Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Eyes of my Heart

Within the past few months, I experienced a complicated, serious, infectious illness that backed me into a corner where surrender to God's sovereign will became my only option.  As I struggled to process and accept my dilemma, I fervently asked God to open the eyes of my heart so I could see Him more clearly.  Little did I know, His presence would be magnified through His beautiful children--family, friends, neighbors and strangers.

While feeling especially alone during one of my bad days, I came across this story in a book authored by Sue Monk Kidd, God's Joyful Surprise. She writes:

"One of my favorite sermon stories is about a little girl who went to play with her friend Marcy.  She was late returning home and her mother met her at the door.  'Why are you late?' she asked.  'Marcy's puppy got lost,' the little girl replied.  'Did you stay to help her find it?' the mother asked.  'Oh, no,' she said.  'I stayed to help her cry.'"

So with a desperate need for additional support, maybe even someone "to help me cry," I did something I would not normally do because I don't particularly like to be transparent in a public format.  I posted a brief, rather timid message on my Facebook Timeline requesting prayer.

I was not expecting to be overwhelmed, but that is exactly what happened.  The generosity of heart, the immediate willingness to pray for me, the sincere concern for my well being from my dear Facebook friends brought a burst of tears to my eyes.

The eyes of my heart were opened wide and I saw and encountered God through others.  As they entered His presence through prayer on my behalf, they brought me into His presence as well.  Their prayers became my prayers.  Intercessory prayer is loving cooperation with what Jesus, who will never leave us or forsake us, is already doing in a person's life.  It is meant to expand and intensify His presence in the mind and heart of those who pray and the individual on the receiving end.  I truly was comforted by their concern and lifted up by their prayers.

To be the recipient of a chorus of prayers is both unique and humbling. The effect is profound and long-lasting.  Usually this sort of intercession is an infrequent occurrence since it's prompted by a serious and traumatic event in someone's life.  More often than not, there aren't a lot of details provided when the urgent call for prayer goes out.  Having all the facts isn't necessary because the pivotal purpose of the prayer being offered is not to fix something.  It's simply enough to know someone is hurting and to express heartfelt compassion and empathy, to be with a fellow human being in spirit, "to stay and help them cry."

What a fascinating, miraculous dynamic!  With this form of prayer, we "experience God in spontaneous community," to again quote Sue Monk Kidd.  She goes on to say, "Every prayer is important, primarily to the one for whom we pray, but it's important for us too.  For in intercession we yield ourselves to God, sharing in His compassion and opening ourselves to His presence."

Monday, March 30, 2015

They Fell Asleep...

Jesus died on the cross for our sins, yes, and this is humbling beyond words.  But what is essential to remember is he suffered because he loved us, not out of duty.  The road to Calvary speaks volumes of that love, clearly revealed in Jesus' final hours on earth.

From a human perspective, it literally took blood, sweat and tears for Jesus to resolve to face the cruelty, rejection, degradation and violence of an execution by crucifixion.  Let's reflect for a moment on the emotional agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, where just prior to his arrest, Jesus offered up supplications with loud crying and tears. Before we rejoice that Jesus, as the Son of Man, was destined to choose the Father's will over his own pain, we should take a hard look at the desperate struggle that was involved.

The peaceful garden, thick with twisted-trunk olive trees, where they often went was familiar to Jesus and the disciples.  But this time something was different.  They had never seen their master like this, severely distressed and troubled, as though he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders.  They glanced at each other, wondering what to expect.  As they entered through the gate, Jesus asked the group, with the exception of Peter, James and John, to sit down and wait for him there.  Then as the full moon illuminated their way, the selected three followed Jesus deeper into the recesses of the garden.

Finally, unable to contain the crushing sorrow any longer, he uttered, "My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death.  Stay here and keep watch."  Wait.  Did you catch that?  Grieved to the point of death? These are words laden with mental anguish and affliction of the soul. The Jesus turned from his three companions and went a short distance. Tears streaming down his face, he fell to the ground, crying out to the Father as he began to wrestle with the preordained plan to redeem humankind.  His voice echoed in the dark night, heart-wrenching pleas from the pit of his being.  Could there be another way?

An hour passes.  In the moonlight, he noticed Peter, James and John across the way and approaches them.  Did he hope to be comforted? Did he expect a show of concern and support?  He had asked to so little of them.  He simply wanted them to be there for him in his hour of great need.  But what did his best friends in the whole world do?  They fell asleep.

Jesus leaves them and the battle in the garden continues, waves of emotion threatening to drown him with their force.  An angel appears to strengthen him.  The fervency and agony was so intense, his sweat mixed with blood.  Again he reached out to his slumbering friends. They looked up at him through drowsy eyes.  He searched for a glimmer of reassurance.  But they didn't know what to say to him. With a disheartened sigh, he told them. "It's OK...go back to sleep.

Exhausted, Jesus returned to his special spot.  After a final time of ardent, earnest prayer, the saga of blood, sweat and tears was unequivocally over.  He went to fetch his friends, finding all three sound asleep again, totally oblivious to his grievous personal struggle. As he studied their faces, remembering the camaraderie, his heart filled with compassion.  His love for them had not lessened. He awakened them with renewed determination in his voice.  Startled, they looked around, confused. For the past few hours, through groggy sleep, they'd heard him sob uncontrollably.  Now they stumbled along after him, trying to match his rapid pace as he headed back to the garden entrance to meet his betrayer face to face.

So here's the question that deserves an answer.  If Jesus' closest companions, his friends who were literally there in his very presence, feel asleep in the midst of all that transpired, how much easier is it for me to miss the point as well?  Is there a tendency to gloss over the words of the story--words heavy with raw emotion and feeling?

To stop, reflect and unpack events described in the Gospel accounts leading up to and including Jesus' ultimate sacrifice is to measure the length and width, height and depth of his amazing, unconditional love. It is meant to be taken personally.  It is intended to touch our hearts. In the final analysis, it is an invitation to respond.

"Only one act of pure love, unsullied by any taint of ulterior motive has ever been performed in the history of the world, namely the self-giving of God in Christ on the cross of undeserving sinners. That is why, if we are looking for a definition of love, we should look not in a dictionary, but at Calvary."  (quote by John R. Stott, The Cross of Christ)