This is not the only time the Gospels give us reason to hope beyond hope that our prayers for humanly impossible situations might be answered. There is Jesus’ delayed response to Lazarus’s illness-turned-death. There is Jesus’ stopping the funeral procession so he can reunite a widow and her dead son. Whatever our understanding of these “late” divine responses, the truth is they reflect a human conundrum around God’s timing. When is it okay to give up hope that a prayer will be answered?
A friend of mine prayed fervently and tenaciously for healing from cancer every day she lived with the disease. Those of us closest to her dared not hint at the thought of a different outcome, so fierce was her determination to live. When her body ultimately succumbed to the disease, the family asked me to preach her funeral sermon. Time for some deep, personal, theological reflection! My personal experience bore witness to welcome and unwelcome outcomes to prayers for healing. My sermon preparation led me to the eleventh chapter of Hebrews with its powerful examples of persons who died in faith, having not received the promises they had believed in. It comforted me to know that not receiving from God what we hope for is not a strike against our capacity to believe God for the impossible. It is a rugged faith that will travel smooth and rough terrains with the same mindset—God before me, God with me, God behind me. It is the enduring, tenacious presence of God as experienced in prayer that keeps us standing—”Standin’ in the Need of Prayer.”
*Robert Lowry, “My Life Flows On,” The Faith We Sing (Nashville, TN, Abingdon Press, 2000), 2212.
What though my joys and comforts die? I know my Savior liveth. What though the darkness gather round? Songs in the night he giveth. No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I'm clinging. Since love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?*
David is remembered in scripture as a mighty king but also as a great poet. Many of the Psalms are ascribed to him. In Second Samuel we find a song of lament over Saul and Jonathan. Saul was violently jealous of David, yet David still honored Saul as God’s anointed king. Jonathan was David’s best friend. David bemoans Israel’s loss of these leaders. The author of Psalm 130, although probably not David, appeals to God in David-like fashion. The Gospel shows the power of a woman’s faith. In Second Corinthians, Paul deals with practical matters, appealing to the Corinthians to send promised financial help to the believers in Jerusalem.
Read 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27. What part does music play in your prayer life? Do you sing both songs of lament and songs of praise?
Read Psalm 130. When have you cried out to God from the depths of your despair? What was God’s response?
Read 2 Corinthians 8:7-15. How do you maintain your eagerness to practice your faith?
Read Mark 5:21-43. What has been your experience of God’s healing?
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