We’ve all had days when we wish that we were back in bed, before we even climb out of it. Not long ago, I faced a situation — not a major one, but not so minor that it wouldn’t add its weight of stress — that looked like it would be either A) very bad or B) not particularly good.
As I sat in the car, I prayed: “God. Get me through the next several hours. I’m tired; I have no strength, energy, wisdom, or creativity, and I really can’t add much more to my plate right now.”
And then it was time to enter the lion’s den.
Hours later, I emerged, not necessarily whistling — because I can’t whistle — but relieved, grateful, and even cheerful. Earlier in the car, when I was faced with the options of A or B, I had forgotten that God usually has an Option C. It’s the one that unfolds when we can’t see beyond this or that, and it happens so consistently, I wonder why I persist in seeing life as either/or.
The Big, Big Prayer
That night, as I was praying, I thanked God for this unexpected Option C before I turned to some serious meditation and prayer about a long-term request that means a whole, whole lot to me, but just. doesn’t. progress. I don’t sweat tears, but I do ache with a desire for something that is so deep, so unyielding, and so absolutely impossible that sheer logic says that I should give it up, but I can’t.
I’ve offered it up, but He never takes it back. Enough happens — small, incremental things — that I keep walking, but some days, I wonder if this trail will ever reach its destination. Before I die, that is.
As I was praying, the question popped into my mind:
“John’s baptism — was it from heaven, or from men?”
Wow. That’s really random.
Putting Jesus on the Spot
The query stems from Mark 11:27-34 (parallel verses in Luke 20:1-8 and Matthew 21:23-27) in which the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders demand of Jesus,
“‘By what authority are you doing these things?’ they asked. ‘And who gave you authority to do this?'”
Since the passage immediately preceding has to do with clearing the temple, it’s highly likely that the Jewish leaders are referring to this, as well as to Jesus’s controversial teaching within that temple. Anytime you block moneymakers from raking in their profits, they get upset, but I couldn’t see how Jesus’s interaction with dishonest, disingenuous, insecure, crafty, clever, and scheming men who were using religion to fund their aspirations and ambition had anything to do with my long-term desire that just won’t go away.
“‘John’s baptism — was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!’
“They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” he will ask, “Then why didn’t you believe him?” But if we say, “from men . . .
“(They feared the people, for everyone held that John was really a prophet.)” (Mark 11:30-32)
Yes? or No?
The question is essentially this: is it from God, or not? Make a choice.
In my own situation, it looked like this:
I started my day out troubled, and before I entered the lion’s den I prayed. I emerged relieved, because my prayer was answered.
So, that answer to prayer: was it from God? Or was it just a coincidence?
If it was from God, and He heard and answered my prayer, then why do I doubt that He hears, or cares about, my primary, aching prayer?
If it wasn’t from God, then why did I bother praying in the first place?
Poor Sherlock Holmes . . .
Too often, it is easy to discount an answer to prayer because it looks logical, and we tell ourselves — afterward — that of course it worked out okay, because that’s the way that makes sense. We forget, however, that prior to the solution, when we were walking blind, we saw no acceptable answer. It reminds me of the Sherlock Holmes stories, in which listeners are amazed at Holmes’ ability to deduce the facts, until he tells them how he got them.
“Oh,” we comment. “Is that all?”
Revelation 8:3-4 tells us that the prayers of the saints are as incense before God: “The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.”
Psalm 141:2 says, “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.”
Incense is not something that can be easily ignored: it is strong, pungent, and very much present in the room. We can be confident that, when we pray, God hears us, and His eyes “are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry.” (Psalm 34:15)
Earlier in this essay I mentioned Option A or Option B, and how we frequently forget that, within any situation, God works through Option C or D, but when it comes to whether God is real or not, or whether He hears us cry or not, we’re back to Option A or B:
Does God hear us, or not?
The baptism of John — was it from heaven, or from men?
While the religious leaders refused to answer, I have an idea that they knew, perfectly well, that the solution was Option A. But their hearts were too hard to admit it.
I don’t want to be like these people.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where, every day, I am learning more about God’s grace: He doesn’t expect me to lie about my feelings — to myself or Him — He wants me to put them before Him so that He can teach me, lead me, and show me the true depth of His love.
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