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Growth of a Mustard Seed

When I pray, other than the all too brief moments of thankfulness or praise or occasional repentance, I mostly pray for something to happen. Sometimes the something is on behalf of someone else who I care about, but whose circumstance doesn’t really effect my days. The rest of the “somethings” are a tangle of “God, if what I believe about you is true, you should work this situation out this way…” and “God, I am helpless to do anything about this particular circumstance so I beg you to do this!” Both have at their hearts, as Adam Young spoke* so eloquently at Atlanta Westside on Sunday, a deeper desire: to be certain that God exists, that He cares about me personally with affection, and that He is involved in the details of my life to a beautiful end.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Psalm 42:1-3

What my heart and my soul are thirsting for is God…not in some ethereal way, but to tangibly know that He is with me, that He loves me even when I am a fool or cranky or clueless or lazy and to know that He will never leave me nor forsake me. I am beginning to think that this is why He calls me into prayer…to pray until I am certain of these things for which I hope.

Instead of this as the reason to continually pour my heart to Him, I call prayer pointless if it seems it will not bring about the thing I want…the reconciliation of loved ones, the healing of cancer, or perhaps the rescue of a job or lost child. In that framework, the point of prayer is to acquire a particular outcome of circumstance. I try to force God’s hand by employing greater number of “prayer warriors”, designating a certain time frame for focused and disciplined prayer, and crying out with all my emotions (“see God, I am now genuinely empty and at my end!”) as a final arm twist. My thinking is that there is a code God is wanting me to crack to get what it is I want, and once I put together the specific combination of sincerity, volume, emotion and numbers, He can then do whatever I am most wanting.

Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? 2 Cor. 11:23-29

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor. 12:7-10

What Paul realized, and I what I need to begin to grasp, is that God’s love and involvement isn’t calling me to a stoic denial of my desires but a panting after the Living Water that will be satisfied in Him alone. This actually requires that I not deny my deepest longings because it is only in that honest spilling of my guts (as Adam Young also shared) that my faith can most honestly be birthed. It is only as I trust God with my weakness (rather than trying to overcompensate with spiritual fig leaves), trust Him with my confusion (rather than trying to sort it out myself), trust Him with my blindness (rather than trying to strain and see by myself) that I begin to really know Him as the Lover my very soul and not merely the Sugar Daddy for my every whim.

To pour out my desires and heartache and impossible dreams to the Lord, over and over, for decades if necessary, requires that I keep hoping in His earthly presence rather than dismissing Him as far off, removed, or perhaps not even there at all. When I stop praying because to face my desire hurts too much, and the disappointment of not receiving what I ask for cuts too deeply, I also stop abiding in the only One in which life is to be found. When I stop pouring out my heart to the Lord, I stop being honest in my relationship with Him and settle for artificial pleasantries which begin to turn my heart cold. When I only pray if I think He will do what I ask, I have traded in genuine faith in the dynamic, Living God for something toxic and lifeless.

In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. 1 Sam. 1:10

Oh may I begin to pray like Hannah, for years and years resisting cynicism and resignation – not to manipulate God into serving me or to only get what I want, but as an act of intimacy by which my own heart may be reminded of it’s only true, safe and life-giving home. I desperately need to know that He is near, that He cares and that He is involved in my daily-ness. May this hope be made certain as I persist in facing my unmet longings and bringing them to Him today, tomorrow and for decades to come.

*As of this posting, his sermon about Hannah has not been posted to the Atlanta Westside site yet. But I ever so highly recommend listening once it is.

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