I took some time recently to pray for some of the ministry leaders in my church. I’m not trying to sound super-spiritual. Honestly, I should do this more often since the Holy Spirit is the one who actually does the work of the church. Anyway, I was overwhelmed with how long it took me to pray for each of those leaders by name. For some, I knew what to pray…but not all. I mean, these are women with lives and needs and pains and desires. I only know some details and, frankly, many of the women I had no idea what to pray about for them. Sometimes I just uttered their names, trusting that Romans 8:26 is true and that the Spirit does indeed intercede for those “unspoken” needs.
Jesus’ Intercession for Us
We’ve probably all grown accustomed to identifying the last calendar year as strange, different, or even uncertain. We are all grieving in different ways and facing various challenges in our lives. But I am reminded that regardless of who is surrounding our tables and what lies ahead, we have One who is making intercession for us, who knows what loneliness and grief feels like. We talk a lot about what Jesus accomplished on our behalf in our adoption and justification, and that’s extremely important. But we don’t often think about what he is doing today…like right now in this very moment.
If Jesus completed his task on the cross and subsequent resurrection, what fills his schedule now? What is he doing? More specifically: what has been left undone? Scripture tells us that he always lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25).
Like in the prayer time I mentioned, I know that I can only pray for one person or situation at a time and even that becomes burdensome, but not for our Savior. He is not overwhelmed. Somehow, while he is seated at the right hand of the throne of the God, he is talking about each believer to our Father. He knows it all. He knows every life, every need, every pain, every failure, and every desire. He knows us. How does it make you feel to know that the King of Kings is praying for you right now?
It drenches me with love…
Palm Sunday. The expectant people lined the streets, praising Jesus and quoting from Psalm 118 as he approached in peace. The people knew he was the Messiah, the Sent One, the One coming to save them. Thus, they shouted “Hosanna” which means “Save us, now!” (Matt. 21:6–11). They waved light palms as he approached history’s heaviest burden.
Their praise presupposed that Jesus would establish God’s people in peace politically and do so immediately. They had visions of the once-flourishing reign of David. Their hopes soared with high expectations that Jesus would usher in a new golden era. However, within a week’s time, it would become clear to these same crowds that Jesus had plans to usher in a very different kingdom.
As a result of these missed expectations, their praises faded quickly into shouts of “Crucify him!” in a matter of days. We are not unlike them; our praise quickly turns cold and bitter when our expectations are not met in our way and on our timetable. As we approach Holy Week, we are invited to search for the semblances of our own hearts in the fickle crowds.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem through a tunnel of praises that came from the mouths of those who would soon chant “Barabbas!” (Matt. 27:15–23). They cheered his approach with a light and airy joy, but he alone knew he was marching on to his death. His patient restraint and resolve as he approached an unthinkable burden only further shows the purity of his goodness and love.
A King approaching in peace,
In humility He rode on,
Onlookers cheering him,
Expecting a new dawn.
The Scriptures foretold it,
Yet none of them could see,
The dawn would begin with
The God-Man hung on a tree.
The Messiah was coming,
To bring His kingdom to bear;
But of the coronation of tears,
None but Jesus was aware.
“Hosanna! Save us!” they cried,
As hopes and palms were raised.
“Finally the kingdom’s come,
May Jesus’ name be praised!”
He heeded not their fanatical cries,
For he well knew the heart of men,
From “Crown Him” to “Crucify,”
The voices would be raised again…
I talk to myself a lot, or rather, preach to myself as the ever-helpful Martin Lloyd-Jones reminds us to do. Recently the preacher in my head has been clearly and loudly reminding me: You don’t have to bow to your feelings.
I tend towards being a sponge – soaking in and filling up with the emotions of others and owning them – even though they are not mine to own. I’ve begun to see that as I fill up on anxieties or frustration, all I can do as a sponge is wring it back out all over whomever squeezes me at the wrong moment.
Thankfully, God is not like this with us – taking on our emotions, being changed by them, and dripping all over us in kind. Yes, He weeps with those who weep and clearly and vividly displays emotion! Yet, He is not controlled by emotions. His response to the sin and brokenness of this world is always perfect, right, and true.
My emotions have a place, and rightly so, as God made us to be feeling creatures, but my emotions shouldn’t have the final say about what is true in a situation. God, in his severe mercy, has given me a number of opportunities to practice this lately. As the waves keep crashing, I keep grabbing the opportunities, though sometimes not very well, to sink into the truth.
1 Peter 5:7 reminds us to cast all our anxieties on Jesus because he cares for us. I imagine wringing out my emotion onto Jesus, knowing He can handle it, and then asking Him to fill me with the truth, bowing in submission to that truth, not bowing to my ever-changing emotion.
Have you ever exclaimed, “I didn’t sign up for this!”? Most of us have likely heard or read it somewhere, perhaps spoken it in jest or real pain, seething anger or confused disappointment. This______ (fill in the blank) is not what you hoped for, anticipated, or expected. You prayed, asked for God’s help, waited, moved forward and:
The job would that was supposed to be fulfilling and a wonderful way to spend eight hours of your day? Your boss makes life miserable for you.
Your marriage isn’t the place of emotional intimacy or sexual faithfulness you expected and vowed to keep yourself.
You obeyed Jesus, giving up relationships that you knew were sinful, yet were a source of love and affection. Instead of the “all things” being used for good, you’re left with loneliness and deferred hopes.
You moved by faith into the costly, arduous, emotional, adoption process and now life is complicated and exhausting as scars from your child’s pre-adoption years manifest daily in overwhelmingly sad ways.
You prayed for God’s help to remain sexually obedient, yet the temptations still rage. How is that fair?!
Sigh. Was Anne of Green Gables right, that the life we thought we signed up for eventually becomes a “… perfect graveyard of buried hopes”?
Jesus chose you and ‘signed you up’ to share in his life.
Friends, what did we sign up for when we became followers of Jesus? Or asking it another way, what did we understand the Christian life to entail once we believed, committed, and began to follow Jesus? Were you told that Jesus blesses his followers with abundance and ease as a reward for forsaking sin, especially the ones we most enjoy? Maybe like many of us, you just assumed that a loving, gracious God would remove troubles, because after all, he has the power to do so!..
Do you tend to avoid cranky people? Go out of your way to avoid the teen who just got grounded or an exhausted coworker who started her day by stepping on a Lego?
But what if I am the cranky one? I can’t escape me. Sure, I have tricks up my sleeve to stuff my frustrations so I can function at work. I can fix a smile during lunches with friends so I do not hint at the dark musings of my heart. However, my guard drops back at home and my crankiness is more obvious as I bang dinner dishes, yell “shut up” to the dogs, or give the silent treatment to my family. I see them avoid me, and I wish I could escape from my cranky self, too.
I wonder if Naomi felt the same way.
In the Book of Ruth we see Naomi’s story unfold. Her family left Bethlehem and went to Moab in search of bread, and though they found actual bread, they did not find what they really went for: health and life. Ten years later, Naomi’s husband and boys are dead, and she is left alone except for her two Moabite daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. A widow without male protection doesn’t have many options. She hears the famine back home is over and returns, her daughter-in-law Ruth in tow. They arrive back in Bethlehem, and Naomi tells her hometown friends, “I went out full, and the LORD has brought me home again empty. Don’t call me by my old name, Naomi (“pleasant”) but call me Mara (“bitter”).”
Empty. Bitter. Maybe even a little cranky?
In chapter 2, Naomi comes across almost numb and depressed when Ruth goes to find work in the fields. Only when Ruth mentions the name Boaz do we see a spark as Naomi responds, “blessed be he of the LORD, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead” (Ruth 2:20). By the end of the story, we see Boaz taking both widows into his family and Naomi holding a grandbaby. But even though the writer does not explicitly say it, the real hero is God, not Boaz. We as the audience see what was happening all along. God was sticking close to Naomi because she was part of His family. Another way to describe His loving-kindness is with the term covenant, a solemn promise that God would never leave His children, His sheep.
Covenant even with the cranky.
In the flock of God, Naomi was a cranky sheep and God kept His covenant with her anyway. Sometimes you and I are cranky sheep, too. Perhaps our losses of dreams, expectations, or loved ones leave us dry and brittle. Or maybe we look up one day, and we are far from the community of God’s people and don’t like how our cynicism compares with their contentment. We wonder if God wants to avoid us because we are really not that fun to be around.
Thankfully, God doesn’t keep His covenant promises only to the happy faces, the productive hands, and the hearts that sing with VBS vigor, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” He sticks with cranky women too—the women out of energy to pray; women bitter from hard work and empty bank accounts; and women haunted by mistakes that can’t be undone.
Where do I go if I’m cranky?…
Editor’s Note: The following is an adapted excerpt from Patsy Kuiper’s new book, Be Still: Quiet Moments with God in my Garden.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.
I once attended a presentation where the speaker began with, “Summer, fall, and winter are seasons – spring is a miracle.” I’ve thought about her comment every spring since. Early warm spells begin to nudge plants from their slumber in January here in the South. Witchhazel, Lenten roses, and paperbush start the floral parade that continues for multiple weeks as plants take turns in the spotlight. Trees, flowers, baby birds – all embody the joyful message of rebirth, which in turn stimulates hope and rejuvenation in us.
But spring gives way to summer, and tender ephemerals disappear for another year as heat-loving specimens flourish. Summer annuals and perennials bloom, then set and disperse their seeds before beginning their decline. Fall arrives. Crops are ripe for harvest, the fruit of spring planting and summer tending. Soon daylight hours decrease, as does the temperature, and autumnal leaves create a riotous display of color – one last hurrah before they let go and blanket the ground for the winter.
Ah, winter. Based on my observations, I’ve concluded it is the most misunderstood, under-appreciated season, at least from a gardening standpoint. Those unfamiliar with the ways of plants scan the leafless, apparently lifeless landscape and pronounce, “everything’s dead.” I used to think that too, but my horticulture studies dissuaded me from that notion. For instance, some seeds won’t germinate without scarification, and some bulbs won’t bloom without adequate chill time. Many plants depend on the decreased daylight and increased darkness that accompany winter to flower at the appropriate time.
My newfound knowledge has given me a different perspective…