In light of the tragedy in Japan, I have been revisting some trusted Bible verses about prayer. As the images of destruction stream across my laptop in the comfort of a secure house and office, I feel a need to seek earnestness in my heart for those who are hurting on the other side of the globe. I am tempted to desensitize… the reality of pain is too much… and yet my heart won't let me ignore the despair. My soul is troubled. And so I cry out to God. But from thousands of miles away… what difference can I really make by sharing hurt?
The verses I am re-engaging have for me become a defining framework of spiritual formation in every context, time and circumstance. Whether in joy or in sorrow, in ease or in trouble, I have found tremendous strength for the last 15 years in these short verses. They ignite within me a renewed confidence in the practice of prayer and they compell me towards a lifestyle more deeply obedient to God’s presence. They push me towards an engagement with frustrations and dysfunctions. The natural dysfunctions of death and horror in Japan right now frustrate me terribly. My heart is wrecked… and so I return to pray through these verses which have given me firm footing when I don't know how to walk.
Philippians 4:5-7 is a framework within which I can expose my heart to God. Contained in these verses is a relevant paradigm for seeking after and finding the ultimate aim of God:
The Lord is near. Let your forbearance be evident to all. Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Perhaps this will give you a snapshot, and me a reminder, as to how praying in Scripture refocuses my heart deeply on the things of God. By spending time with God, in his nearness, my heart and mind are transformed further into his desires and actions. As I release my anxiety to him, as I hand over control, as I rely upon his goodness and ask him for his hand to help, I experience the embrace of his peace… even in the midst of turmoil. As I petition for change!!!! God allows me to be a part of the voice of reconciliation in our messed up world. My requests are permitted. My hearts frustrations and wants are held in respect in the council of the Lord. In my willingness to be broken with thanksgiving before God comes the envelopment of his wholeness, his shalom, God's peace. And as I pray, my concerns shift and become more like his. My characteristics become reflections of his. My burdens become the ones that God is already at work carrying. My ache for the people of Japan becomes more in tune with the profound depths of hurt that God already has for the people of Japan. And my soul becomes humbled as I begin to hear from God's Spirit about the profound action that God is already administering among the people.
The Lord is near. Let me forbear before others. Let my anxiousness be given over, and let me pray earnestly and steadfastly for others. Let my voice rise up as an advocate in demanding petition for change! Let me be thankful in the midst of it all. Then let me receive God's heart and hands as he does his eternal work.