Posted by: mikebackup | September 16, 2011

Facing up to reality in prayer

Reading – Genesis 32.9-12

9 Then Jacob prayed, O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’

    10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups.

    11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children.

    12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’

Reading – Mark 14.32-42

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, Sit here while I pray.

    33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.

    34 My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, he said to them. Stay here and keep watch.

    35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.

    36 Abba, Father, he said, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.

    37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. Simon, he said to Peter, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?

    38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.

    39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.

    40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

    41 Returning the third time, he said to them, Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

    42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!
Well holiday time of year has just past, where did you go, UK or abroad? Well the family and I like many people headed southwest. We went to Cornwall for a couple of years, Devon last year, and Somerset this year. We’re hired a cottage and the changeover days are always a Friday or Saturday. For anyone that’s been for a holiday in the Southwest in August and have driven on a Friday or a Saturday you know you’re in for a difficult and long journey.

In recent years I’ve poured over the maps, argued with the Sat Nav to do my best to avoid the congestion and jams. Last year we travelled down in two cars and as we cleared Bristol the M5 came to a standstill. I couldn’t face it so I thought I’ll travel the coastal road. I’d already looked at it and it was actually the shortest route to where we were going, so I came off. Lisa and her Mum stayed put in the jam. Meanwhile I happily exited and trundled along for 20 seconds until I met every other frustrated driver now stuck in gridlock at a series of small roundabouts. It was very frustrating and I had two frustrated kids in the back that soon wanted a toilet break. Accidents were avoided with a local Sainsburys coming to the rescue. The tortuous journey came to a head when we started to climb a ridiculously steep coastal road. The car in front started to struggle and I then got to close to overtake when it eventually stalled. When we got going my heart was in my mouth. The car was packed and at one point even with my foot to the floor in my 1.8 we were at 10mph and falling, we were going to stop and there was a huge jam behind us that couldn’t get past! Somehow it just kept going and we gained speed. Eventually a long time later we arrived at our destination. Of course Lisa and her Mum had been there for about 45 minutes. The Jam on the M5 had soon cleared and they had a pleasant end to the journey.

Sometimes we need to face up to things. I should have faced up to the fact I was going to have to sit with the holiday traffic like everyone else. As prayerful Christians we sometimes need to face up to realities and be ready to take what we see coming but absolutely don’t want. In your prayer life, how often have you prayed and prayed to avoid what’s coming by trying to persuade God to take you a different route? Of course what you didn’t want happened anyway, so did God abandon you, or was it that you weren’t with God in facing up to what you knew would happen.

Jacob had been awful to his Brother Esau, cheating him out of his inheritance. In these verses from Genesis he’s desperate to avoid meeting his Brother, to face up to him and the terrible things he had done. He’s pleading with God, not for repentance and strength to face what was coming but by saying ‘you said you were going to look after me’. Of course he was going to have to face his Brother and no amount of prayer bargaining with God was going to change that. Shortly after that prayer Jacob famously wrestles with God before he faces Esau. The eventual meeting of course was one where Jacob is humbled by the grace and forgiveness offered by Esau.
Praying desperately to avoid what’s coming is natural, as human beings we want to avoid pain, death, and conflict. As we see in these brilliant verses from Mark, even Jesus prayed desperately to avoid what was coming. This is Jesus as fully human, unable to face the desperate situation ahead. Mark’s Gospel draws us into the real humanity of Jesus. Despite his desperate pleas, his pain and suffering were going to happen.

So for us, we need not beat ourselves up for the times when do pray to avoid the inevitable, or indeed stop praying for ways around difficulties. It’s human nature. However, to become Christians skilful in prayer and closer to God in our journey of faith sometimes we do need to face what’s coming and have the courage to pray into those difficulties. Let’s look at the most difficult of things we have to face, that of losing those we love and our indeed our own passing. As close friends and family draw close to the end of their lives we pray desperately for it not to happen. We pray for miraculous healing, but in our desperation we may pray for the wrong sort of miraculous healing. Miraculous healing is found in those that move from being desperate about their own death to being at peace with it and are then able to spend their final days looking outward and being a beacon of light and hope to those around. That is also true for those they are leaving behind, rather than not facing up to it, the tears can flow, what needs to be said can be said and together the pain can be faced.

In the Bible, Christian and non-Christian resources, and the reality of the life we lead, one thing is made very clear. We have to face many difficult obstacles. The real danger of praying to avoid difficulties is that God can appear very absent. The bad test results, the redundancies, the inability to make ends meet, family breakups, arguments and the pain of grief all happen daily to millions of people. If we constantly pray that these things will come to an end it is very easy to lose faith because they won’t stop happening. We live in a fallen world it’s not the way God wants it to be. But what we do know is that if we involve God in each of those situations, God’s grace and love will be seen even in the greatest of pain. God came into the world not to show us how to have an easy life, but to show that any situation where God is brought into, the love that brought creation into being will be seen. If you don’t believe me, well it’s central to our faith. We worship someone who was innocent, yet died the cruellest of criminal executions; we venerate the cross, an instrument of torture and death. Jesus faced the most desperate, seemingly Godless situation, yet through it our faith has its life and being. I pray for courage for each of us, to face our difficulties and have enough trust during the pain that God is with us. May our prayers, whatever we face be the ones where we meet with God.

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