This is the Day

exploring the soul's quest for joy

Tag: prayer

Come, O Light, Come

 

A heavy blanket of darkness envelops our world on this the darkest night of the year. For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, this winter solstice, this stopping of the sun, heralds the end of the disappearance of light and the beginning of its return.

 

But all we notice is the dark.

 

Today in Philadelphia, we will turn our faces upward to catch a slim 8 hours and 20 minutes of light. Barely enough, but far more than our Alaskan compatriots who will wait to see a mere 3 or 4 hours of sunlight this day. During the deep midwinter, most of us long for greater illumination from this most-treasured of celestial orbs.

 

Most of us don’t typically like the dark.

 

Unless we are dining by candlelight in the cocoon of darkened walls, enhancing the glow on friends’ faces, on fine china, on elegant crystal. Unless we are nestled around a roaring fire, whose radiance takes the chill out of a winter night laden with stars.

 

In the dark we are always searching for the light.

 

The darkness awakens in us a sense of foreboding. It disquiets our soul and awakens in us the knowledge that we are no longer fully in control. In the dark we realize how much we walk by sight, taking steps forward only when we can see the road ahead. The dark swallows up our assurance, leaving us with a choice to make.

 

Stay still, or begin to walk by faith.

 

O come thou Day-Spring,

Come and cheer

Our spirits by thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight

 

How we long for the light. This third stanza from the haunting Christmas carol, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel reminds us that it will not always be night. As surely as the dawn follows the dark, we can be assured that the true Light will spring forth like a new day.

 

Like a light into all of our darkness.

 

And so we wait. But like the awakening of a new dawn, it may take time. At times we too live in a bleak midwinter season, where our own piece of earth stands hard as iron, water like a stone, and we struggle to glimpse any beam of light at all.

 

What is your present darkness that you are plodding through in hopes of making your way forward to the light?

 

This time last year I had no way of knowing I would bury my father in one month and my mother in two. This time last year I had no way of knowing the new medical challenges that would stalk my family this year. I lost count at 66 medical appointments for two of my kids and me this year. You can do the math. That’s more than one medical appointment per week; that’s a high number.

 

But to me, it’s more than a number.

 

The number represents loss. A loss of time. Time scheduling appointments. Time researching options. Time driving. Time waiting. Time conferring with doctors. Time paying bills. Okay, let’s just say it…time worrying. And at the end of all this time, when there is still little resolution to some of these concerns, it all feels a bit like I’ve been wandering around in the dark, bumping into unseen obstacles in my path, and wondering when the light will break through and show me the way forward.

 

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great Light.

 

Perhaps I’ve been looking for the wrong light. Perhaps I’ve been confusing resolution to long-prayed prayers with moving forward. Could there be a journey in the dark whose worth far exceeds any journey we take in the light? It is in the dark that I must yield my need for control to the practice of trust.

 

Trust not that I’ll get the answers but that God is the answer.

 

This is the kind of trust that makes room for hope, and hope always welcomes the Light and prepares it a way.

 

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel

 

We can choose to move forward in the dark, in steadied hope that the light will indeed come. Waiting in the literal dark of this Advent reminds us that no matter how dark a season of life may seem, light will always break through, for the Light has surely come. When we wait in faith, we can catch glimmers of light before the dawn, before the Day-Spring, that invite us to step further into the light.

 

The world lays still tonight in darkness, but things will not always be thus. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!

 

My Heart's Desires

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Part 3 of a 4-part series on Psalm 37

 

Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.

 

Wow! Did you catch that?

 

…He will give me the desires of my heart.

 

This is absolutely fantastic news! This is a promise I want to hold onto.

 

If I’m honest, I think I instinctively read this verse backwards. Maybe you do too sometimes.

 

Give me the desires of my heart and I will delight in You, oh Lord.

 

Honestly, many days, this is exactly how I would like to read this verse.

 

Some days I approach life so self-focused, always asking for more, that I am barely content with what is. No sooner is one long-prayed-for prayer answered than this forgetful sojourner raises her next plaintive request heavenward. My memory is short and my list of wants is long.

 

Oh Lord, would you please heal…Oh Lord, would you please provide…Oh Lord, would you please stop this bad habit…Oh Lord, would you please end the sorrow.

 

They are good prayers. At least they seem that way on the surface. Yet, so often the things on my most wanted list stem more from my own fears than from a desire to grow in Godliness. And I realize that even sweet prayers for my loved ones can stem more from a yearning for their health and happiness than for their spiritual strength and their willingness to extend love and grace to those around them.

 

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God knows that the things on my most wanted list don’t always match up with His most wanted list. They aren’t necessarily the things that flow out of delighting in the Lord. Left to my own devices, my desires can run amuck, as I chase after every whim and fancy that I think will bring me happiness. God wasn’t being unnecessarily cruel when He observed that the human heart is so evil and desperately wicked, that it was beyond knowing. Rather, He was warning us not to trust the whims and desires of our heart. Their true motives can’t be fully known.

 

Delighting in God must always precede the fulfilling of my desires. The more I delight in Him, the more my unhealthy desires will fade away. It’s not that He tells me to lay them down, they just begin to lose their weightiness the more my desire is for the Lord and about pleasing Him.

 

It is only when I am delighting in the Lord that I stand a chance of my desires being the right ones, because they will be His desires for me too.

 

Prayer

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Why do I come to God in prayer? Is He the big blue Genie to my Aladdin? Do I come to Him expecting to get something in return? Something to make my life better, safer, or more in keeping with my vision of “a blessed life”?

 

Oswald Chambers refers to the condition that fosters this type of prayer as “spiritual lust”. Lust, because we want something right away. Spiritual lust because we come demanding an answer from God rather than seeking God Who gives the answer. Chambers reminds us that “the meaning of prayer is that we get hold of God, not of the answer.”

 

And yet, if we are honest, if we only have a brief time to pray, aren’t we more inclined to present to God our petitions rather than our praise? “Oh Lord, help my child today.” “Oh Lord, bless me at work in this difficult situation today.” “Oh Lord, help me make this big decision.” “Oh Lord, heal.” And so it goes. As much as we may think we grasp that prayer is about getting hold of God and not about getting a particular answer, we still struggle with presenting Him with a laundry list of wants at every chance we take to pray.

 

CS Lewis expresses it this way: “The very question, “Does prayer work?” puts us in the wrong frame of mind from the outset. “Work”: as if it were magic…Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary  – not necessarily the most important one – from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is.” (The World’s Last Night, p. 8)

 

How could your prayer life be radically different if your focus were more on what He is than what He does? If you moved through a house of prayer as Lewis described it, beginning with confession and penitence, moving into an extended time of adoration, such that you would be filled with the presence, vision, and enjoyment of God—how would that change you? It is in this type of prayer that He shows Himself to us.

 

Prayer is about being honest with God. It is being honest and raw before our maker. It takes time to sit in the stillness and really listen to our own heart. True confession does not happen quickly; it requires a deep, long look at our true self. We may need to spend time reflecting on our usual prayer “laundry list” and ask God to reveal any hidden spiritual lusts. Are there things on that list that we want more than God Himself?

 

Are you then prepared to enjoy an extended time of adoration or are there hidden fears and longings that you must release to Him before you can be filled with His presence? In true prayer we have to be honest before God. But we spend so much time covering up in front of others to play the game that everything is okay that it takes time sitting with Him in the quiet to really understand what issues are at work in our hearts. We all have deep needs. Deep fears. Unsatisfied longings. Unanswered prayers. Things we have stuffed down for a long time. Often we don’t even truly know our deepest longings—we just know we long for more. True prayer means taking time to be really still. In that stillness, discover your deepest needs, fears, and longings so you can lay them down before the Lord.

 

When you quiet yourself down, what are you really yearning for? What is your deep desire?

 

This type of extended confession, penitence, and pouring out to God enables us to receive the cleansing that He lavishes on us. And in that state, He feeds us and He fills us with His Spirit. And that is the real purpose behind prayer.

 

In his work “The Path of Prayer”, Samuel Chadwick cuts right to the heart of the importance of prayer when he says, “Satan dreads nothing but prayer. His one concern is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, he mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.”

 

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