I’m not certain that we have anything left to do, by which I don’t mean that we should be so heavenly-minded that we are of no earthly value. Nor am I certain that the kind of prayer that we have heretofore put forth will produce much, if anything, as much of our prayer is more in the manner of ritual than fervency, or more salaciousness than a good, concrete cry from the heart. But pray we must, and a people of prayer we must become.
The Psalmist understood well, understanding well; too, the animosity that surrounded him. He writes, sings, vents, waxes; even, of the surrounding antagonism and of his instinctive, learned, habituated & invaluable practice of prayer:
“Be not silent, O God of my praise! For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. They encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause. In return for my love they accuse me, but I give myself to prayer. So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love” (Psalm 109:1-5).
I offer the translational fare of the English Standard Version, but the New International Version says in a more fundamental way, “But I am a man of prayer.” The Church of Jesus Christ needs more people of prayer – Indeed; as does the world.
Be not silent, O God of my praise! What better place to start than before God Himself! We are so wont to cry out to others, whether our spouses, our colleagues, our therapists – even our favorite talk radio hosts! But there remains no better course of action that to look to Almighty God, who was and is and always will be our loving and heavenly Father! All else is either mere venting or, at best, remedial, but never redemptive.
The Spirit of God spoke to my heart in January 2018. “You will look to me for everything you need.” Jesus said that His sheep would know His voice. I know the voice of my Savior, even if I don’t always yet understand, or fully or properly apply or fully and adequately differentiate betwixt His voice and my flesh. I heard Him in this instance, loudly and clearly, if not yet fully grasping the ramifications of what and why, but that would prove to be soon enough.
We often don’t hear God’s voice because we allow our eyes & ears and our hearts & minds to be otherwise absorbed. He will occasionally whisper, as He did with Elijah, and He sometimes shouts with a megaphone, as referenced by C.S. Lewis to the problem of pain, but He s always steady in the articulation of His Word and its application to our lives, the former requiring both His Word and His Spirit, the latter entailing the operative presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Best we make a practice of going directly and primarily to Him. He may send us to one of His servants for the requisite help, or He may send the requisite help to us, but always Him we would do well to go. He is; after all, the One we profess to praise, and why else would we praise Him if He weren’t true to Himself and, therefore, helpful to His children?
For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. They encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause.
Let it be well-grasped that Christianity today, by which we include Christians, is a beleaguered commodity, replete with besieged people. Our faith is no longer in the ascendancy in our society, nor has it been for some time, but we haven’t, but for a few prescient and clear-headed souls, been paying attention, as we have lent ourselves to being wined-and-dined by the world rather than remaining steadfast in our delight of the Lord. We wake up to the cold light of dawn, only to discover that we have been seduced, abused and violated and robbed senseless of just about everything.
Our children have in large measure left the faith. Our educational, entertaining, corporate and governing leaders have all gone the way, not only of apostasy, but of abomination and antichrist. They are no friends to the Gospel, with few individuals amongst them who have any sense of affiliation or affection for those of us who still so subscribe. You are welcome to disagree with me, and I would happily be proven wrong, but you will have to provide me with evidence that is beyond reasonable doubt, and I very much doubt that you will be able to succeed, if only because of the overwhelming evidence in support of what I fear is the truth of the matter.
Christians are now called haters where once we were identified as mere kill-joys and holy rollers. The Church is deemed to be an archaic, antiquated, obsolete, legalistic holdover from medieval days or Puritan days, comprised of people who choose not to keep up with the times – After all; we are modern men and women who have progressively moved to the so-called “right” side of history.
Yet I find it more-than-interesting to observe that the great tyrants of recent history, from Hitler and the Nazis to Lenin, Stalin and Mao, all considered the Church and Christianity to be obstructive to their authoritarian and totalitarian goals. Nazism was as deadly an enemy of the Church as Communism has proven to be and, as I both suspect and see with increasing clarity, secularism is proving to be.
A friend of mine enduring a court case has had his church fellowship brandished as a cult by the court, simply because it seeks to adhere to biblical truth and encourages its members accordingly. Christian groups have been targeted by the IRS for being subversive. One former attorney general had the temerity to suggest that Christianity (at least the conservative variant) was potentially subversive to our government and society – Well; yes, but not quite in the destructive way that she was suggesting. Personally; I have been accused of being in alliance with persecutors because I have the privilege of bringing the Gospel onto the airwaves of a conservative and secular talk radio station. And we are just getting started.
An honest word; though: We allowed ourselves to be so seduced. We have not been sharpening the blade of our witness for Christ. We have settled for lives of mere likes and wants rather than the holy and sacrificial love of Jesus. We have let football (as an example, drawing upon a cultural quip) obstruct far more than our marriages.
In return for my love they accuse me, but I give myself to prayer.
I strongly suspect this is what the Little Sisters of the poor did when the Obama administration played cultural hardball with them, taking them to federal court in order to force their hand concerning abortion coverage for their employees. The Justice Department demanded a “Yes” but the Little Sisters responded with an intractable “No!”
I don’t recall any religious elites of denominationalism within Christendom speak forth against the government’s actions, nor do I recall the lovely ladies of devotion ever speaking vindictively of their oppressors. I have no doubt that, having entrusted their lives to their loving and heavenly Father, they loved their enemies as much as they continued to love the dying with their loving ministrations and they gave themselves over to more-and-more prayer. I’d be shocked to find myself in error. And let it be said that these dear sisters proved to be spiritual giants, devoted heroines of our time, as they stooped to help those cast in affliction, yet stood fast against oppression, casting the light and love of Jesus in every direction – Praise God & Bless the Little Sisters of the Poor!
I have had to learn to love and forgive those who have come against me. I find that I wound easily. I was a warrior when young, being able to take pain in huge sums and not flinch. My boyhood dentist always found 6-8 cavities that needed to be filled every time it was time to visit with him, and he never used novacaine! I was one tough kid, but no longer; as an adult, I wince and cry and fester all-too-readily and all-too-lengthily!
The Lord has had quite a bit of remedial, therapeutic and redemptive work to do in me. He’s making progress, thanks to His mercy and grace, often with little help from me,
I can honestly say that I have always loved my lovely, little fellowship over the years. I will even go so far as to say that no pastor loves his congregants more than do I. Alas; I also discover that my love can be besieged and beleaguered when I feel even the preliminary winds of treachery or faithlessness.
My best option is not to simmer or to brood, let alone to vent and to verbally vomit. The psalmist set a standard, one that I would do well to follow, and endeavor to do in increasing measure – “I give myself to prayer.”
Is there a better course to take? No; decidedly. There is, in His Presence, healing. There is; in His Presence, wisdom. There is; in His Presence, steadiness and godly resolve. There is; in His Presence, a holy love that defies mere likes and wants, that transcends merely erotic or affectionate or even maternal love – His love is everlasting. It is life-giving and life-sustaining. It is transformative and reconciliatory.
Such love beckons us to come to Him in prayer. Such love suffuses us in the prayer closet or at the prayer altar. Such love drives and motivates our prayer. And such love will flow out of our prayer and bear fruit as we are at-large in the world, a world awash and amuck in sin, especially the kind that breeds such hate as that of which the psalmist speaks.
So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love.
Well; we were warned that a day would come when evil is called good, and good will be called evil. That day has clearly come. And in such a day that has clearly come, God’s people have come to experience its deleterious effects.
We don’t in any way wish to follow suit. It would run against the basic grain of our faith. It would break ranks with the teaching and example of Jesus. It would sully our desperately-needed witness for Christ. It would damage our own souls.
And we very much need to take time in penitent prayer and godly reflection, that any sin to which we have lent ourselves can be acknowledged, confessed and repented of and washed away in the blood of Jesus. I can only speak for the evangelical portion of today’s Christendom, and merely a small sliver of it at that, but I know that we have our own fleshly inclinations with which the Spirit of God would wish to deal.
We can expect no brownie points from the world. None of us are going to be cited for “Man of the Year” or “Woman of the Year” awards, as a matter of fact, we may very well find our membership cards taken from us, to put it mildly.
But our hearts must remain steadfast and pure. The love of Christ must never be applied conditionally or with a “but” tacked onto its prefix or suffix. Christ’s love doesn’t mean a wholesale or automatic endorsement of anything that anyone does; in truth, it may require a loving but forthright reply in the negative, but love, the holy and sacrificial love of Christ – agape – it must never cease to be.
I conclude this essay having just come out of our daily noon-time conference call, a daily hour during which as many as twelve of us assemble by phone and worship and pray together. This is the scripture that I was given to read, with no idea that it would be so divinely-applicable to this essay:
“May Your unfailing love come to me, Lord, Your salvation, according to Your promise; then I can answer anyone who taunts me, for I trust in Your word. Never take Your word of truth from my mouth, for I have put my hope in Your laws. I will always obey Your law, for ever and ever. I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out Your precepts. I will speak of Your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame, for I delight in Your commands because I loved them. I reach out for Your commands, which I love, that I may meditate on Your decrees” (Psalm 119:41-48).
So let us give ourselves over to God’s worship, His Word and the divine gift of prayer; Praise Him, Trust in Him & Live for Him – Come-what-may, for we know Who has come amongst us and is coming for us at the proper time!
Bradley E. Lacey
January 12, 2021