Friday, June 20, 2014

Pastoral Pings (Plus) ~ The Pleasure that Fights the Pain that Fights Our Prayers

          There is a stumbling block to prayer that surrounds our fear of pain. There are things we believe we need so desperately that the thought of failing to get those things is so painful we cannot bear to pray about them. The thought that God might say no, or prayer might not work, or people might not cooperate with the divine plan (as we understand it), creates such anticipation of pain, and such pain in the anticipation of a negative experience, that praying for the thing we want most is already too painful.
          I have watched people lose relationships with someone they love, and experience such pain in the experience, that they simply cannot bring themselves to ask God for something better. They cannot pray that the person would come back, because it already hurts too much that they left. The loss, the rejection, the empty space in their hearts, contains so much pain, that letting their hearts ask for the thing they most long for is simply impossible. Or, so it seems.
          The problem is pain. Losing people hurts. It is likely the most intense pain we know. When we have already lost them, either by choice or circumstance, the ache in our hearts seems to be the biggest thing we know, or feel. We see such finality to the situation, and no hope of change, so every prayer is as one more rejection, one more loss, one more negative experience to break our hearts.
          It would be like phoning up a best-friend-turned-worst-enemy every day and asking them to come back, only to get the same answer every time: NO! Or, maybe it would be the heart wrenching experience of phoning that beloved friend who had to move away due to some unavoidable situation, and hearing the heartache in his or her voice as every day he or she says, “I can’t”.
          Pain is a far too powerful agent in our decision-making. It is a Goliath that can keep a whole army cowering in fear. Solve the pain, solve the problem, so to speak. How so? The simple-but-not-easy answer is, overcome pain with pleasure.
          No, I do not mean that we should convince ourselves that we no longer need that beloved friend because we have found someone better. I do not mean that we should console ourselves in a loss by replacing people we have lost with people we have gained. I do not have in mind the childish pretense of acting as though we didn’t really like that person so much after all, or that person wasn’t so important as we had portrayed.
          What I mean is that we see the pleasure that is ours in prayer as a greater experience than the pain we feel in our praying. When we allow pain to stop us from praying about a lost or broken relationship, it is because the person we have lost has been more important to us than the One who remains. Pain keeps us from praying to God because our pleasure-experience was associated with the person we are praying about, not the person to whom we pray.
          When we realize that the reality of, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore,”[1] can only be said of the One who hears our prayers, we will run to him in prayer no matter how much pain comes to the surface for doing so. The pain will no longer be the stumbling block to prayer, but the motivation to pray.
          When our pleasure in God is greater than our fear of pain, we run to God in prayer and experience his comfort.[2] Even when we do not get the answer we ask for, or the result we imagine, we are never losing the one who gives us the greatest joy, who satisfies us with the highest pleasures. The joy and pleasure in God are supreme because of who God is, so we seek him in our pain, desiring from him what we experience in prayer in greater ways than we experience in answers to prayer.
          Don’t know God like that? Be encouraged that this is one relationship that will never be denied the one who asks. There is never a situation where someone sincerely asks for relationship with the Triune God and is told that it is not best, or not time. Never are we told that God will not relate to us because he has changed his address, or has a new best friend, or doesn’t want to be our Father, or any too common experiences of loss and rejection.
          God’s promise is, “But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.”[3] “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”[4] “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”[5]
          God is the only one who can “be there” for all his children, all the time, no matter what they are going through. The presence of his Holy Spirit is with everyone who receives Jesus Christ.[6] There is greater joy and pleasure in knowing Jesus Christ in our pain, than the lesser happiness from people with no experience of the supremacy of God.
          Not only that, but we have no way to know what God may do through the unrelenting prayers of those who find their greatest joy in him. There is no doubt that answers to prayer cannot come when prayer is not expressed. It seems to be time to pray in that love relationship with God that surpasses any other love relationship we could know. Not only do we get the experience of Jesus’ joy in us, and our joy raised to the full,[7] but we also get those times when God leads us into the experience of answered prayer that restores relationships that were broken.
          I write this as one who still has far more broken relationships and lost friends than those who have returned and reconciled. However, my relationship with God has truly grown through my pain; and the few times people have come back has been so satisfying that I know they have been worth waiting for, and praying for. Perhaps this would happen more often if I found more pleasure in praying to my Father, than in protecting myself from pain.
          Here is an interesting thought: my self-protection has failed me more often than I could ever say of prayer, so why is self-protection so easy, and prayer so difficult? Methinks my sark (flesh) is not very smart! Self-protection cannot protect me, but prayer brings me to God my fortress and deliverer.[8]
          Now, who do we need to pray for in the knowledge that every prayer, no matter how it is answered, brings us to the One who fills us with his joy now, and promises us the eternal experience of his eternal pleasures when we go home? As pain comes to the surface just to think of people who have left us, let us bring the pain to the One who will never leave us or forsake us,[9] and discover how his constant love is better by far.
Listen to my words, Lord,  consider my lament.
Hear my cry for help,
 my King and my God,
    for to you I pray.
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
    in the morning I lay my requests before you
    and wait expectantly.[10]

© 2014 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Psalm 16:11
[2] II Corinthians 1:3-11
[3] Deuteronomy 4:29
[4] Jeremiah 29:13
[5] Matthew 7:7-8
[6] John 1:12-13; Matthew 28:20; John 14:16-17
[7] John 15:11
[8] Psalm 18:2
[9] Hebrews 13:5
[10] Psalm 5:1-3 (NIV)

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