Prayer as Problem Solving or Presence Seeking?

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July 3, 2018

Exodus 15:22-24

22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

CONSIDER THIS

Why does everything have to be so hard? Surely the Israelites must have wondered. They had just come through a period of harsh oppression on steroids, been delivered from the plague of death and the Red Sea, and all of this only to die of dehydration in the desert. Three days is the upper limit without water. Imagine the relief they felt when they came to the waters at Marah and then the devastation at not being able to drink it.

A lot of people reading this (present company included) have the same question. Why does everything have to be so hard? Doesn’t divine deliverance make things easier? Divine deliverance makes things better, eventually, but easier may not be in the cards. Slavery, after all, has its advantages. Most prisons guarantee three square meals a day. While we weren’t made for slavery or prison, neither were we made for ease and comfort. Here’s the hard thing. What if much of the ease and comfort we in America are accustomed to is another form of slavery?

I think there is a lot in me that still expects life to be easy, and so my continual quest looks like striving to get to that place. In my early twenties a friend by the name of Saul Rousseau gave me the book, The Road Less Travelled, by M. Scott Peck. The book represents his quest as a psychiatrist to make sense of life. Though the book holds a lot of wisdom, it is an amalgamation of psychology, zen buddhism, self-help theories and a sprinkling of Christian theology. I am primarily indebted to the book for its opening paragraph, which says:

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

Jesus said as much didn’t he? “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.

We spend enormous amounts of energy to try and make life less difficult. In fact, I suspect much of our agenda in prayer is aimed at the end of solving problems. The evidence of this is how much time we spend grumbling about our problems at someone else, be it the President or the Democrats or the Bishops or those idiots at headquarters.

What if our problems are not meant to drive us toward solutions but into the presence of God? Think about it. To what end are we driving— a problem free life of ease without difficulty? O.K., YES!! Do we really believe that is an option? Or is the end game a life of knowing God as deliverer and provider and healer and lover of our souls and learning to trust these realities even when they don’t seem present or on our timetable or according to our design?

The journey of growing up as a human being leads to the place where we cease to be consumed with seeking relief from our problems and instead learn to pursue the refuge of God’s presence where we discover that he is himself our relief. One of the outcomes of this is we become the sort of people whose presence becomes a kind of prayerful refuge of relief for others in their problems. Instead of retreating from them with promises to pray for them, we run toward them with outstretched arms of mercy, grace and love—knowing that God will show them his enough-ness through the enormity of our limitations.

Don’t hear me wrong. God loves it when we pray for each other. He rises up and calls us blessed when we become bearers his presence to each other.

Meanwhile, here’s the scene back at Marah:

So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

It’s interesting to me how the Israelites cried out to God in their slavery, but now in their freedom they would grumble against Moses. I really don’t think they much expected to be delivered from slavery and into God’s presence. I suspect they just wanted their slavery to be easier. Deliverance comes with responsibility. Relief from problems; well, is just a break until the next problems show up.

25 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.

The Lord wants to solve our problems. Remember, he wants our flourishing. His will is for a much deeper flourishing, one not dependent on our circumstances but on his nearness. Check this out:

There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. 26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”

The test is growing in a bonded trust in his I AM-ness as our very health and wellness rather than our testing God as a health benefits provider. Will our praying agenda be geared around problem solving or presence seeking?

Today the problem is drinking water. Tomorrow we camp in a veritable oasis.

27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.

Next week the problem is food. The week after . . . .

When will we learn he is all we need.

THE PRAYER

Lord Jesus, you are right here, right now. When will I finally learn that you don’t have the answers to my problems but you are the answer. In your presence is more than everything I want and need. In the face of all our challenges, you are the one who has overcome the world. Above all, train my heart to seek you simply for who you are. Right here, Jesus. Right now, Jesus. Amen.

THE QUESTIONS

  1. What if much of the ease and comfort we in America are accustomed to is another form of slavery? What about that?
  2. What if our problems are not meant to drive us toward solutions but into the presence of God? What about that?
  3. Do you want your problems to be easier or do you really want deliverance and all that entails?

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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. jd.walt@seedbed.com.

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Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.

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