Friday, March 14, 2014

Season of Prayer

When we think about David and the way that he taught us to pray, I think most of us go straight to the Psalms. A seemingly perfect mix of humility and hope, fear and faith, defeat and discipline, the Psalms are certainly an image of prayer that our hearts can hold onto in any season. But there is another scene of David's prayer that I believe speaks volumes. The scene comes in 2 Samuel 12.

Nathan replied, 'The Lord has taken away your sin; you will not die. But since you have shown total contempt for the Lord by this affair, the son that is born to you must die.' Then Nathan went home. The Lord struck the child that Uriah's wife had given birth to for David so that the child became sick. (v. 13-15)

This is the part of the story where most of us give up. The trouble we find ourselves in, for the most part, is the trouble we've put ourselves in. It's our fault. We know we've done wrong. We know we've fallen short. We know we're in the Lord's hands. And He's just told us what He's going to do about it, so that seems like that. God's made up His mind; here comes the hammer. The funny thing is that we've convinced ourselves this is grace - that God would punish us but let us live, that He would speak and tell us His plan, that He would take the time to tell us how things have to happen now. It is grace that He loves us so. 

But it doesn't feel like love. It loss. We just put a holy spin on it to make it okay because it's what God has spoken; who are we to answer?

David doesn't buy into that. Continuing with the story:

David pleaded with God for the child; he fasted and lay on the ground all night. The older leaders in his palace stood beside him to raise him up from the ground, but he was unwilling. And he wouldn't eat with them. (v. 16-17)

David is not content with a fabricated grace; he pleads for mercy. He lies prostrate before God, petitions with every ounce of his being. He begs for another way. He disciplines himself - in fasting and prayer - to show his contrite spirit before the Lord. He still believes there's hope, and he's holding out for it. Because the child still breathes, although he is sick, and this is that time between when the Lord speaks and when Love acts, and if David has any chance of changing things, he's going to take it. 

I love that about him. I long to be more like that. And yet, there is a fine line here, too. It's not up to a man to hold onto prayer for longer than a season. There's a tender tenseness between night and morning. Unlike most of us, David knows where that line is and he's always got one eye on the reality.

On the seventh day the child died. But David's officials were afraid to tell him that the child was dead. They thought, 'While the child was alive, we talked to him, and he wouldn't listen to us. How can we tell him the child is dead? He may harm himself.' But when David saw that his officials were whispering to one another, he realized that the child was dead. 'Is the child dead?' David asked them. 'Yes, he is dead,' they answered. (v. 18-19)

In all his prayer, in his agonized petition, in his last hope, David continues to look for what God is actually doing, and he's willing to accept an answer contrary to his desire. He longs to change the Lord's mind, to spare his child's life, but he's also given himself to whatever God is doing. When the night ends and morning breaks and it's clear that God has acted, David wants to know that truth. He asks the hard question, received the devastating answer. Most of us aren't willing to do that. We want to hold onto our hope. We want to hold onto our prayer. We'll spend our lives lying down because to stand up again would be too painful. It would be an admission that God has done the hard thing, that it's time to move on, that it's time to give in. We miss too many good moments of our lives holding onto the things God has already made to pass. 

David would have none of it. He used the night to pray, but in the morning, chose to rise in the new reality of what God has done.

So David got up from the ground, bathed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes. He went into the Lord's house and worshiped. Then he went home and asked for food. They placed food in front of him, and he ate. (v. 20)

It seems strange. His officials certainly thought it strange. For seven long days, David fasted and prayed. He denied himself, and it almost looked like depression. Maybe it was desperation. Then God does the very thing the king has been praying against, and the man after God's own heart stands up, dusts himself off, cleans up, and sits down to dinner. Life goes on. It is a new life, but life still the same and there are things for a man to do. He even goes into God's house to worship - because for seven days, the two have been at odds. For seven days, they've been battling it out. For seven days, David has been holding in his heart that God might do something different. Then God does something painful, and although it's hard, David doesn't want to make space for this thing to come between them. After lying down, he stands up and lays his life at the altar to restore the relationship. He brings himself back to God, a peace offering. A fellowship offering.

I love so many things about this story. It reminds me there is certainly a season in which to petition God, in which even to try to curry His graciousness (v. 22). That is the night. It is the season between when the Lord speaks and when Love acts, and there is space there for my flesh to cry out. But there is also a time in which God will do what He has purposed to do, and it's important to be awake to that. It's important to keep one eye open, looking for that time. It's important to recognize when that time has come, when a new day has dawned, when life must go on. And then it is important to let life go on. To do the things I need to do to bring me back to God, particularly after a time when I have set myself at odds against Him. To stand up, dust myself off, clean up, and sit down to dinner. Life goes on. There are things for a woman to do. Not because God has denied me and I have given up hope, but because God has acted and I embrace tomorrow. There are so many yesterdays I will never get back, so many chances that have come and gone. If I hold onto them, I give up today and sacrifice tomorrow and miss out on all of the things unfolding now and the graces to come. It's not worth it. Not for a bunch of yesterdays.

And what of our hero? What of his tomorrows?

Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba. He went to bed with her, and she later gave birth to a son. David named him Solomon. (v. 24)

Solomon. That's what happened to David's tomorrows. What's going to happen to yours?

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