Our Most Surprising Prayer

The thirteenth reflection in a series, “Hope to See Us Through,” by the Rev. Terry Elsberry.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”

—Jeremiah 29:11

 

I

I’ve seen a lot in my years as an American—and a patriotic one at that. I’ve lived through the Viet Nam War and the divisions it caused. I remember John Kennedy’s assassination. I remember the Kent State shooting. I remember 1968—the year of riots and assassinations. I lived through, pretty close at hand, 911. I’ve lived through the Iraq war, and—seemingly endlessly, the war in Afghanistan. I remember Newtown, been horrified by the number of shootings of innocent Americans by other Americans. I remember all these painful and tragic occurrences. They hurt us deeply at the time, as a nation, as individuals.

But these past weeks have made a permanent dent in our national psyche that is in some ways unlike the others for depth of confusion.

It’s not just the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. It’s not just the demonstrations—some, unfortunately, violent; most, I’m glad to see, non-violent. It’s that the demonstrations have moved beyond our borders to many other countries as well. And the whole thing has been taking place against the desperate reality of the Corona Virus—still taking lives, still robbing people of their jobs and livelihood, still spiking now in new parts of the country.

Too much, you must be feeling if you’re like me. Too much anger. Too much pain. Too much suffering. Too much injustice. Too much unfairness. Too much anxiety about what the future might bring.

SO WHAT IS THERE FOR US CHRISTIANS TO DO?
Obviously, we can take a stand for justice, equality, compassion and caring.

There’s something else we can do. I keep coming back to it. Whatever we do to help people who need food or jobs or help of some kind, whatever we might do to take a stand for equality, we need to do something else.

We need to pray. We must pray. We have to pray. As the people of God, you and I need to be praying, we need to be interceding, we need to be crying out to the Lord for His intervention, His help in healing our nation.

Along with intercession, there’s another kind of pray I have in mind.

It might surprise you, because the kind of prayer I’m suggesting may not be exactly what you’ve thought of before. Of course, we have to specifically pray the Lord will end the virus, guide scientific researchers to finding some kind of virus or antidote and soon.

Of course, we need to pray for the people who need them to get jobs, homes, food, medical attention.

Of course, we need to pray for an end to violence, where ever and however it rears its ugly head.

Of course, we need to pray for equality—racial, religious, gender equality—everywhere the needs exists.

We need to pray specifically for these things.

But when I look at the overall picture of this country I love so much, when I try to climb higher, to gain some higher perspective than the one I usually inhabit, I’m reminded of a very different kind of prayer we might consider praying these days.

It’s a kind of praying that may come as a surprise to you.

II

It’s a prayer in which we thank God when to the natural eye it looks like we don’t have much to thank Him for.

Call it counterintuitive. Call it nonsensical, if you’re a basic kind of guy like me.

Because of what I’ve experienced in my life, I call it powerful.

I first learned about this kind of prayer when the Lord showed me how to make it work in my own life.

It happened years ago. I was still quite a young man. I was pretty happy and well-adjusted but I’d lost a job and needed a new start. All my searches had led to nothing. Having come to know the Lord and His goodness and the help He offers us in times of trouble, I made a decision.

I would barricade myself in the guest bedroom for an entire day, with timeout only for lunch. I would isolate myself for the day, with no interruptions and—as we read in the Bible—wait on the Lord. I would ask Him for guidance. Beg Him to show me what to do, where to go from here.

I spent the morning praying, Bible in hand, hoping He’d give me some great revelation about my future. To no avail. Nothing came. I broke for lunch, came back to my prayers. But how much praying can you do in a day? I was out of prayers. I was feeling discouraged, frustrated, doubtful if the Lord was going to give me anything at all. Maybe, I thought, the whole day had been a total waste of time.

Finally, in a fit of frustration, I flung myself face down on the carpet. I said something like, “Lord, if you’re here, show me what to do.”

Immediately a Bible verse shot through my mind. It was from a book in the Old Testament I barely knew existed: the prophet

Habakkuk.

The verse was Habakkuk chapter 3, verses 17-19. It goes like this: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail, And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold, Yet I will exult in the Lord. I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places.”

I knew enough about Habakkuk to know that he wrote this from his own experience. He wrote this in a desperate time when Judah was about to be conquered by a foreign power. As a prophet of God, Habakkuk was heartsick that such an awful thing was about to befall God’s people.

But what did Habakkuk do in the face of seeming disaster. He sat down and wept, right? No, he didn’t. He made the choice, he made the decision to do the opposite. Instead of gloom, Habakkuk chose the opposite. He chose thanks. Here he praises and thanks the Lord DESPITE all these problems.

In that moment, I felt led by the Lord to do the same. I began to thank Him, out loud, for all my many blessings. Instead of feeling sorry for myself and my situation, I chose a higher path. The path of praise and thanksgiving.

I thanked God. I even sang an old camp chorus about thanking Him. And in a matter of a few minutes, I got my answer. In a matter of minutes, I saw the way clear to my happy new beginning.

So for us, as Americans, as American Christians confronted by our country’s myriad and manifest problems, along with asking the Lord to change things for the better, let’s take a page from the prophet and let’s thank the Lord for all the blessings we have as free Americans.

Because when we thank the Lord in tough times, with our thankful attitude comes a new and positive way of seeing things, of doing things, of overcoming trouble and making a more constructive new beginning—for us and for these United State. By thanking Him in dark days, we remind ourselves that we’re not alone He’s there in the darkness with us, beside us to see us through to a brighter tomorrow.

As it is for you and me, may it be with our country we love so much.

As I was writing this, I happened to take time out to read today’s comments in the daily devotional “God Calling.” Here’s what I read:
“OFFER UNTO ME THE SACRIFICE OF THANKSGIVING AND PAY YOUR VOWS TO THE MOST HIGH, AND THEN CALL UPON ME IN THE DAY OF TROUBLE AND I WILL DELIVER YOU. “

Let us pray: Lord, we thank You for making us free Americans, for giving us a place in this land dedicated to freedom and liberty and opportunity for all. Thanks you for making these rights and privileges a reality for us all. Thank you for replacing racial discord with harmony and mutual respect. Thank you for giving us the way through to a better and a more hopeful future for ourselves and for all who will come after us, for Your glory and in Your Name we pray.–AMEN