praying and the magnanimous results of desperate desire.   We cannot afford to get this wrong.  Everything from managing the daily minutia of our lives to the securing of Christ’s kingdom on earth depends on prayer.  As David prayed, he cried that God would hear and answer him speedily and that God would not let him be ashamed.  Ashamed of what?  Ashamed when his enemies say, “Aha! Aha!  Where is your God?” David wanted his prayers answered for his sake and for the sake of those who knew he prayed!

So much is God’s reputation on the line that He gave Isaiah this most shocking admonition:  “Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me.”  Isaiah 45:11

So vigorous we should be in our praying that when we have finished we can say:  “Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the LORD hath heard the voice of my weeping. The LORD hath heard my supplication; the LORD will receive my prayer.” Psalm 6:8-9

Importunity’s Lesson

In Jesus’ parable of the widow and the unjust judge, the judge was not at first willing to grant the widow’s request, but  he reasoned within himself, “Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because the widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest she wear me out by her continual coming.” Jesus’ commentary on this parable is astonishing:  “Hear what the unrighteous judge saith.  And shall not God avenge His elect, which cry to him day and night and He is longsuffering over them?  I say unto you that He will avenge them speedily.  Howbeit when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18: 1-8)

Here Jesus presents an analogy of a widow’s persistent plea before an unfavorable judge who in the end grants it just to be rid of her.  The analogy:  how much more should we plead our petition with our Righteous Judge.  It is easy to think that the lesson here is on asking, and continuing to ask, and being willing to patiently wait as we ask, but Jesus’ final question plagues us:  When the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?  How often this question has been posed outside the context of this parable when, in fact, it is the very point.

Why must we ask God for anything more than once?  If He is God, does He not hear us the first time?  Does He not remember yesterday’s prayer?  The answer is this:  importunity is not about how many times we ask; it is about faith.   Importunity is not necessary for God;  it is necessary for us. Yes, some of our requests require God to work through a multitude of circumstances and people.  In this we know that God is working all things together for our good, and we must wait.  There are times, however,  when we simply do not have enough faith to get what we desire, and so we must pray until we literally pray ourselves into faith. One moment of real, actual faith can change our lives in  a moment.

I remember a dark time in my life when I was into my third year of praying over a situation when God stopped me.  I knew at that moment He had granted my request, and above that, He planned to do exceedingly, abundantly more than I had asked in the matter.  I had prayed myself into faith, but after how long?  I had lacked the faith I needed from the beginning, and God, gracious God, wanted me to have that one thing without which it is impossible to please Him: faith.  Faith is the real lesson of opportunistic prayer.  Additionally as we look back on God’s great answers that came as a result of our importunity, we find faith for our present crisis.  Those high water moments are the ones we remember–the ones that strengthen our faith for the problem we are facing today.

We are not troubling our Righteous Judge with our passionate, persistent, importunate prayers.  We are not worthy that He should both hear and answer us, but He does.  He will rouse Himself and give us everything we need.  Our faith in asking is His glory.

Dew Point

Deuteronomy 32:2
“My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass.”

There is a stillness required for the accumulation of dew; consequently,  the dew point could be thought of as a still point. Temperature, barometric pressure, relative humidity– these all play a part in the accumulation of dew, but stillness above all, it seems to me, is most necessary. Dew never falls on a stormy night.
There are many factors that contribute to our relationship with God which can actually prevent stillness. Ceaseless activities and voices—good ones– can prohibit us from reaching the still point which allows God’s grace to descend on our restless hearts. There simply isn’t enough time in our lives to read all the good books, attend all the good seminars and Bible studies, scour the endless internet articles and sermons to which we feel guiltily obliged, as well as do our work, spend time building relationships or unwinding in endless activities, all the while knowing that time alone with God in prayer and in His Word is the real secret to growth. Sometimes our answer to the dilemma is a commitment to working harder at giving God the priority of our time; ironically, however, the harder we work to achieve stillness the more it eludes us. Spending unhurried and undistracted time with God is both simple and complex.
When my youngest son was a toddler, his morning routine was to sit in my lap. He seemed to need that time with me, and I loved that time with him. I was a stay at home Mom, which afforded me the one thing he needed: time. Once he asked me, “How long can we sit here?” I answered, “As long as you want.” It was simple. I had time; he wanted time. He saw his life as an endless stream; I saw my time with him as fleeting and wanted to cling to every moment while I could because I loved him. It wasn’t mere routine for him: he loved me. My lap gave him peace and security and joy. Had I allowed the storm of the To Do List to interrupt that time, the drops of dew would never have formed, and I would have regretted it for the rest of my life.
Conditions for the condensation of water vapor must be right, and that takes time. Rushing time with God devalues it to a mere routine. There is no love in it. Like my son, I must approach God’s lap with an attitude not of “How long before I can get down?” but “How long can I stay? “

The Center of the Wheel cont.

There is a difference between perfect stillness and quiet tension.  One is rest, the other is agitation. One is peace, the other is apprehension. One is present, the other postponement.  One is a gift of the Spirit, the other self-willed.  One is effortless, the other is labor.  If we confuse the place of perfect stillness, the center of the wheel, with mere controlled tension, we suffer indescribable loss. If we confuse the place of perfect peace with quiet tension, we are reduced to the self-driven life.  If we walk away from the secret place and reclaim our burdens, we have missed it. We are reduced to the proverbial man who walked down the road with his heavy pack, who when offered a ride accepted it, climbing into the man’s wagon, but then refused to take the burden from his back.

Perfect stillness seems unattainable:  it confounds human reason and understanding.  “Be careful [anxious, worried] for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) Only the God of peace can give the peace of God.  Mercifully, our inability to comprehend the depths of God’s peace does not prevent Him from giving it, for He has said: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee:  because he trusteth in Thee.”  Isaiah 26:3

Perfect peace, can it be?  Perfect literally rendered Shalom, means peace!   Extended, the definition includes welfare, health, prosperity, and quiet tranquility, including peace in all our relationships and peace with God.  In other words, God’s peace is perfect in that no concern of body, soul, or spirit is out of its reach.  Literally Isaiah 26:3 reads:  “Thou wilt keep him in peace peace whose mind is stayed on Thee…”

Matthew Henry says of this verse: “Thou wilt keep him in peace; in perfect peace, inward peace, outward peace, peace with God, peace of conscience, peace at all times, in all events.”

Such peace is too wonderful for me.  Our own language is insufficient to express the idea of such peace.  It is peace peace, this peace with God, peace with others, peace with my body, peace in my innermost soul.  It is perfect stillness. It is perfect harmony.  It is the place where the center of God and the center of me collide, and I sit suspended in space and time while all of life spins slowly around me and I see if from a new perspective:  God’s.

The Center of the Wheel

Great faith is demonstrated more in what we are willing to suffer for Christ than in what we are willing to do for Him.

Paul’s worth to the church was not nearly as much in his achievements as in this:  he suffered the loss of all things.   We, on the other hand, can become so busy trying to do more,  as though doing will prove our worth to others, or perhaps to ourselves, that sometimes we simply do too much with little or no effectiveness and exercise little or no faith in the process.

Simply put, faith shows its mettle, shows what it is really made of, not in achievement, but in how one responds to suffering.  Others are not nearly as interested in how well we handle a task as in how well we handle a catastrophe.  I have never ministered to others by my impressive achievements.  On the contrary, our achievements may serve to discourage rather than to encourage others and render others as feeling “less than.”  However, I have always been amazed at how quickly God’s ministers of comfort descend over others when I am willing to be transparent about my own weaknesses, disappointments, failings, and, yes, raw fears.

This obsession, this addiction, with doing and achieving is an especially harmful contagion among women in the Twenty-first Century.  Compelling, consuming, and imposing decisions, which complicate and compromise our lives, are not what we bargained for, but are what can accompany being Superwoman.  There is a price for immortality.  Life becomes a bad dream where we are the featured novelty act on The Ed Sullivan Show, and someone keeps tossing us more and more plates to spin.

Faith, however, steps away from the spotlight.  It refuses to spin out of control.  It defies the laws of nature by refusing to be pushed to the outer rim of the merry-go-round, and instead, resolutely, intentionally, and deliberately targets the center of the wheel where there is a place of perfect peace.  Jesus spoke to Martha of that place when he said, “Martha, Martha.  Thou art careful and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her.” ( John 10:41-42) That good part for Mary, as we read elsewhere in the Gospels, was sitting at Jesus’ feet.  In that most treasured of Psalms, Psalm 91, David called it “the secret place of the most High.”

And so I begin this blog, a journal, a commitment rather, of lessons learned in the secret place.