Over the last four months I have learned a lot about prayer, burdens, and fears. The current contractions of our one new church have me feeling more desperate than I’ve ever felt. I have a thousand questions and not nearly as many answers as I’d like. I have concerns, fears, and doubts. I hate “the unknown.” People who don’t know me (and haven’t taken the time to try) have said things about me that are untrue and cruel, calling into question my character, my leadership, my theological credibility, and my motives. At times, the weight of this burden has made me want to give up and give in. After all, I didn’t go looking for this merger and I didn’t need it. Before God brought this around, I was enjoying the thrill of pastoring a thriving 5 1/2 year old church that I had the privilege of planting. It was strong. It was healthy. I was happy. Therefore, in my weaker moments I have been tempted to relieve myself of this burden and go back to the way things were. But God won’t let me. There is no going back–only onward and upward!
God is clearly up to something big. A friend wrote to me the other day telling me that God must be doing something huge if the enemy is attaking so voraciously. I agree. He’s moving in a profoundly tangible and unexplainable way. He is doing things. He is working. We know it. We feel the pruning process. We feel God stripping us of everything but Him–it hurts, but it’s good.
Yes, the contractions are painful. But each painful contraction carries with it a promise that new life is on the way. The reason I am able to bear the discomfort of these contractions is because the promise of something new and beautiful deeply grips me in transcendent ways. God is giving birth to a “new church.”
So, as we continue to “follow the cloud” with fear and trembling, I have had to learn in new ways what it means to pray. I’ve had to learn afresh “not to be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” I’ve learned the hard way that the primary thing which separates the spiritually mature from the spiritually immature is what one does with his/her burdens and fears and frustrations and doubts and unanswered questions. The late, great Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said in a sermon from Genesis 26:17-18:
The man who is really feeling the burden is a man pressed to his knees and pressed into the presence of God. His supreme activity is prayer. For he realizes that this is a province that God alone can deal with. He knows the burden. And a man who is burdened is a man who prays.
Throughout this process, I’ve learned the difference between responding to my burden in a self-centered way and responding to my burden in a God-centered way. A self-centered response reveals itself through gossip, vain speculation, taking matters into your own hands, Bible-ignoring impatience, and an unruly demand for answers. A God-centered response reveals itself in prayer. All too often my fears and lack of answers have made me want to demand from God and others an explanation for what is going on. “After all, I’m a paying customer”, I conclude. “I have a right to an explanation for what you’re doing, God.” And in the process, God has revealed my own spiritual immaturity. What about you? Alan Redpath once said that the flavor of a teabag comes out when put in hot water. What flavor comes out of you when in the midst of trials?
The words of the great hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” have been a source of great comfort and correction for me. May they be a source of great comfort and correction for you as well:
What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer! In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.
Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised Thou wilt all our burdens bear, May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded there will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship will be our sweet portion there.