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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

4b. Dishonoring self

Oswald Chambers: " “Prayer honors God; it dishonors self” (Purpose in Prayer [Chicago: Moody, n.d.], 43).

A friend (who makes a point to visit me each week) made a comment that I can't seem to shake. We were talking about the things that keep us busy and off-balance, distracted in life. He said to the effect that in some ways our busy-ness is in fact our "fighting God." So, the next someone asks how you are doing, or what you are doing, say, "I'm fighting God." This can be one way to look at prayer.

The Christian life is dangerous! God will not let us stay the way we are--we are in a constant state of change, being delivered from this body of death and being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. When we pray, we pray less about ourself and more about Him! We used to sing a long time ago:

"From glory to glory He's changing me, changing me, changing me,
His likeness and image to perfect in me, the love of God shown to the world.
For He's changing, changing me, from earthly things to the heavenly.
His likeness and image to perfect in me, the love of God shown to the world
."

This is what John MacArthur means when he says, "Prayer begins and ends not with the needs of man but with the glory of God."

My attention was directed to three passages on this subject, the first being Jonah 2. "Now," one may ask, "what does this have to do with the price of tea in China? Here is a guy in a fish--are you going to tell me that Jonah's prayer is about the glory of God and not about his desperate situation?" Yes. I believe it is. I had to think about it and read it for a while, then I saw it.

See, the prayer does not begin with verse 1, "Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish". Nor does the prayer begin with verse 2, "and he said, “I called out of my distress to the Lord, And He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice."

The first fact we need to grasp is there is a cultural gap to cross: we need to understand a thought process. The Hebrews did not think the same we we do [our friend on the cyberdeck will appreciate this]--Jonah tells us about the prayer before he tells us what be prayed.

First, Jonah is tells us what he is going to tell us: "Jonah prayed."

Second, Jonah tells us the result of the prayer: I called, He answered; I cried, He heard.

In case you were wondering, the prayer occurred in a place and situation through which God was going to change Jonah: "For You had cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me." In other words he was "walking the plankton inner sanctum"--underwater.

The actual prayer is this: "I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple."

One of the reasons I think Jonah's prayer was so short is because, well, based on a couple of uncomfortable experiences I've had with certain ocean creatures (sharks and barracudas), I am certain that being swallowed by a fish does not cause one to wax poetic and compose an eloquent prayer. Another reason I say this is (beside the textual clues--and the rest of the passage, which is Jonah's re-telling of everything he just told us), is because Jonah knew exactly where he was and why he was there. Refer to the first chapter and note his discussion with the sailors.

It all came down to God and His glory--and Jonah's (momentary) failure to do what God required of him, which was preach to the praise of His glory in Nineveh. "God, You did this and You will do whatever it takes to bring glory to yourself--and I am satisfied with that."

The second prayer is a little longer: Daniel 9. Daniel saw the passage of a few kings in his day; and, interestingly, Daniel's prayer life seems to be a central feature through all this history as it is being made--a glimpse "behind the curtain" to see who is really ruling the world. The timing of this prayer is worthy of note--Daniel tell us the time is the end of the seventy years of exile.

Without taking too much space to reproduce what you can be looking up (!), here are some observations: first, Daniel has been reading Jeremiah's writing (9:2)--the Bible. He's been studying God's scroll and had to respond to what he saw God was doing and was going to do.

Second, Daniel's response was'nt just, "cool! I gotta blog that!" but something more desperate. (He blogged about it later.) Daniel gave God his undivided attention, put on his "work" clothes and stopped eating. Daniel pushed himself out of the way and made it all about God and His glory. Everything he said and did was based on what God had done and what He was going to do--lots of history! Lots of promises fulfilled! He looked at God and said, "I am not You. We are not You. Please forgive us for thinking and acting like it."

He concludes by praying for God to bring back “Your city” (vv. 16,18), “Your sanctuary (v. 17), and “Your people”(v. 19). God’s answer embraced all three (v. 24)--to the praise of His glory at the abasement of the faithful.

The third and final passage that comes to our attention is the great Jeremiah 32. Historically, the events of the passage fall before Daniel, but general chronology is not our immediate concern. Immediate chronology is what draws our attention to the glory of God, the place of man and the role of prayer.

Jeremiah was in prison for prophesying (correctly, to emphasize the point) the Babylonian victory over Jerusalem. While in prison, Jeremiah gets this word from the LORD, "‘Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle is coming to you, saying, “Buy for yourself my field which is at Anathoth, for you have the bright of redemption to buy it.” ’

Get the setting: the guy is in prison following an invasion and God tells him to buy some land. [Jeremiah was known for eccentricities, so we won't criticize him too harshly--after all, "thus saith the LORD" outweighs opinion, right?]

So Jeremiah (the prisonite) buys his relative's field in Anathoth, in enemy territory. Why? Because God told him to! After all, Judah is about to go into 70 years of captivity. Jeremiah was told to preach words of hope to the people that after the 70 years the people would return to the land--so sure, that he would buy land (enemy territory--while in prison!) so he could claim it on his return. Like retirement property or something.

Verse 16 is the verse of note. After everything Jeremiah has experienced, he prays. He prays from the edge of his existence. Jeremiah has lost both home and country and is the poster-boy for all things absurd. It is not until he hands oven the paper-work that he prays. Should have prayed about all this first, right? ''God, Are you sure you want me to do this?" Both me and you would probably responded in a similar manner. But Jeremiah was not going to be found questioning God. He acted first, prayed later.

I think part of the reason he could do this is because he had a word from the LORD about what he was to do. Think about it: Jeremiah had the unmistakable word of God (later, Daniel would read what Jeremiah wrote). Can you imagine Jeremiah having quiet time in his cell and he hears God speaking unmistakably? Then Jeremiah says, "Gee, God, You who made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and stretched out arm. Nothing is too great for You; but, I dunno . . . Sounds kinda weird: me in prison, hearing voices and buying land I won't see for 70 years. That's not the norm!"

That kind of response is crazier than the whole scenario! But isn't this how we treat God? "God, you're great and all, but me and my situation -- way too much more than you can handle."

"God, you've got this real great history of work and have shown great power--you gave us this land and all; and You were like, 'Buy the field for money, and take witnesses; for the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.' and I'm all like, 'I gotta pray about this first!"

When God plainly meets us at the borders of our existence and through His word speaks in unmistakable terms, who we gonna pray to, and what (pray, tell) are we gonna pray about? Like we're gonna tell on God!

I love God's response to Jeremiah. It's essentially the same response to Jonah's prayer. It's the same response to Daniel's: "Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?" (32:27) God uses Jeremiah's own words to confirm what Jeremiah found about God at the end of himself. These are, in effect, the same words Abraham heard when God responded to Sarah's laughter upon learning she was going to bear a child in her old age. The same words Mary said to the angel upon learning her virgin body will bring forth a the Son of God. God delights in glorifying Himself at the places we cannot bear to exist!

God makes it known to Jeremiah that not only will He take care of the enemies, but He will also take care of His people--and the land will remain in good keeping until they return as well.

"And they shall be My people, and I will be their God. And I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for their good and for the good of their sons after them.
And I will cut an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good. But I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me. Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will truly plant them in this land with all My heart and all My whole soul. For so says the LORD, As I have brought all this great evil on this people, so I will bring on them all the good that I have promised them
."

This is why prayer dishonors self.

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