“Tough faith” which is needed in the pastorate to help “people move beyond their own barriers” is come upon in the gentleness of prayer. With all the macho emphasis today — not only with Rambo but also with those claiming TV broadcasting muscle and empire building workouts — the power simply is not there for Jesus’ commission to be fulfilled because gentle prayers are not producing the tough faith.
Andrew Murray wrote:
Even as the sunshine enters with its light and warmth, with its beauty and blessing, into every little blade of grass that rises upward out of the cold earth, so the Everlasting God meets, in the greatness and the tenderness of His love, each waiting child, to shine in his heart “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
On the gloomiest of days, one can come upon the prayer garden where “the sunshine enters.” In the coldest night, there is “warmth, with its beauty and blessing” there. But too many preachers remain in the fog of darkness because, though in younger days they promised God and the church they would be people of prayer, skinny serpents have wiggled in to steal away their Eden.
It is then that “we find it difficult to feel that Presence, and we seem to fight alone with only the stub of a sword.” Return then to listen to the saints who “insist that men may cultivate the Beyond by labor of mind, by labor of hand, and by prayer in the mood of Christ.”
Consequently, preachers pray even when they do not feel like it. Of course, lay people have usually concluded that ministers pray all the time, quite well and quite productively. That is the oversimplification by which they gauge not only our work but our selves. Nevertheless, the clergy are quite aware of their humanness, and so quest along with the believers in the pews.
For all of us, it is a matter of purposing to find the garden gate. Therefore, we would agree with John L. Casteel who wrote that “to put our practice of prayer at the mercy of our feelings is to mistake entirely the essential element in prayer, which lies not in how we feel but in what we will.”
So it is with a starkness, a plainness, that we come to the Father even when our emotions are spent and our heads are wobbly. Just as in salvation we do not need to come to God cleaned and sparkling white in soul, so it is in prayer. We come “Just As I Am.” Then it is that the divine work is done; this is the cool, cool water rubbed across our heated lives.
As little ones of grace, we walk toward Grace, “taking seriously the wisdom about entering as a little child,” knowing “prayers need not be grand or polished.” In fact, the more tawdry, the more the Lord responds with His perfection; the contrast once again reminds us of our station before Him — lowly in heart. Thus the necessity of the tawdry petitions from time to time.
We pray that God may dwell with us and in us even though we are unconscious of His presence; that He may keep our hearts pure and holy in spite of all the cares and temptations of the night, to make our hearts ever alert to hear His call and, like the boy Samuel, answer Him even in the night: ‘Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth’ (1 Sam. 3:9).
Some of us could then pray more sincerely for barren fields in which to labor. In fact, for certain preachers, their “success” has been the undoing in their soul. They have come upon what they consider green pastures which, in eternity’s perspective, are dry gulches.
Where then will we finally rest our destinies? Can we really be content on losing our souls for the sake of ecclesiastical worlds of comfort and arriving? Has it become actual in some of our lives that the more we have climbed the ladder within the establishment, the more we have slipped, rung by rung, from the prayer strength?
Is this not the sin of the Pharisees which we delight in deriding in various sermons? We must be forever vigilant that the evil we snicker at with derision is not the snake which has wrapped itself around our hearts. The Bible does warn us of playing the hypocrite while sermonizing against them. It also says something about a way that looks as if it’s going right but which in fact is going wrong.
The preacher simply must not permit false gods to get in the way while at the same time pouncing on the idols of “the world.” Those very same rascals are out to cut through the mood of Christ in prayer.
Preachers may lose their spectacles so as not to see properly, mistaking a Bible-quoting snake for a heavenly messenger. Therefore, when the slimy fellow lures us away from the inner world, we must tell him to get behind us. It is not in our own gain or pain that we boast to society of our prowess; nor is it in our polished speech or smiling, cheery face that we think we win our converts. It is not in our rhetoric but in our prayer gardens that we make our ways successfully.
Ask Emily Dickinson:
My period had come for Prayer–
No other Art–would do–
My Tactics missed a rudiment–
Creator–Was it you?
God grows above–so those who pray
And so I stepped upon the North
To see this Curious Friend–
Hollywood, TV and Broadway awards are overwhelming with their dazzle, splash, and flash. But when the show is over, all go home to bed. The rewards have been fondled, clutched, and kissed, and those who didn’t get one hope that next year they will. That is fine, for everyone is due his own entertainment, at least for a season.
Yet when it comes to preachers, it is different. We have our rewards as well but they come upon the quiet. Oh, for the quiet — holy and deepening. In this “we lose our anxiety, knowing that the world has a fatherly base in Christ and that we are loved.”
I recall one young pastor with whom I stayed a week. On the second day he confessed to me that he could not get away from the television. For the rest of the week, I noticed that truth. There was not a book read, hardly a parishioner called on, and, of course, no sermon prepared — for I was the guest speaker. I do not know if his Bible was cracked or if his knee was bent for a moment or two in prayer; as far as I could tell, none of that was evidenced. Sad, for he had much feeling for humanity at one time in his life. He also had a real call from God into the job.
The man or woman who is determined to be rewarded with the quiet power will not emulate such models, nor will they throw away their own hours with frivolous enticements. Instead, the sincere person will stubbornly persist in going through the gate — regardless of its position or location — to know more of the divine sense in offering ourselves back to God.
One protests by saying that he believes it is intellectual development that is primarily important — the study of the commentaries, theologians and writers of history and science. It is claimed in some quarters that this is needed in order to communicate in a precisioned manner with “today’s man.” Consequently, a great deal is trumped up in relation to academic notches and titles printed after a name.
Is this, however, one more serpentine whisper from behind the tree? Can all of this beating of the bookish self really be sound biblically? The proof is whether or not such persons have come upon the holy quiet.
I remember spending some time with another fellow who claimed such a stance in ministry. Outwardly he appeared to be introverted, thereby projecting a calmness about his carriage. But as he started to open up in conversation, I realized that I was fellowshiping with a very confused fellow. Outwardly, he seemed serene; yet inwardly he revealed a lot of psychic noise. There beside me was a flesh-and-blood illustration of the weakness of the argument that scholarly pursuits are the apex of ministerial achievements.
There can be too much emphasis on the study and not enough accent on the altar. The two are not to the exclusion of one another; they are to complement one another in order to augment the quiet reward of the soul, for finally “the word you study has to be the word you pray, and the word you pray the word you live.”
Why is it that we are tempted to compartmentalize life so? Where is the holism of which we teach? How can we separate learning in the study from going to the hospital for visitation? And how can we divorce the prayer life from the church committee meeting? Is it not the same body and soul going to all of these? Are we split personalities?
Jesus went about doing good. In His going, He claimed to do not His will but that of the Father. We are called to be like Jesus. Therefore, we do not wake up in the morning seeking our own plans but the schedule of Christ.
How was it that Jesus discovered the master plan of heaven for His every move? It was from the holy quiet which He kept within His soul. He was not found locked up in some academic tower nor was He lost, hermit-style, in the desert. Instead, Jesus refreshed by the pools of His own Eden while mingling with the masses, blessing the children and healing the sick.
Would anyone, however, fault Jesus for not praying enough? He prayed on the hillside and in the valley, at dawn and dusk, in the temple and in Peter’s house, with women and with men, in northern Galilee and southern Bethlehem, on land and on sea. His Eden went with Him wherever He was directed by the Father’s will. So it is to be with every preacher of every age; in that is the quiet reward.
When Mother Teresa was asked how she carried on all the work of her missions without an elaborate organization sharpened with every modern convenience for operation, she answered in spiritual and practical terms. The reporter covering one of her travels inquired: “Do you plan your trips, Mother, or your days?” She answered simply: “No. According to the needs; as many trips as necessary. Wherever Jesus wants me to go.”
The minister of the Lord goes wherever Jesus wants us to go just as Jesus went wherever the Father wanted Him to go. How powerful in its simplicity; how fulfilling in its lack of adornment!
This modern time has weighted us down with so much that we do not need. When will we dump the overload in order to make the journey more efficiently? It is in a simple walk and talk with Jesus that we rip loose the gates of hell.