Impacting Cities & Communities thru Prayer
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I wrote this article recently and thought it might be fun to share it here.
I read a passage that I have been processing for years. It is found in 2 Kings 7. The setting is a desperate one. The Arameans have laid siege to the city of Samaria. There is a famine in the land, and the people are in crisis.
In the midst of the darkness, the prophet Elisha matter-of-factly predicts that by this time tomorrow there will be an abundance of food. In verse 2, the officer attending the king scoffs at Elisha’s prediction, saying, “Even if the Lord should open the windows of heaven, this is not even in the realm of possibility” (my paraphrase).
The story’s action continues at twilight, with four lepers making a desperate decision to go over to the Aramean camp. They reason, “If we stay here, we will die of starvation. If we go over there and they spare us, we live, and if they kill us, we have lost nothing” (my paraphrase).
But when the lepers reach the Aramean camp, what they see is beyond their wildest belief: The Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots, horses and a great army. The Arameans had become so afraid that they had dropped everything and fled for their homeland. So the lepers eat and drink and loot some tents of valuable items. The lepers hide some of the spoils but then decide to tell the others in the city about their good fortune.
So they go back and call out to the gatekeepers, telling them all that had transpired. The gatekeepers relay the message to the king, but he is convinced it is a trap. So he sends out a few soldiers to investigate. They return with news that verifies the lepers’ story. Pandemonium breaks out among the starving people as they rush madly out of the city to get their share of the plunder from the Aramean camp. The king had assigned his officer to the gate—the same officer who had said, “Even if the Lord should open the windows of heaven, this could not happen.” The officer was trampled to death as the people ran out to get their share of the bounty.
This passage teaches us a number of lessons.
The king’s officer looked at the situation through natural and faithless eyes. It is not just the king’s officer who lived faithlessly, but I do too sometimes. Unfortunately, I reside there more often than I want to admit to you or to myself. This kind of weak praying and faithlessness is the opposite of where we are called to be. Biblical heroes are noted for a different kind of faith and prayers. Take Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as they are facing the blazing furnace. They say, “But even if he does not [even if God does not save us from the furnace], we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:18).
Queen Esther made the same choice to have faith as her people were about to be destroyed by the wicked Haman. She was willing to move forward even if it cost her very life.
Faithful praying and living are not based on circumstances or people in any way. Ann and I have needed to use this kind of faith and praying several times during recent years. On May 22, 2011, I was training a prayer team for a trip to Indonesia. It was a Sunday afternoon and my dad called. My folks are in their 80s and never call me, especially on a Sunday, because they know they might catch me in a meeting or teaching somewhere. I knew something was up. Dad left a message that sounded like he had just gone through an atomic bomb. “Paul,” he said as his voice shook. “We just went through a tornado. It is all gone. The house, barns, and the garage—they are all gone.” After a long pause, “Call me.”
We left the next morning to help dig out from the devastation. Along the way a new level of faith was needed and a different kind of prayer posture. Not a different position but an intensified trust and faith level was demanded for the prayers we prayed. So many questions had to be answered, and all of them were beyond our control. Where were they going to live? What do you do with the few things that were not destroyed in the storm? Why them? The house a quarter of a mile north and the one to the south did not lose even a shingle. Why did God take their dream house and turn it into splinters?
After the tornado they decided to summer in Missouri and winter in Arizona. So they packed up a few things in a U-Haul, and I flew out to get them and to drive the U-Haul back to Arizona. Seventy-five miles from home they were rear-ended by the driver of an eighteen wheeler. Mom’s back was broken, and she had to have a 4-inch titanium rod placed in her back. Dad had the leads of his pacemaker ripped from his heart. Later we learned that his back had been broken also. Neither of them was paralyzed, but both needed a big rig’s worth of care. Again we moved into a unique kind of praying and the faith we learned from 2 Kings 7.
Learn to capture your struggles and missteps under trial. In high school I remember dissecting a frog. We had large push pins and after each incision we would peel back some flesh and pin it down so that we could see more clearly the organs of the frog. In crisis it is as if God is peeling back the layers of protection we strategically placed in our lives so that we are viewed positively by others. With those layers out of the way, the difficulties allow us to see motives, plans, thoughts and actions that are not pure or need work. The trick is to capture those offensive thoughts or actions as they surface so that we can deal with them when the storm passes. These fleshly parts of us are hidden unless we are in the worst of trials. Capturing those thoughts and actions can give us great material to pray over and repent from. We are learning to view them as a loving father allowing us to see clearly our struggles and then helping us step up to greater maturity. We have a long way to go, but we are grateful that God goes before us.
The goal is to be continually grateful. Now that I have lived awhile, I have witnessed people who are fearful or angry or have shut down. It is clear they are still with the king’s servant in 2 Kings 7, living without trust and deep prayer. By contrast I have met a small few who trust the Lord so completely that nothing fazes them. When something happens they shrug it off with words like, “The Lord has protected me so beautifully before, he will do it again,” or, “I am so grateful that the Lord handles all my struggles so wonderfully.” These people are rare. But boy do they stand out and are admired by the rest of us.
My friend Jake is like that (not his real name). He is the most grateful man I know. Nothing rattles him. His faith, trust and prayers just cannot be shaken because of his appreciation for what Jesus has done for him already. Learning this level of gratefulness has opened doors for him that are just not normal. Recently he was entertained by a monarch of a wealthy country. The leader invited him into his home and introduced Jake to his family and close friends. Jake’s gratefulness and trust are simply magnetic to the people he is around—even people of different faiths.
True confessions: I am certainly not there yet. I complain too much and whine more that I want to admit. But I can see the goal and am striving for it. I am way too often like the king’s servant, expressing that something can’t be done. But I see it and I am moving in the direction of my grateful friend Jake and those biblical heroes who just could not be shaken.