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“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-- yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)
In Tim Keller’s book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, he talks about how, in his early 50’s, he finally began to truly pray. Even though he had been a pastor (of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City) for many years, he had struggled to have a strong prayer life. But then in 2001, the city of New York experienced the horror of 9/11, his wife struggled with the effect of Crohn’s disease, and he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
It was at this point that Tim’s wife, Kathy, urged him to pray with her every night, something they had always struggled to do. She put it this way:
Imagine you were diagnosed with such a lethal condition that the doctor told you that you would die within hours unless you took a particular medication – a pill every night before going to sleep. Imagine that you were told that you could never miss it or you would die. Would you forget? Would you not get around to it some nights? No – it would be so crucial that you wouldn’t forget, you would never miss. Well, if we don’t pray together to God, we’re not going to make it because of all we are facing. I’m certainly not. We have to pray, we can’t let it just slip our minds.
Keller shares how from that moment on, they have never missed an evening of praying together.
There is something about desperation that drives us to God in a way that normal, everyday life does not. Health problems, relational issues, wayward children, financial struggles, and similar struggles can drive us to our knees in dependence upon the one who has the power to change our situation or give us the strength and faith to endure them. As C.S. Lewis put it, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
As badly as we might want to wish away our troubles, the life of comfort is just an illusion. The reality is that life is full of suffering. We may manage to find a haven of peace and comfort, but the majority of people around the world are still suffering, even if we turn a blind eye to them. And, of course, the reality is that one day we will all die. Every list of names in the daily obituary is a reminder of our mortality. And if the witness of Jesus and the Bible is correct, then after death will come eternal separation from God for all who have not trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. There is plenty of cause for desperation.
Our culture may be urging us towards comfort, pleasure, and separation from the pain of this world, but the gospel teaches us that desperation and urgency can be a good and godly thing. When we heed God’s megaphone, as Lewis put it, our pain and suffering drives us to a deeper dependence upon God, and consequently a greater intimacy with Him. We see more clearly what our Savior went through as He walked through this life as a man of sorrows, as He was rejected, betrayed, mocked, abused, unjustly persecuted, and eventually crucified for our sins. We are refined and sanctified, as God reveals the ugliness inside of us, strips away those things that are ultimately unimportant, and causes us to focus on those things that really matter. And finally, we experience more of the reality of God as He proves to be enough to get us through the trial, or as He transforms our situation for the better.
Do not fear the trial, and do not run away from those feelings of desperation. Instead, allow it to cause you to press in to Jesus, to pray with more intimacy and urgency, and to trust in the one who loves you enough to suffer and die for you.
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