March 29, 2023
In last week's DeacoNote, in our continuing series on prayer-related topics, we noted that, when we pray for something "big," two sets of questions tend to run through our mind:
What if my prayer is NOT answered in the way I hoped? and
What if my prayer IS answered in the way I hoped?
Now, the first set of questions is the more common. It reveals any lingering doubt we may have, or fear, stemming from that "big" thing we prayed for in the first place. It leads to the usual discussions of the need for patience, or even whether your mustard seed of faith is big enough.
Today, however, I would like to look at the opposite situation - when God chooses to answer a prayer request, just as it was asked. What happens then?
Is it a case of "Thank you very much" and then go about your business? Or is it more complicated than that?
As a follower of Christ, who feels remarkably blessed by God over the years, I find myself challenged by Jesus' parable in Luke,
Luke 12: 48 From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
And I really cannot find a verse that says Jesus called us to become believers and then just sit on our hands. In fact a little later, in Luke 14, Jesus will tell those, who are considering becoming His followers, to first count the cost, then pick up their cross, and follow Him. Only those people will become His disciples.
And note the choice of words, Jesus uses in the so-called Great Commission,
Matthew 28: 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
But now let's back up to our original question and narrow the scope a bit further. What if the "big" prayer is asked by someone who is NOT yet a follower of Jesus?
This is a little different twist on it, because if you have read the same books on prayer that I have, 99% of them deal with the prayers of people, who are already followers. And the other 1% deal with that one prayer to become a believer.
I tend to believe, however, that there are a whole class of prayers, that we do not talk about much. They are all those tentative talks we have with God, while trying to get to know Him.
Think about it this way.
The process by which we develop a saving relationship with Christ and eventually commit to being a follower, is a lot like the process by which some couples develop a loving relationship, that eventually culminates in a marriage commitment. Now, there probably are people who fall in love at first sight, but most lasting relationships take time to develop. They take time to get to know each other. It takes time for trust to develop. For some, there will be a triggering event that leads to the final commitment.
Consider the old adage,
There are no atheists in a foxhole!
It speaks to that tendency to turn to God, when we are feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable, and the stakes are way beyond our personal control. The origin of this phrase has been lost, but U. S. Military chaplain, William Thomas Cummings, is said to have used it in a field sermon during the Battle of Bataan in 1942; and it was quoted again in 1954 by then President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Historically, there is the example of Clovis. In my studies of my own genealogy, I can piece together a thread of ancient records, that suggest that he was my second cousin, 45 times removed.
He was born around 465 AD in Gaul, which would much later become France. He was a barbarian chieftain of one branch of the Franks, that controlled the region after the fall of the Roman Empire there. In 493 AD, he married Chlotild, who was a Christian, but he persisted in his personal worship of idols.
In 496 Clovis led his army to the aid the neighboring city of Cologne, that had been attacked by a confederation of tribes known as the Allemans. They engaged the Allemans at Tolbiac, about 24 miles south of Cologne. The Allemans proved stronger, annihilating the first wave of Franks and forcing the rest into retreat.
In her book, The Birth Of France, Katharine Scherman writes,
With his army in disarray and rapidly being annihilated, Clovis raised his eyes to heaven and invoked the aid of Clotild's God, offering reciprocity, "Jesus Christ, you who deign to give help to those in travail, and victory to those who trust in you, I beg your help. I want to believe in you, but I must first be saved from my enemies. If you will give me victory I will be baptized in your name."
At that pivotal moment the king of the Allemans fell in battle. With the loss of their leader, the Allemans' aggression melted and they began to turn and run away. They begged for the fighting to cease and Clovis granted a truce.
Grateful that his appeal to heaven had succeeded, Clovis was true to his side of the bargain. He told his wife, Clotild, that Christ had won him the victory over the Allemans, and announced that he was ready to accept Christianity - along with three thousand of his soldiers.
Clovis' chief instructor in religion was Remy, the Catholic bishop of Rheims, a friend of Queen Clotild; and Clovis was finally baptized in Bishop Remy's church on Christmas Day, 503 AD.
Now let me jump ahead almost 1500 years and cross the ocean to the Ramada Inn in South Burlington, Vermont. It was here that I found myself attending an event, put on by the local Christian couples club, featuring dinner, music and a speaker. I struck up a conversation with a young man at the table, whose engineering background was similar to my own. He admitted to finding a certain attraction to Christianity, but had been unable to overcome his doubts, as to its authenticity.
I asked him what it would take to convince him? As you might expect, he said that he did not know.
I said, "what if God answered your prayer? Would you commit your life to Him then?" He then turned to me said, "what should I ask for?" I said, "whatever will convince you that God is real and worthy of committing your life to Him." He then thought for a moment and said, "Anything?" I said, "yes."
His eyes began to tear up, as he then shared with me. His best friend had just been diagnosed with leukemia and he had been given of a prognosis of less than one year to live.
I met him at a church function about a year later. He was now a Christian and very active serving God in his local fellowship. I asked what happened to his friend? He told me that shortly after our dinner together, he prayed to God and his friend's disease went into remission; His friend was now back to leading a normal life. That remission would last for almost another dozen years.
Foxhole moments come in many different forms.
For the Philippian jailer of Acts 16, it came in the form of a midnight earthquake that broke open every door and chain, releasing the prisoners in his care. He feared for his own life in the event the prisoners had escaped, but Paul and Silas reassured him. What was his reaction to being spared?
Acts 16: 29-33 The jailer called for lights and rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved - you and your household." Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.
One of the more interesting aspects of this whole story, however, is the fact that Paul and Silas were only there as prisoners because they had been falsely accused and illegally detained in the first place. It was a classic "bad" thing happening to "good" people. And yet,
Acts 16: 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.
As a result, God was able to use them to bring about a "Foxhole moment" for the jailer and his family, resulting in their conversion and baptism.
And Paul reminds all of us in his letter to the Ephesians not to underestimate the power of prayer.
Ephesians 6: 10, 11, 14-18 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. ... Stand firm then with the belt of truth, buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take up the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
I invite each of you to comment on this DeacoNote, or share a related story of your own in the comments below.
Your Brother in Christ,
Warren J. Ayer, Jr.
Chairperson, Board Of Deacons
United Church of Colchester