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Sunday, March 22, 2020

Can I pray to God now, even if I've not been doing it?

On my way back from my recent trip to Uganda, I made a new friend on the interminable flight from there to Brussels. She was a wonderful young lady with many exciting and interesting life adventures. She was also a self-described agnostic Jew who was scared to death of flying and struggled with panic throughout the trip. I shared with her how my wife had a similar issue for many years but God helped her to overcome it. I asked her if she had ever prayed and she said something like, "Yes, but it kinda seems unfair." I was pretty sure she meant that praying in a crisis would be an insult, or at least pointless, when she didn't pray any other time. So I mentioned that even if my older daughter only talks to me when she wants something or has a problem, I'm still glad to hear from her and I'm still happy to help her out. Because I love my daughter and am eager to hear from her at any time, regardless of whether she ever talks to me otherwise.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night and among many other things, that young lady came to mind and I prayed for her. Then I opened my Kindle to read something from God's Word, as I usually do in such situations, and amazingly this was the verse I read (Isaiah 26:16), followed by some comments by the great Charles Spurgeon:

LORD, in trouble have they visited thee, they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them.

That is true of hypocrites; but it is also sweetly true of some whom God is bringing to himself. Child after child has died, loss after loss has broken down the business; now they turn to God. Oh, it is a blessed loss that makes us find our God! What we gain is infinitely more than what we have lost. What a mercy that God is willing to hear us in the time of trouble, that all our putting-off and rejection of him do not make him put us off! I remember one who wished to hire a conveyance to go to a certain town, and he went to the place where he could hire it, and asked the price; he thought that it was too much, so he went round the town to other people, and found that he could not get it any cheaper; but when he came back to the place visited first, the man said to him, “Oh, no, no! I will not let my horses to you. You have been round to everybody else, and now you come back to me because you cannot get what you want elsewhere; I will have nothing to do with you.” That is man’s way of dealing with his fellow man; but it is not the Lord’s method of dealing with us. When you and I have gone round to everybody else, the Lord still welcomes us when we come back to him. Yes, just as harbours of refuge are meant for ships in distress that would not have put in there except for the storm and danger, such is the mercy of the Lord God in Jesus Christ. If you are forced to accept it, you are still welcome to it. If you are driven to it by stress of weather, you may come in, for the harbour was made for just such as you are.

Wow, can you believe that amazing "coincidence" of God's providence? It could be helpful for my friend on the plane, of course, but I believe it was given to me for all of you to read and consider also. I think we all struggle to some degree with the fact that we pray a lot more in times of crisis and wonder if God will hear us if we haven't prayed as much as we should have before. But we need to realize that He allows difficulties (like a scary situation) in our lives precisely because He loves us and wants us to talk to Him more. "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Rom. 10:13), and the "whoever" includes even those who are calling for the first time, or for the first time in a long time.

Consider Hebrews 12:5-11:

Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

You might say, if you're thinking along with me, "Isn't that passage written to those who already believe in Christ?" Yes, but like Spurgeon wisely says at the beginning of the quote above, it is also "sweetly true of some God is bringing to himself." Many people have found that when they cry out to God in a time of crisis, even for the first time or the first time in a long time, He sends a person or message to them that will lead them into further knowledge and understanding of His truth. That's because He has already chosen to love them before the foundation of the world and planned to adopt them into His family through the redeeming work of Christ.

Ephesians 1:3-14 tells us about all that:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
So don't let the fact that you haven't prayed enough keep you from doing so in the middle of a problem. If you do find yourself talking to God, it's probably because He loves you and is bringing you into a relationship with Him. You were created for that purpose and will only find your ultimate satisfaction and reason for living when you embrace it. As Augustine said (and experienced personally), "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Him." And as Blaise Pascal wrote, "What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself."


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