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Sunday, 1 June 2014

Prayer as a Distress Call

I read on Matatu recently, "When there is no way out, let God in," and I wondered whether that supposedly wise saying was even wanted, let alone needed. After all, prayer in distress comes almost involuntarily. It is silly to suppose that God is good enough for us only when we want Him to solve our problems. Sadly though, this skewed perception is very common (We can have a post on that in future). In this post, let us think about the saying I saw on that Matatu.

Is it Needed?

Prayer in distress comes almost involuntarily. What else can one do? What may one do when they reach the end of their human resources with no resolution to their travail? Such a one seeks aid because their situation clearly indicates their insufficiency; naturally, they must look for someone more apt to overcome the situation, someone to provide a solution. It has been said that there is no atheist on a deathbed. It is not that atheists do not die; it is just that they tend to adopt a softer stance when they are dying. The deathbed, which is perhaps the most distressful thing about life on earth, gets rid of all atheists. They start saying things like, "What if God is really there? Perhaps there is really a God." This change of mind happens because of their natural desire to let Someone bigger than themselves take the foes who are too strong for them, e.g. death. Prayer in distress comes almost involuntarily; it is virtually a reflex. Just as you do not need anybody to remind you to blink, you do not need some purportedly wise individual to remind you to let God in when there is no way out. Not even hardened atheists need to be reminded to pray when they are at their wits' ends.

Is it Wanted?

Prayer in distress is a good thing. But, surely, we must agree that it is not enough. None of us desires to be in a relationship with someone who talks to them only when they want something. Nonetheless, many of us are eager to foster a parasite-host relationship with God--ourselves playing the role of the annoying parasites. For people, who pray only when battered by life's difficulties, may I adapt Christ words to the Pharisees, this "you ought to have done without neglecting the weightier matter of" (cf. Matthew 23:23) prayers at all times as taught in Ephesians 6:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 etc. Prayers are not only to be offered in times of distress, but in times of tranquil too. So to the extent that let God in when there is no way out may be misconstrued to mean that we should wait until things are out of hand before we pray, to that same extent the saying is an unwanted one. We ought not want to wait that long before we pray.

Even the unbelieving world knows that prevention is better than cure. Praying only when distressed is like visiting the doctor only when the illness has advanced to life threatening proportions. That is, when your off-the-counter medications, your own efforts, can avail nothing. It is like attempting to appeal your case in the hour when you are set to be hanged. Are you not afraid of how long it might take for your appeal to be reviewed? When the judge is done reviewing it, will there be any time left to save you from your death sentence? Even worse, prayer that is restricted to times of distress is like a prideful and persistent turning down of the benevolent offers of the physician and the judge in my illustrations until it is a hopeless situation in your estimation. Then you have to plead with them hoping that their benevolence still exists unperturbed by your previous insolence.

The Conclusion of the Matter

When you are in distress, pray. But hopefully you are not learning how to pray in your distress. And hopefully you will continue to pray after your perceived distress. You ought to continue to pray after that particular issue is resolved (whether positively or negatively). Hopefully you will pray before the next issue arises. That is the point of this blog post, to encourage my Christians fellows to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We must not wait until there is no way out to let God in as that saying on the Matatu seems to advocate. Whether or not there seems to be a way out, dear Christian, pray. Remember, "My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts," says the LORD. "And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine" (Isaiah 55:8, NLT). Or as most of the other more popular translations put it, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways" (ESV, KJV, NASB*, NIV, ISB*, etc.). There are times when you think all is well when, in fact, the opposite is true. At times you will think the worst thing is happening to you, when in fact, from God's perspective, you are experiencing His utmost favour just then. In short, you cannot trust the judgment of your deceitful heart to tell you when you are truly in distress. After all, for as long as we are in this fallen world, we are in a place where we need God's unceasing sustenance and intervention. We ought to pray without ceasing for this.

Adieu! Have a prayerful day, won't you?

*NASB and ISB use the word "nor" instead of the "neither" in the more popular three.