Tag Archive: Prayer


Holy Rage

Tonight, about 300 people came together to hear Shane Claiborne and a few others speak about ‘Prayer that changes the world’.

A few things that stuck:

When the disciples presented Jesus with the situation of thousands of hungry people, Jesus threw the implicit question back on the disciples. ‘You feed them!’ They bring what little resources they could muster (a few loaves of bread and a few fish), hand it over to Him, and then Jesus used that to do things that were disproportionate to their efforts. We need to put flesh on our prayers by being a people who not only ask for help, starting from a position of spiritual bankruptcy, and acknowledging that we can do nothing apart from Him – but a people who get up off our knees, and do something. Do something, muster whatever resources we can – and then present our efforts to Him, however meager, and ask Him to do something with them that is totally disproportionate to what we have done.

The best way to mobilise a community of believers to live lives of radical love is to live it out. It’s compelling, it’s fascinating – and it’s contagious. Rather than waiting for consensus to emerge in your church community about loving the marginalised and the needy, why not just start living that out with a small group?

I want to be fueled by grace, by His abounding and overflowing love, to live and love recklessly. Reckless to my own comfort and convenience and schedule and plans. I want to have an unceasing holy rage that is never OK with just sitting by and watching.

Praying like Hezekiah

I don’t remember what it feels like to be well. I don’t say that in a tone of self-pity at all –  it’s just really odd. There have only been about 4 or 5 times over the past 6 years that my body has remembered in a very physical sense that the way it is isn’t normal. My muscle memory has faded. That’s to say that my body’s got used to doing life like this. That it’s forgotten what it feel like to move without seizing up. That it’s forgotten what it feels like to be well.

The most recent time it remembered was last Tuesday.

I meet with about eight girls each Tuesday night at the house of an old friend. We drink tea, eat chocolate, laugh about life and talk about God as He’s revealed Himself through the Bible. We share our lives and we share what the God who made us is teaching us about Himself and ourselves. This week we were looking at a part of the Bible written by a guy called Isaiah (legit name, hey). At the uni Christian group I go to, we dug into this book, and it BLEW MY MIND. It truly is an unexplored mountain range in scripture, and having Rowan unpack the historical significance of the events helped me enormously in understanding what God reveals about Himself in this part of redemptive history. You can listen to the podcasts here.

ANYWAY. This week we were looking at Isaiah 37. At this point in the narrative, Sennacherib (Sen – ack- ar – rib), the King of Assyria (the merciless, expansionist superpower of the region) has just threatened God’s people, effectively saying that unless they align themselves with Assyria, they will be the target of the wrath of the Assyrian armies. The field commander who delivers this message mocks Hezekiah, the king of God’s people, for saying that ‘The Lord will deliver us’. “Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?” (Is 36.18)

Those to whom this message had been delivered came to Hezekiah and recounted what had been said to them. And it’s Hezekiah’s response that astonishes me.

He tears his clothes, and goes to the temple of the Lord.

One of the girls commented on the apparent absurdity of this; how could the King run away like this, when his people were afraid and needed strong leadership? The conclusions we came to were these:

That desperate circumstances reveal the true disposition of your heart. And that seeking God in prayer is far from a passive option of last-resort. It is the most proactive course of action a leader can take.

The Lord tells Hezekiah through Isaiah that he is not to be afraid of ‘those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me’. (At this juncture, I persisted in sabotaging helpful discussion by bringing up how much the field commander reminded me of Sauron’s mouth in Lord of the Rings, who tries to intimidate and throw Aragon’s army into fear and disarray.) But Sennacherib sends another intimidating message to Hezekiah, alikening their fate to that of nations that had been brutally torn to pieces by the Assyrian war machine, unless they allied themselves with Assyria.

Again, Hezekiah’s response is actually beautiful. When he reads the letter from Sennacherib, he makes a beeline for the temple, where he spreads out the letter before the Lord. This is what he prays:

‘O Lord Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You made heaven and earth. Give ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.

It is true, O Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, O Lord, our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God.’

Hezekiah starts by reorienting his perspective of who God is; He is thoroughly God-centric. He acknowledges how REAL and scary the threat is, but He doesn’t prescribe to God any solutions.He just lifts the situation to God and asks for help, for deliverance. His cry to God is filled with confidence because he has a right vision of who God is.

But then, read how God RESPONDS! It is actually insane.

BECAUSE you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, THIS IS THE WORD THE LORD HAS SPOKEN AGAINST HIM (37.21-22)

There is direct causality here. Because Hezekiah spread this situation out before God, He responded by pledging to decimate Sennacherib. And then an angel of the Lord kills 185 000 Assyrian men who were camped out and ready to destroy God’s people.

Prayer is effective. Because instead of charging on with our own plans, resources, and capacities, it turns to a God who is infinitely more able. Imagine if Hezekiah had just concocted his own scheme to engage the Assyrians. God may well have given them strength to fight, and they may have won a battle that they were severely outnumbered to win – but instead, all they do is SLEEP and God fights for them, meaning that there is no way of construing this to attribute the victory to the might of anyone but God Himself.

There was a quiet pause after we read this part of the passage.

“185 000. Hectic.”

“Mmm.”

“Are you guys OK with that?”

“With what?”

“With God killing 185 000 men in a night.”

This launched a discussion that meandered into whether it would be different if they had fought, man on man, and that number had died. Whether it made a difference that the Assyrians were probably bloodthirsty brutes. Whether it made it OK that it was either the Assyrians or the people of God. Whether God could have changed the heart of Sennacherib to rescue them instead. And on and on we went. I interjected with another unhelpful analogy from Lord of the Rings: when the Dead Men of Dunharrow sweep through thousands of orcs and bring death with their passage. Ultimately, though, we decided that although it didn’t set well with us, that it was clear that if we were sitting in a city, terrified of the brute strengths of an army of hundreds of thousands of Assyrians about to crush us and tear us apart, that we would be celebrating that God had rescued us, not getting into philosophical labyrinths about the morality of war.

What does this have to do with ANYTHING, let alone my illness?

We spent a time praying after we’d discussed this passage. And during it I felt the presence of God in a way that I very rarely feel. My dear friend Anthea, who has been chronically ill with mysterious crippling headaches for about 4 years now, prayed words that lifted our hearts to a right vision of who God is – that He is the God who spoke and universes came into being. This is the God to whom we spread out our lives. And this reminded me that when I have a right vision of who God is, when I recognise that He is the one who is capable to change even the most impossible circumstances, and that in light of that, prayer is actually a proactive course of action, not a passive one – well, I ought to spread out my circumstances before Him in weakness. Not pretending that the situation isn’t hard, that I don’t hate being sick – but not prescribing to Him how He should answer my prayers. Being open to His purposes. Like in Gethsemane, I lift my situation to Him and honestly express my preferences, but surrender my will to His purposes, in confidence that they are good. Like the believers’ prayer in Acts 4, I acknowledge that God is powerful beyond what I can understand, and that He has decided beforehand what should happen.

Too often I limit God’s capacity to bring a breakhthrough in my physical condition. Those friends who have known me for a while will know that I just can’t get past this barrier in my mind. The barrier is that whilst I know that God is able to heal, I find it hard to get from that KNOWLEDGE to BELIEF that He is able to heal, that He wants to heal, that He will heal, that it is in His will to heal. The train of thought deviates to places where I consider that the good He has promised He is always working for, is my being refined into the image of Jesus – and, well, to be honest, nothing else in my life has shaped my character as much as this. But then the other part of me wonders if this means that I am ignoring a root of unbelief in my heart, a lack of faith.

And here’s where I come to.

I want to live a life that abides in deep faith, in heavy dependence, in His faithfulness. In quietness and trust, I want to spread out my illness before Him, daily, and knock on the door until my knuckles bleed. I want to wait on the Lord in a way that brings my heart to a place of utter abandonment and unreserved faith. I don’t want to not pray for healing because it’s safer that way; because that way I won’t feel let down, rejected, or deficient or undeserving of His healing if He doesn’t answer my prayer in the way I want. No.

I want to spread out my situation before Him. Not proscribing how He should deal with it. But praying big prayers and pleading with Him for deliverance.

As I drove home that night, I felt a twinge in my muscle memory of what it was to move normally. And I felt, physically, that the way I was was not normal. And realising that I couldn’t manufacture it for myself, I asked Him for the faith to pray Hezekiah prayers of deep-seated faith.

This was born out of a season of frustration.

Time and time again I had tried to improve myself by trying harder. To love people more selflessly; to honour God more fully; to die to myself and live for Him who died to bring me life. But these were goals unattainable to my own resources. I got to a pretty low point, where I just felt a bit battered, to be honest.

That’s the thing about the grace, though. It comes and ministers to you when you are most broken. Like a cool breeze on a stifling night, grace whispers that you will never have enough fuel to be enough; but that that is the point. You don’t have to muster it. You can stop striving.

There is an inarticulable release over your heart when you abide in grace. Falling to your knees to cry for help isn’t so much an experience like grazing your knees before a stony and distant dictator, who will consider your plea with callous disregard. It’s more like crumpling into your sofa after a horrible day, sobbing without dignity, and just letting your confusion, vulnerability and inability to do it all be transparent before your father as he collects you in his strong arms and lets you feel a strange comfort in dropping your bundle at his feet.

The closest approximation I can give is this:

It was a few months ago, I think. I had overloaded my day with things to do, and was already running late when I sauntered up to get the train. I passed a neighbour whose Mum had been very ill, and he unloaded everything on his mind to me. Twenty minutes later, I was meant to be at my destination, coffee ordered, and catching up with another friend. I called ahead to apologise and got a stony reception. I remember the moment when my heart breached its capacity. Climbing the stairs, two at a time, I had reached the top when the pins began to needle my eyes. Two steps further, and it was like I had been physically bruised. This sounds melodramatic, and I certainly felt embarrassed, but, in short, I began to tear up, then turned around and ran home. By the time I fumbled my key through the keyhole and prized the door open, I was sobbing. But in those silent sobs that sound more like emphysema than tears. My brother was at the piano just adjacent to the door, and I could just hear him call my name over the music thudding in my ears. He came from behind, and silently took my arm, swiveled me around, laid my bag on the ground and wrapped me in his arms.

That moment was the safest I have ever felt in my entire life. I just cried and cried like a little girl, but he didn’t care and neither did I. Five minutes past before I began to speak, but when I did, the things I spoke of were so unfiltered that I was surprised I was letting my brother see my thoughts for what they were: of how even when I try with all I am to please people, I still let them down, time and time again; about my devastating lovelessness for other people’s pain; about my claustrophobic selfishness; about my overwhelming tiredness that resides in the marrow of my frame. As I spoke these words, unveiling the most undesirable parts of my self, my brother said nothing. He just held me with his strong arms and let me deconstruct the facades I painted myself with each morning. When I had finished, he spoke gentle words that filled my heart like the crisp air of a morning run after a night in a stuffy room. The relief I felt was physical.

What I’m trying to illustrate in this tangential rambling is that sometimes we have to get to a point where we have been so assaulted by life that we are just too tired to try to fix it all anymore. We have to get to a point where we feel in our bodies, not just know in abstraction, that we can’t. We just can’t.

Sometimes that resignation can lead to a disengagement from the troubles of the world. ‘If I can’t fix it, I will detach from it.’ For me, it’s usually the point when I feel almost numb and indifferent to the pain of others that I realise that my heart has reached its saturation point. When I went to pray for the people traumatised by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan yesterday, I felt nothing. I tried to conjure up empathy, but none was forthcoming. I realised that it had been building for weeks; in disinterest towards a friend’s burdens, an absence of any desire to go out of my way to show love to those in need… It builds silently, but its mortar is robust. For me, it takes the painful realisation that not even detachment will insulate me from everything that is broken before I let my guard down.

It’s from that posture that we can run to our Father and collapse into His arms, and be real about our inadequacies. When I stop spending my energy holding up the pretence I have constructed about my competencies to do it myself, and (I’m sorry if this is unbearably sentimental and cliched for you) literally just cry it out to Him who is able… the relief is palpable.

Anyway, I’m sorry if that was a bit over the top for you. That’s me! Melodrama Central.

The point of all that was to say that crying to God for help, rather than trying to manufacture the things you observe as deficient in yourself, is not only healthier for your sanity. It’s also practically far more fruitful.

This is a song some friends and I wrote. It’s kind of about that cry for help.