PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: THE PRAYER OF CAUSALITY CAN CHANGE OUR VEXING BURDEN INTO BLESSED VICTORY!
Several years ago the New York Herald Tribune told the story of a tragedy involving a Long Island man who began digging his own well, of all days on his birthday! He had rigged up quite an operation with his shovel, rope, and bucket routine. He had gotten down some thirty-five feet when his wife called him to come in and get cleaned up for his birthday dinner. As he began to climb out, the walls caved in and he was buried under tons of dirt. Was he perhaps cowering underground in an air pocket beside the ladder? Ambulance and rescue crews, fire departments and derrick operators worked feverishly through the long night digging a nearby well; people roosted in trees and watched through the night. News crews carried the story. Periodic cave-ins hampered the rescue effort. Everyone was wondering what it was like inside that tomb-whether it was an endlessly approaching death or had it already come to that man. When the breakthrough came, sad to say, he had died. What a tragedy! His birthday turned into a burial.
When it came to Jesus Christ, the opposite was true-His burial turned into a Birthday on the day Jesus “became the first-begotten from the dead”. On the very day of his burial his disciples were huddling together, behind locked doors, for fear of the Jews, and the Romans, fearing if they continued on following in Jesus footsteps, soon 11 more crosses would be raised between heaven and earth, on the hill of the skull, and most of their bodies would not end up in a rich man’s tomb, but likely in the fires of the Valley of Hinnom. Their fears were not ill-founded, for after all the Romans were known for crucifying so many revolutionary Jews that trees in the Jerusalem area were almost extinct! But Jesus’ burial, and subsequent rising from the dead, turned his burial into a birthday for the Church. The book of Acts tells us that it was the risen Christ, and the Church’s faith in the infallible evidence of His resurrection, that turned their world upside down, and caused the gospel message to triumphantly conquer the Roman world from Jerusalem to Rome, and beyond!
The truth of the matter is that these days the Church spends her time again locked up, behind the four walls of the Church, if not fearing the world, certainly ignoring it, and their ministry to it. One denominational worker, in the Methodist faith said, “There are 15 churches in my district; 12 could close down, and the communities would not even miss them!” Believe me the same could be said about Baptists! Southern Baptists too! We huddle behind the four walls of our Church “talking about how the Great Commission just cannot be done today!” willing to make our mandate more relevant to another day, an earlier time. Our days are the days of the Great Apostasy after all! Our predicament reminds me of another tragic incident that occurred just off New York City on Long Island. A crew aboard a heavily loaded scow suddenly sensed that it was taking water and was sinking. They tried desperately to save it, but it was a losing battle; suddenly the crew noticed some piling thrusting out of the freezing icy waters, they decided to jump overboard, abandoning the sinking merchant vessel. All through the night they clung for life to the piling and cried out for help toward the blinking lights along the shore for help. In the morning some early fishermen saw them clinging to the piling, fingers, hands, bodies nearly frozen to death, despairing for life. In the ensuing rescue the terrible irony of their experience became clear: all through the freezing night the men had clung to the piling in water that was only four feet deep! At any moment they could have walked safely to shore! What an image of our modern Church! Hemmed in by our past failures; our irrelevancy; our inhibitions and anxieties…we are clinging for dear life in the cold and freezing waters of a modern culture, when right around us is the steps we can take to victory. Carl F.H. Henry, one of the most brilliant men I have ever had the privilege to meet, and to sit in one of his classes, before he passed away, put it very succinctly. He said, “So it was with the early disciples who huddled behind locked doors for fear of the outside world. The risen Lord appeared to them, and He knew what power need to be applied and where in their situation. He not only gave them the Great Commission-He breathed the Holy Spirit of power upon them, and He transformed his burial into their birthday! We live with slammed doors, shut doors, sealed doors, and we need nothing so much but to hear the voice of Him who calls…’I am He that liveth, and was dead…I…have the keys of hell and death’ (Rev. 1:18)” (New Strides of Faith p. 106).
That key is Prayer. Albert Einstein was fascinated by the power and paradox of prayer. So was C.S. Lewis. On one occasion Lewis responded to an objection about prayer by Kurt Vonnegut. The objection went something like this: “I don’t think it all likely that God requires the ill-informed (and contradictory), advice of us humans to run the world. If He is all-wise, as it is said He is, doesn’t He know already what is best? And if He is all-good won’t He do it whether we pray or not?” In reply, Lewis said that you could use the same argument against any human activity, not just prayer. “Why wash your hands? If God intends them to be clean, they’ll come clean without your washing them…Why ask for salt? Why put on your boots? Why do anything?” God could have arranged things so that our bodies nourished themselves miraculously without food, knowledge entered our brains without studying, and umbrellas magically appeared to protect us from rainstorms. But God chose a different way of governing the world. He chose a partnership which also relies on human agency and choice. Our involvement and prayers help change what happens. He says so in His word. Lewis borrowed a term from Blaise Paschal to describe what happens when we pray, and God answers by His power. He called that the “dignity of causality”. We partner with God in causing things to come to pass! Carl F.H. Henry says, that kind of activity of prayer, and enduement of the Holy Spirit, can “change our vexing burden into a blessed victory!” Oh how we need to join Jesus in the Ministry of Prayer. Remember “without Him we can’t! Without us-He won’t!” Pray-Pray-Pray!