"Yet even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD your God?
Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.
Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep and say, "Spare your people, O LORD, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations.Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'" Then the LORD became jealous for his land and had pity on his people. The LORD answered and said to his people, "Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations. (ESV)
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He Is Listening
Monday of Pentecost 8
4 August 2014
Our trials drive us to cry out in prayer to the God who promises to hear those who are in distress. Prayer is not a matter of eloquence in such circumstances. Many people presume they cannot pray because they cannot construct petitions of collect-like eloquence or because they cannot intone like Dean of Kings College Chapel, Cambridge. Some people try to pray like they are talking to King James rather than to God. However, when we are suffering, eloquence is not our strongest suit. When we are facing great anguish long, windy prayers are hardly useful, even if possible. Sometimes we do not even know how to pray or what to ask for. People watching a loved one die often don't know how to pray. Should they pray for God to send His ministering angel to bring healing or to bring death? Here in this anguished moment of prayer, the heart overflows with a simple unutterable sigh, "Oh, Father!"
This eloquence of the heart is the gift of God the Holy Spirit. Even prayer is a matter of divine giftedness, rather than our achievement. When we are gasping because we don't know what to say, He helps us in our weakness. When the cry of the heart has risen from us, then we are set on Christ. He hears our cries because of His grace. Our Father listens to our petitions of anguish because Christ, God's beloved Son, intercedes for us with Him. His Beloved shows Him the heart of His love by setting before His eyes the open book of His wounds. "Dear Father, they are crying to you in anxiety and weakness. You have promised to hear them for my sake. I plead with You to hear them as You hear me. They are Your sons as I am Your Son. Dear Father, hear them as dear children!" How articulate is this one word, "Father!"
You can't chat God up, as sales people sometimes try to chat up an unwilling customer, as though a long conversation will make a buyer out of the reluctant. God has never heard us because we are good talkers, but because His living Word has spoken our sins into nothing. His speech of holy absolution says all by speaking into silence the sin that shouts to highest heaven. This silence means that the ear of His tender mercy inclines to hear our faintest sighs. The noise of the world and its satanic shouts cannot keep our Father from listening to our words of sorrow and suffering. He is listening.
"In times of trial we must not on any account decide this matter on the basis of our feeling or of the cry of the law, sin, and the devil. If we want to follow our feeling here or to believe those cries, we shall decide that we are bereft of all help from the Holy Spirit and that we have been utterly banished from the presence of God. Should we not rather remember, then, that Paul says that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and cries: 'Abba! Father!' (Gal 4:6)? That is, He emits what seems to us to be some sort of sob and sigh of the heart; but in the sight of God this is the loudest cry and an unspeakable sigh. In every trial and weakness, therefore, just cling to Christ and sigh! He gives you the Holy Spirit, who cries: 'Abba! Father!' Then God says that He does not hear anything in the whole world except this single sigh, which is such a loud cry in His ears that it fills heaven and earth and drowns out all the cries of everything else.
"You will observe that Paul does not say that the Spirit intercedes for us in trial with a long prayer, but that He intercedes with a sigh, and one that is unutterable. He does not cry loudly and tearfully: 'Have mercy on me, O God' (Ps 51:1); but He merely utters the words of a cry and a sigh, which is 'Oh, Father!' This is indeed a very short word, but it includes everything. Not the lips, but the feelings are speaking here, as though one were to say: 'Even though I am surrounded by anxieties and seem to be deserted and banished from Your presence, nevertheless I am a child of God because of Christ; I am beloved because of the Beloved.' Therefore the term 'Father,' when spoken rightly in the heart, has an eloquence that Demosthenes, Cicero, and the most eloquent men there have ever been in the world cannot attain. For this is a matter that is expressed, not in words but in sighs, which are not articulated in all the words of all the orators; for they are unspeakable."
Lectures on Galatians, 4.6
Almighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For the participants at the North European Luther Academy, that they would experience safe travel and find joy in their time of study together
For all pastors who will lead the people of God, that they might be strengthened in body and soul for this difficult labor
For Matthew Harrison, that the Lord would grant him strength in his labor of serving God's people
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014