Why Have You Forsaken Me?

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Around three o’clock, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34 (NET)

From my 2016 Journal. A victim often asks the question, “Where were You, God, when the abuse happened?” In my experience, God seldom answers the “why” question immediately. Generally, there’s an emotion (often anger) standing in the way, behind the “why” that needs to be addressed first.

I believe it was Jesus’ humanity speaking when He asked, “Why have You, Abba Father, forsaken Me?” In my opinion, contrary to many preachers and songs that claim that the Father turned His back on His Son, God had NOT forsaken Him. Never! But in this moment of extreme physical torture, head throbbing from thirst, body in tatters, fighting to breathe, bruised and battered, His back on fire as it rubbed against the wood, three hours felt like an eternity. One minute would be more than the average man could handle. Minute by minute agony, waiting for the end to come. Wishing it to just be over.

Jesus had intimate communion with His Papa all along. He’d wrestled with His own will just twelve hours earlier and submitted to His Father’s plan. But in one’s pain, it’s hard to focus, to think, to use logic. The focus is all on the removal of pain.

“Where are You, Father? I can’t feel You near. I can’t see You or hear You.”

The abused take it a step further: “You could have chosen to stop it and You didn’t; what kind of a cruel God are You, anyway?”

Jesus’ anguished cry could not include sin or blasphemy or lies. “Why have You forsaken Me? It FEELS like You have.”

Jesus is quoting Psalm 22. The words, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” are only the first few words of verse one. The rest says, “I groan in prayer, but help seems far away.” (Note the word seems.)

Verse 19 declares, “But you, O LORD, do not remain far away! You are my source of strength! Hurry and help me!”

Jesus knew the whole Messianic Psalm by heart. It’s a Psalm of agony and truth, but it ends in triumph. Jesus knew this had to be His lot in order to fulfill prophecy.  He did not have the physical strength to quote the entire Psalm, but He could begin it, and those Jews who heard it would immediately recognize its source and be able to fill in the rest.

The abuse victim cries out, “Where were You, God? Why did You forsake me?”

And the Father gently replies, “I was there all along.”

When Prayer Is Not a Good Thing

From my 2016 Journal. Sometimes we pray out of our triggers; and God, for some reason, listens and answers our prayers—even when they’re not good for us or for others.

Moses begged God not to destroy the people of Israel and start over with a new nation. What if Moses hadn’t prayed and God did destroy His chosen people? Israel’s history would have been very different and forty years of desert wandering avoided.

Hezekiah begged for more years to be added to his life, and after God granted him an extra fifteen, this king turned to idolatry.

Abraham begged God to spare Lot’s life, and incest and warring nations ensued.

Hannah cried out for a son and then lived with the pain of giving Samuel up to be raised by an ungodly priest.

And yet—God is capable of turning bad into good.

And yet—we also suffer the consequences of our poor choices.

I wonder if I have ever begged God for something that was not good for me, and He relented, and I paid the consequences, but He turned it for good . . . I can’t think of anything right now, but I suspect I’ll be quite surprised when I find out the truth in heaven.

I think the lesson here is learning to ask God first what His will is, and then praying that prayer, rather than trying to twist His arm to do mine.

Have you ever noticed that the majority of our church prayer requests are for physical needs? We list all known ills from a sister-in-law’s cousin Becky who has cancer to Great-uncle Bob who just had a toenail removed. We pray and ask for healing and get all excited when someone is “miraculously” healed. But what if . . . just what if . . . God had a better plan but He relented and gave me what I asked for? Even Jesus was discerning as to whom He touched and whom He healed. And He certainly didn’t raise everyone from the dead.

For me, personally, I want to glorify God whether I’m ill or well. I can’t ask for something with great assurance unless I discern first that He desires it, lest like a child begging for candy, I do more harm than good. But if I ask for good things, I can trust my loving, heavenly Father to supply what I need.

What’s your experience?

Candy

To Pray or not to Pray

From my 2016 Journal. A conversation

Karen: There are a lot of people out there who need my prayers.

Jesus: (with raised eyebrows) Oh really?

Karen: Well, isn’t that true? We’re taught, commanded, instructed to pray.

Jesus: (smiles) True. But that’s not why you pray.

Karen: It’s not?

Jesus: You pray because you love Me and I love you. It’s not a duty, a job, or a task to fulfill, a checklist to complete. People don’t need your prayers. I’m quite capable of taking care of them.

Karen: Ouch. Yes, Lord.

Jesus: I just want you to be with Me. I’ll guide your mind. Talk to Me about these people who are on your heart. I will listen, and I will consider your requests, but I know what’s best, and My will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. I know your concerns. I know your thoughts before you even express them. But spoken words are important. “Believe in your heart and confess with your mouth.”

I have been a lifelong student on the subject of prayer and have met many who are skilled at verbalizing their prayers, but I have yet to meet anyone who believes they have mastered the discipline of an inner prayer life. Tell me what you’ve learned on your journey of intimacy with God.

Prayer

Where two or three aren’t gathered

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matt. 18:20 KJV).

From my 2011 Journal. Every Monday morning I meet with a small group of ladies for Bible study and prayer. And every Sunday I join hands with my Momentum team, and we bring our requests before the throne of God. And many times I’ve begun a prayer session by quoting Matthew 18:20, reminding God of His promise to join us.

We’re all guilty of it—quoting and applying Scripture out of context—but it startles me when I discover I’m the guilty one! The actual context of this verse is regarding confronting a person who has wronged you and forgiving them and getting witnesses and declaring he’s wrong. It really has nothing to do with a prayer meeting!

Is it still true that God is “there” when two or three are gathered together? Of course! But He’s just as much “there” when there’s only ONE of us in one place! I just don’t think I should use this verse as a proof text for something it isn’t.

What verses have you been guilty of taking out of context?

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The People’s Choice Award

KingLike a child begging a parent for candy before dinner, I wonder if there are times when we beg too hard for what we want, and God gives it to us—but it’s not for our best. Better to examine our hearts, motives and emotions to discover why we’re begging for something. Better to ask, “according to God’s will” and from a heart of peace that is aligned with what God has predetermined is best for us or our loved one.

Once more, just before the public declaration of God’s choosing, the prophet Samuel warned the people of their folly in desiring a king (I Samuel 12). It’s like the Israelites begging for meat in the wilderness: God answered their prayers, but then they suffered the consequences.

So why did the people want a king? “To be like the other nations” it says in one place. But verse 12 gives us more insight:

But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me [Sam], “No, we want a king to rule over us”—even though the Lord your God was your king (NIV).

Their folly began with bending to the culture, followed by fear of the enemy, which led to stubbornness and rebellion against God.

What gives me hope is that even after God granted their request for a king, He still gave them a second chance to do right.

If you fear the Lord and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God—good! (v. 14). [But IF the opposite is true, watch out!]

Even when we sin and foolishly ask for something that’s not good for us, God can still redeem the situation—IF we repent.

PRAYERS and PRAY-ERS

From my 2011 journal. Yesterday I heard a report about a group prayer session for someone who is very sick with cancer. The reporter mentioned how a lady in the group could really pray—she really connected with God, a real prayer warrior. My reaction was multi-faceted:  I’d like to be like that; I’m not like that; I wonder what pain she’s been through; I wonder what her temperament type is.

In my mind, I saw a visual of this prayer warrior lady piloting a large ship while, in contrast, my prayers were akin to clinging onto the side of the vessel, just going along for the ride.

When I talked to God about it, He said to let go and drop into the water. Really?! Ok . . . so I did . . . and found I didn’t drown as expected because the water was shallow enough to wade in. Then He told me to go back to the dry land and enjoy watching the monkeys and playing on the beach, and just spend time with Him. That’s when I noticed the prayer warrior lady was sailing around and around the island, keeping the bad things away from the island.

We each have our own job to do. I’m glad mine is to play on the beach and watch monkeys! I’m no “prayer warrior.” I’m a stay-in-His-presence-and-enjoy-Him kind of pray-er. Is that okay?

MK_HANDS_LO-002Somewhere, somehow, I find myself believing that my puny prayers—I mean the intercessory kind where my heart and brain are only half engaged—make very little difference.

It’s like when my girls were little and I was focused on what I was doing and one of them would approach me with a question. If it was a simple question like “May I go outside to play?” I could answer her without breaking focus. But, if she asked a question that demanded some thought, I’d have to stop what I was doing and turn to her and think about it.

Which of those interactions was meaningful and connected? My first thought is—only the second one. In the first, my mind was elsewhere. And sometimes I think my prayers are like that—the words are spoken, but the mind is elsewhere. But—and here’s the point—is communication of information any less valid or effective for my child? She still got a response from me even if my attention wasn’t fully on her. God wants communication from me. He’s always fully focused on me. It’s me who has a hard time tuning in fully.

And so I’ve somehow come to believe that a quick “mindless” prayer isn’t fully valid. Maybe there’s some truth to that. But on the other hand, it is a connecting point. I have voluntarily connected with my child. I have not turned her away. And I wasn’t in relationship with the neighbor’s kid. I have relationship with my own. Is it okay not to fully engage?

I think of Bill Rudd, my former youth pastor. I’ve never met a man who was so focused on each person he spoke to. Total attention and eye focus. Is this how my prayers should be? Preferably, yes. But the question is, “What if they’re not?” Is the communication any less valid? Is God’s answer dependent on how long, hard, or deep my intensity in prayer is?

When my child asks, “May I play outside?” she doesn’t have to beg and plead and cry to get me to answer yes. It’s a no-brainer if I know it’s safe outside and she’s old enough to handle that much independence. But what if there’s a lightning storm out there? No matter how much she pleads, I’ll say no for her safety’s sake. Other times, it’s just a preference for me whether I say no or yes, and her begging might change or help me make up my mind. The more she pleads and gives me good rational arguments, the more I’ll be apt to change my mind. (Moses did that with God.)

So . . .  let’s say I pray for someone who’s sick. My prayers come from a different place in my heart if it’s “a friend of my co-worker’s cousin” who is ill versus my own child who’s in the hospital. One is a prayer “in passing” and the other is on my knees or face to the ground pleading for mercy.

What’s my question, then? Is it okay, effective, permissible, worth it, important, necessary, whatever, to pray for someone’s request if my whole focus, heart, and mind aren’t in it? The request is still valid. Perhaps the urgency isn’t there, but is it any less valid or effective? I don’t know. Is it ever a waste of time? Whew! How could that be? Surely any communication is better than none at all . . . .

The word I’m working on is “doubt.” If I ask in doubt, what’s the point in asking? It’s worth a try! There’s no harm in asking. If you don’t ask, you don’t receive. So there you have it. Just ASK! And then surrender to whatever answer my Parent gives me. But ask!

What kind of pray-er are you?

Trembling at the Foot of the Mountain

From my 2010 journal. I realized today that I’m doubting my worth in Christ. I continually question whether or not I’m doing enough to please God. Why is it such a hard thing to believe? I’ve never doubted His love for me. Perhaps that’s because I felt my parents’ love. I do feel accepted by God. It’s not that.  Perhaps my feelings are born out of my childhood perception that God is watching: you better behave. I sense a fearsome reverence that doesn’t allow me to get too close.

mountainVisual:  I am the Israelite at the foot of the mountain who is forbidden from getting too close to the mountain. I’m never Moses and Joshua who climb the mountain and see God face-to-face. I stand at the foot and tremble at the smoke. Only the chosen one is permitted on the mountain. (The funny thing is, Moses had nothing to do with God choosing him. And besides that, he had a flawed character.)

In my visual, I realize that I want to be chosen.

As I surrender my feelings to God, I see myself as a little child, hanging onto the rope barrier at the foot of the mountain. The grownups have all returned to the camp to party, but I want to be close to God.

I see Jesus approach me from the mountain. He picks me up and carries me up the side of the mountain away from the noise of the camp, away from the revelry and the debauchery and sin. It’s quiet up here, silent and peaceful. And Jesus allays my fears that my parents will worry about my being gone.

Soon the sun begins to set and I shiver in the cold. He builds a fire and gives me a cloak for warmth as we sit down for an intimate conversation. In the end I understand that though I might not be chosen for Moses’ job or role,  I was chosen because “I sought the Lord and He heard me” (Ps. 34:4).

Now when the mountain trembles, I feel safe. Jesus will protect me. I’m His child. And He promises that He will “never leave me or forsake me.” He will not leave me on this mountainside by myself. When I pray to Him, He’s not far away anymore. He’s right there, close and intimate. We’re just having a conversation.

Does God feel far away to you? Or near?

Do I Really Need a Grocery List?

Grocery store

I’ve been a life-long student of the subject of intercessory prayer. I’ve read all the books I can find on the subject, tried all the methods suggested, and read biographies of great prayer warriors. But like the majority of us, I still struggle with my inner prayer life. Here’s a journal entry from 2009.

I have a list of people I pray for—but it’s just that—a list, for the purpose of jogging my memory. It serves the same purpose as a grocery list—it’s a reminder so I don’t forget the items at the store. The list doesn’t do much good though until it becomes fulfilled—that is, the item is taken off the shelf, paid for, taken home, and consumed.

There’s no spiritual magic for listing names of people or organizations on a piece of paper. But when I take those names with me to “the store” (the throne room of grace), I can hand the list to God and ask Him to fill the request for me, and then my soul is satisfied. In the process, I give Him permission to make substitutes—perhaps what I put on the list isn’t good for me (or for the person I’m praying for). Maybe there’s a better selection. I ask for generic and He wants to give me the brand name. Sometimes I specify a brand name, and He gives me generic because it’s a better value for my money. And then I need to ask Him to help me remember the people or things I forgot to put on my list. He’s good at that!

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed (Mark 1:35 NIV).

In his book A Journey into Victorious Praying, Bill Thrasher states: “The word for ‘praying’ in Mark 1:35 does not primarily refer to intercession for others but to the outpouring of His own soul to the Father for renewal and refreshment.”

Thrasher also said, “God is capable of taking my feeble prayer and interpreting my desires and deep longings and motivations. The Holy Spirit knows. . . .” He related the story of Augustine, a leader in the early church, who lived a sensual lifestyle in his early years. When he planned to go to Rome, his mother prayed, “O Lord, do not let him go to Rome because he will only get into further debauchery.” God did let him go to Rome. But it was there that he was converted. “The Spirit of God pled the deeper desire of the mother for his spiritual well-being, and God answered her heart.”

Maybe next time I go to the grocery store, it’s okay if I forget my list. Maybe I should just take time to chat with the “Grocer”!

Do you use a prayer list? Why or why not?

Be Careful What You “If”!

From my 2009 Journal. Around 1895 Rudyard Kipling wrote a famous poem entitled “If.” (It’s well worth the read if you haven’t heard of it.) That word if is an awfully small word that can pack an awfully large punch. I hear it all the time in conversations: If you’re free . . . If you love me  . . . If I’ve offended you  . . . If there is a God. . . .

I got to noticing that little word if in the book of Judges, and recorded a few of my observations.

Remember the story of Gideon and the fleece (Judges 6)? The Israelites are distraught because the Midianites have overpowered them, and God shows up one day to tell Gideon that he’s been chosen to deliver his people from the oppressor. But Gideon is skeptical:

IF I have found favor in your sight, then give me a sign that it’s You who talks to me. (v. 17 NASB)

It’s not a bad request. We are indeed admonished to test the spirits (I John 4:1). God granted his request and confirmed His authority by lighting Gideon’s sacrifice and then disappearing. God is willing to respond to a genuine request for confirmation that it’s His voice we’re hearing.

Later, in obedience to God’s instructions, Gideon pulls down his father’s altar to Baal and the Asherah pole beside it. Using this wood, he offers a burnt offering on a new altar that he’s to build on top of the Baal one. When the irate town’s people show up at his dad’s house, his dad stands up for his son and says:

Will you contend for Baal? IF Baal is a god, let him contend for himself! (v. 31)

Sounds rather reasonable to me!

SheepskinSo now it comes time to face the Midianites, and Gideon gets cold feet. Here’s where the two famous dry/wet fleece tests occur. (If you need a story refresher, click here)

Fleece test #1. IF you will deliver Israel by my hand as you have said . . . (v. 36)

Fleece test #2. The if is not repeated, but it’s implied. (v. 39)

So I begin to ponder: how is Gideon’s response to God’s command different from Moses’ response to the burning bush command or Jonah’s response to the command to go to Nineveh?

Moses said:  I can’t!

Jonah said:  I won’t!

Gideon asked:  Can I?

Moses appears to be resistant, stubborn, willful, maybe even whiny. And Jonah is downright rebellious. Gideon, on the other hand, seems timid and fearful: Am I sure I heard You right, Lord? Later on when God tells Gideon to go down to the enemy’s camp, He anticipates Gideon’s response and says, But IF you are afraid to go down, go with Purah your servant down to the camp (7:9-10).

In all three stories, God’s will is accomplished and His mission fulfilled, but He responds differently to each character. With Gideon, God honors his need for courage and does what Gideon requests. This gives me hope when I am feeling less than courageous at God’s calling on my life. The true seeker of God will find Him faithful.

Following God’s words of assurance, the final antidote for Gideon’s fear is personal experience (when he goes down to the camp and overhears the Midianite’s dream). Gideon’s response? He worships. Fear is gone at last; he’s ready for battle. There are no more “ifs.”

After the rousing victory with only 300 soldiers, the Ephraimite tribe gets mad at Gideon for not asking them to join the battle. There is no fear response from Gideon at their accusations. Instead, humility has taken its place (Judges 8-1-3). Matthew Henry says, “Humility is the surest method of ending strife.”

God prepares His servants for His service. (I wish the story ended here, but it doesn’t. Gideon has other character flaws that need to be worked on.) I know I’m human and have fears and doubts, but I pray that every time God speaks, I’ll have faith to believe and leave my “ifs” behind!

Do you have time to read one more “IF”? This one is truly bizarre.

 Jephtha’s story (Judges 11) intrigues me. His dad is from Gilead, and his mom is a harlot. His half-brothers kick him out of the tribe saying he can have no inheritance with them. He flees to the town of Tob where worthless men gather around him and they go on raids together and he becomes a mighty warrior. When his half-brothers are attacked by the Ammonites, surprisingly they go to Jephtha to beg him to be their leader! Even more shocking, he agrees to do so.

But now it gets even more interesting. Jephtha makes a foolish vow. IF You [God] will indeed give the Ammonites into my hand, I will offer up for a burnt offering whatever comes out from my house to meet me (30-31). And we know the outcome . . . his only child, his daughter, comes out the door.

So what does Jephtha do? Incredibly, he shifts the blame! YOU [daughter] are the cause of great trouble to me; YOU have brought me very low (11:35, emphasis added).

Are vows retractable? I think so. Why could he not have suffered the consequences and taken the debt in her place? Why couldn’t he have gone to God, confessed his foolishness, and let God give him a creative alternative?

But his daughter is more righteous than he. She accepts the vow as binding. We don’t know if Jephtha actually sacrifices her on an altar or if she’s simply banished for the rest of her life and disallowed marriage. In any case, as often happens, our sin, ignorance, and foolishness impact others, whether intentional or not.

Be careful what you IF!

Why do we ask how?

From my 2007 Journal. Why do I question God? When He declares something is true, why do I doubt it? Why do I fret so and try to figure things out for myself? I may think I have the solution for an issue I’m struggling with—but it is very limited. My imagination isn’t big enough to figure out His solutions.

God said to Moses: I will provide meat for the Israelites. Moses asked: HOW? Shall flocks and herds be killed? Collect all the fish in the sea? God said, Is the LORD’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you (Numbers 11:23 NIV). You’d think that Moses, who had witnessed spectacular miracles before his very eyes, would not question God’s ability, power, and creativity. But he wants to know HOW God will provide.

Jesus said to his disciples: Feed the multitudes. The disciples asked: HOW can we do that? We don’t have enough money to go into town and get enough food for this many people. Jesus said, How many loaves do you have?

God says: I will supply all your need according to My riches. I ask: HOW?

DollarI’ve asked for resources for my daughters’ education and for their potential weddings, and then I fret when I think He may not come through, and I brainstorm ways I can get the money to make it happen. Instead, can I not sit back, relax, and watch Him work?

And so, dear Lord, I release to you my worry over where the money is going to come from. I will quit fretting, quit scheming, and simply ask. I ask for faith that will move mountains. I ask for willingness to be obedient when You speak and ask me to do something. I will trust You to guide our paths. I want to unleash Your creativity through faith instead of doubt. Lord, help my unbelief. I am releasing to Your care our checking account, our savings, our retirement funds, the college needs. I will allow You to direct how and when I need to work and how and when I need to be involved in ministry. Guide my footsteps today, Lord Jesus. I don’t know what Your plan is for me today, but I’m open to follow Your lead. Amen.

A 2018 Update. As I reminisce, I’m in awe at how God provided our financial needs. All three girls graduated from college debt-free. And two of our daughters, now married, managed to pull off their weddings within our budget. Now I can say that I, too, have witnessed miracles before my very eyes, and my faith has grown as a result.

Do you think asking HOW is a lack of faith? Why or why not?