Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has observed that many believers in Jesus “think they have a relationship with God that they go to church to have expressed. . . . I think that’s to get it exactly backwards.” A local church isn’t merely a gathering of people who already have a relationship with Jesus. Meeting together is central to that relationship.
It’s not uncommon for people, whether believers in Jesus or not, to wrestle with God as to why He allows certain things. When it comes to believers, it can shake our faith to see prayers seemingly go unanswered. But the questions we face aren’t new or unique to this age.
After a driver lost control of his vehicle and struck some trees, injuring a passenger with him, he blamed the accident on a spider. He told police that an arachnid on the car’s visor—above his head—distracted him. Fortunately, even though he crashed due to the conflict with this tiny foe, the passenger’s injuries were minor. The damage to the vehicle, however, was not. Things could have been much different if the driver had simply hit the brakes, pulled over to the side of the road, and calmly dealt with his eight-legged enemy.
In our nightly prayers with our children, my husband and I like to end with the words Moses used when he instructed Aaron and his sons to bless God’s people (Numbers 6:24-26). This benediction reminds each family member that God loves it when we ask for His protection, favor, grace, and peace.
Maybe it’s just me. But it seems like the world is hurtling out of control, and that all sorts of things are coming undone—institutions, lives, families. I wonder, Has it always been this way?
When I first recognized that the Psalms were not nearly as ‘tidy’ as I’d imagined—but were immensely human and raw—it opened up new ways for me to encounter God. While the Psalms provide us with words to express robust conviction, they also give us words—and permission—to express our doubts. When a child dies or a parent leaves or God seems a million miles away, the Psalms teach us how to gather our fears (not ignore them) and carry them to God.
Dr. Richard Swenson in his book Margin writes, “We must have some room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal. Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity. . . . Our children lay wounded on the ground, run over by our high-speed good intentions. Is God now pro-exhaustion? Doesn’t He lead people beside the still waters anymore? Who plundered those wide-open spaces of the past, and how can we get them back? There are no fallow lands for our emotions to lie down and rest in.”
During WWII, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill hailed the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Allied troops from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk as a “miracle of deliverance”. The event was so widely celebrated that Churchill had to remind people that “wars are not won by evacuations”.
The opening to a prayer written by author Joni Eareckson Tada pulses with praise: “Almighty God, you are our Mighty Fortress, our refuge and the God in whom we place our trust.” In naming God’s attributes, she follows the example of King Solomon in his heartfelt prayer when he dedicated the newly built temple.
When my grandmother was in her twenties, she became very ill. Nothing she or the doctors tried healed her. She believed there was a God but didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. One day a co-worker told her to visit a house church nearby and ask the people to pray for her. In her desperation, my grandmother decided to go. And after the prayer time, she was healed! This miracle changed her life. Since then, she’s been thanking Jesus daily for healing her body and her soul.
Four year old David climbed into bed one night and folded his hands to pray. “Dear God, thank You for Lego Star Wars,” he said. “General Grievous has four lightsabers! Watch.” He stood up on the bed and began a dramatic rendition of a battle in the air using imaginary lightsabers. His mum tried not to laugh as she watched. David finished his performance, dropped back down on the bed and folded his hands again. “Amen!”
When I was fourteen, with the help of a friend’s dad, my friends and I started a worship band. Before practice each week, we would gather in a circle and read a chapter of the Bible, then go around the circle sharing prayer requests and praises. We each took time to pray out loud for the person sitting next to us. This not only helped us get to know one another better, but allowed us to support and encourage one other through difficult times. It also helped us celebrate in praise together.
We don’t use money in heaven,” says Clarence the angel in the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life. “It comes in pretty handy down here, Bub!” replies an exasperated, earthbound George Bailey.
After an appointment, I reached for my phone to see the messages I had missed. “Do you have a minute to pray over me?” The text was simple, but knowing the season of life my friend was in, I quickly dialed her number. Our relationship had been built over many years, and though there were moments invested when I was uncertain of the outcome in her life, she was now not only walking in truth but, in turn, using her God-given gifts to reach out to others.
I know a mom of two young children who has an interesting hobby—weightlifting. She can hoist 245 lbs. from the floor to a standing position! To set that personal record, she had to build strength in her lower back, quadriceps, and hamstrings through exercises such as squats, straight-legged sit-ups, and step-ups.