Learning to Pray Deathless Prayers ~
As you may have guessed by now, Mother’s Day looms large on my calendar. Each year it approaches, I look for any and every excuse not to go to church on Sunday. I don’t want to stand to be recognized, nor do I want anyone handing me a carnation, smiling cheerfully, and wishing me, "Happy Mother's Day!” That may sound awful, but I know I'm not alone. Maybe you are nodding in agreement?!
For many, Mother's Day is a reminder of what isn’t — women who long to be mothers and can’t, due to infertility or miscarriage, mothers who have lost children, children who've lost mothers, children of addicted mothers, mothers (like me) estranged from their children — we all might take a pass on Mother’s Day.
I know deep in my soul that everything is possible with God. Here comes the "but." But, since I've been praying this same prayer for years now, it often feels like it falls on deaf ears. My spirit groans with the petition for my prodigal child and my estranged child to return to the Lord and be reconciled with me. What happens, I wonder, to all those prayers I've prayed? Do they simply disappear over time? Why should I continue praying when nothing seems to be happening?
Perhaps you are an imperfect mom like me. I know I’ve made many mistakes. I could have listened more and talked less. I should have been less a friend and more a mentor. I’ve literally pulled my comforter over my head and begged God to save my kids from me, and to please fill in the gaps I’ve left open with His grace. Oh, the book I could write on “things not to do!” Still, we tire of nursing our broken hearts. We are weary in our marrow.
I trust the Lord knows what He’s doing, but why did He choose me to be the mother of my two children? Judging by the current state of our relationships, I mustn’t have done a very good job, I surmise. I’ve dangled that “why” question, before God, on many occasions with no answer forthcoming. One day, recently, He granted me some insight.
It was mid-morning on a weekday when I ducked into my “prayer closet” which doubles as the “water closet.” Sound familiar?
“Bev, God impressed upon my heart,“my children, whom I gave you to raise, have not been easy, but I entrusted them to you because I knew you’d love them with your whole heart. I also knew that you would be persistent in praying for them. You bring them before me morning, noon, and night — day after day.” Who knew my bathroom would serve as my Mt. Sinai? Maybe, the measure of a mother’s love is not in how well relationships turn out, but in how long she’ll persevere when things don’t pan out so well?
When my children were young, like Mary, I treasured these things in my heart. My desire, more than anything, was that my kids would have an intimate relationship with their heavenly Father. I want that for them, even more than I want them to have a relationship with me.
"The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary." (Isaiah 40:28 NIV)
Hebrews 11 is a Who’s Who of Biblical Heroes who looked forward, with faith, to what God had promised them. Sadly, they did not receive all the promises while they were living, but they welcomed them, in faith, from a distance — some from beyond the grave.
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance…”(Hebrews 11:13 NIV)
Did you know that God’s amazing strength is able to pursue our loved ones long after our earthly lives are no more? Yes, hurting soul, it’s true. My prayers are being perpetuated. Your prayers are being perpetuated. Because of God’s faithfulness, the prayers we’ve placed before our Father's throne will still be there, waiting to be answered in His perfect will and His perfect way.
Do you remember Hannah in the Old Testament? She prayed repeatedly for a son, and when Samuel was finally born to her, she then prayed he would serve God all his life (1 Samuel 1:28). God answered that prayer, and Samuel became one of the greatest men of the Old Testament. Though Hannah had long since passed, God proved faithful in answering her prayer.
E.M. Bounds, a minister and chaplain during the Civil War had this to say about prayer:
"God shapes the world by prayer. Prayers are deathless. The lips that utter them may be closed in death, the heart that felt them may have ceased to beat, but the prayers live before God, and God's heart is set on them. Prayers outlive the lives of those that uttered them; outlive a generation, outlive an age, outlive a world." *1
Because God holds our prayers in His heart, He can even add years to them that exceed our lives on earth. His, is an everlasting love that never fails. I want so much to see my children come back to God, even if it takes longer than my lifetime. I have to continue living by faith.
As much as I treasure my children, God treasures them more. Their worth to God is incalculable, and so I bring them before His throne once again. You can bring all your pain before God who loves you. Let’s commit, together, to being annoyingly persistent. Because we are children of God, our prayers will definitely be answered! Some may be answered during our lifetime on earth, but certainly during our lifetime in heaven.
This gives us hope when the thought of being separated from a loved one for all eternity is more than we can bear. What “deathless” prayers are you praying? Will you jot them in the margin and pause to offer them into God’s eternal hands. If/when those prayers come to mind again, write them in a journal and beside them write the words, “covered eternally.”
Focus on What You Do Know to Be True ~
In my conversations with my friend after her daughter’s passing, I longed to know how she persevered. I wanted to know why anger hadn’t triumphed. I could only imagine how I’d be coping. You’d most likely find me, curled in a fetal position, in the corner. My friend maintained an amazing maturity of trust, rather than succumbing to bitterness. Yes, she had many nightmarish moments, but grudges against God fell from her heart’s hands like hot potatoes. I wondered if I could handle such pain with the same measure of grace?? I listened, amazed, as my heartbroken friend, reminded me that “God is love…He can be counted on and trusted.”
We all, like my friend, will go through stages of grief when suffering manifests in the loss of a loved one or when a painful trial (illness) persists.
Denial and anger refuse to consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds (James 1:2). Wouldn’t you do just about anything to avoid the discomfort of sitting with the loss that overwhelms you? I know I have. It’s normal to seek to distract yourself from the pain or perhaps numb the pain away. I’m not a drinker, but I’ve tried to drown my sorrows in sugar — ice cream is my carb of choice. I’ve also succumbed to online spending benders. Stuff can’t soothe our suffering.
We fall prey to blaming ourselves, or we point the finger of blame at someone else. Then false guilt snatches us up in its camouflaged snare because the enemy is looking to kick us when we’re down. He prowls about seeking to destroy us with lies, false guilt, and shame. “The Creep” (as I call him) wants to render us useless, ineffective, and morally defeated. Sadly, our trials are the primary way through which the enemy seeks to lock us in his crosshairs and shoot us down.
And yet, our trials are the greatest tool through which God brushes on layer upon layer of our character.
Oh, how we want to rush the trials toward a comfortable conclusion. But sometimes God calls us to sit, albeit uncomfortably, in our pain — and here’s why:
Between God’s “promise” and the “payoff,” there’s a “process.” Grief and suffering are a huge part of that “process.” We can’t hurry it along. We can only trust God has a greater purpose for it — and that purpose is for our good.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV)
Lean in closely and let me whisper truth to you. When you don’t know why God allowed this horrendous grief, as my friend would say, “You realize what you don’t know or understand, so remind yourself of what you do know.” Bind what you know to be true about God to the anchor of your soul. God doesn’t expect us to remain clueless in our grief. He invites us to come to Him with our questions.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5 NIV)
I made, and keep handy, an “Emergency Kit” of scriptures that remind me of who God is and who He says that I am. I’ve written down key verses which speak truth to me on colorful 3x5 index cards. I punched holes in the corners and joined them together with a carabiner. I even laminated the cards because it’s my emergency reference to Scripture that soothes my soul. Consider creating one for meditation and memorization. It’s simple to look up verses by topic on www.biblegateway.com or www.biblehub.com.
Remember, you my friend, can go to God with anything. Don’t avoid God for fear the anger will drive a wedge between you. Instead, lean into Him. Go to Him, no, flee to Him, and crawl up into your Abba-Daddy’s lap. Let Him comfort you and then just ask. Ask for wisdom. God may not provide an immediate answer, but He always provides Himself. He will bless you in the waiting and in the asking. You will receive grace and mercy in your troubles. Let this balm of Scripture wash over you:
“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17 NIV)
I can hear your skeptical voice saying, “Now wait just a minute, Bev. You mean to tell me that I’m supposed to count something as tragic as losing my loved one as ‘light and momentary.’ I can’t do that!” The only way this can happen is to ask our souls to make a humanly impossible, seismic leap to view our trials through the lens of eternity. This leap will require the enabling strength of Jesus and will need to be broken into small steps over time.
Our trials — now try to grasp this with your mind if your heart can’t go there yet — our trials will add to the joy we experience when we see Jesus face to face. Worthy is the Lamb. Your trials, though heartbreaking here on earth, will be redeemed with sheer joy when your eyes lock with those of your Savior. Your tears will vanish like a bad dream when your heart awakens to the presence of Jesus. God will not let your suffering be in vain.
Remember the “Stages of Suffering” outlined in Chapter 3, Wrestling With God? Now might be a good time to go back and ascertain where you are in the progression. Don’t worry if you can’t look yet through God’s eternal lens — it will come.
The uncomfortable mercies of God (trials, pain, suffering) are meant to draw you into a relationship and dependence upon Him when you get to the end of yourself. Your relationship with God can, and will, be enough; it’s sustaining. Experiencing His love is the only thing that will allow you to embrace and carry your pain. Being one with God is the only reality that will get you through. God allows what He hates in order to draw the one He furiously loves (You) unto Himself!
It’s a tough question to ask, but in our grief, can we ask ourselves, what could God be achieving through this? Perhaps the purpose of suffering is to shift our focus to the sole reason God created us — to be in a loving, intimate relationship with our Him. All other relationships are an extension of this most sacred relationship. For this reason, Jesus refers to Himself as the Bridegroom and us (the believing church) as His beloved Bride! When the groom and his bride are joined together, a forever bond is formed.
In my own life, I’ve gone through seasons in which all earthly relationships were wiped off the table (husband, father, children, friends) and I was left with the only relationship that I could truly rely and depend upon. Suffering was the catalyst that forever defined my relationship with God. Everything is part of God’s equation and His equation is always for our good and His glory.
In C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the children ask Mr. and Mrs. Beaver if Aslan (the king and god of Narnia, who represents Christ) is safe. Mr. Beaver responds, “’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.’” *2
“Having confidence in God’s goodness is one of the linchpins of faith. When it is absent, our trust falters, our faith melts away like an ice cream cone on a summer’s day, and hope flickers like the wick at the end of a candle.”*3 – Pam Ecrement, blogger
God allows things to happen for a reason. Whether or not we understand His reasons, we must
remember that God is good, just, loving, and merciful. Suffering, certainly, will test our trust in this truth. All of life is a journey in replacing the world’s lies with God’s truth. Let’s start now. Try on this truth. Declare the Lord’s goodness and begin casting out those lies:
“Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praise to his name for that is pleasant.” (Psalm 135:3 NIV)
Bad things are bound to happen to us that we simply cannot understand. Instead of doubting God’s goodness, our reaction (for our own sake) needs to be one of trusting. When we get to the dead-end of our own understanding, we are forced to yield, to trust in God, enabled by His mercy and grace. These verses invite us to trust in God and in His character. Claim them when the lies come calling:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6 NKJ, emphasis mine)
“But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.” (Psalm 86:15 NAS)
So, what do you know to be true about God’s character? Think about those qualities and perhaps offer a breath prayer, thanking Him for His lovingkindness toward you.
If you'd like to continue reading along in my book proposal, please SUBSCRIBE to my blog (and nothing else -- I promise). I welcome your thoughts in the comments.
Be blessed...and thanks for reading...