In this series of posts on the Scripture readings for the First Sunday of Advent 2019, we’ve been learning how to wait during hard times. In the previous post about the fourth reading, Luke 21:25-36, we heard from Jesus how NOT to wait. Now we continue in that passage, and Jesus teaches the proper way to wait.
We can summarize Jesus’ teaching as: watch out in prayer. When we are struggling with pain, anxiety, and God seems far away, and our world seems to be crumbling around us, Jesus says our response should be watchful prayer. Jesus mentions two requests we should pray for: escape and stand. The word “escape” is not to be understood as fleeing or running away, but as avoidance. It is okay to pray, “God please don’t let me go through this.” Jesus himself prayed that very thing before he went to the cross! God might say, “Ok…I will take that away.” But God might not. He didn’t take the cross away from Jesus. This is when the second prayer request is so important. Stand. And in particular Jesus says, “stand before the Son of Man,” which is him. What he is referring to is that we are praying for strength to stand in the midst of trial and pain, to stand in such a way that we remain faithful to Jesus.
When we are going through hard times, our response should be pray. Pray for the difficulty to be taken away, but if it is not taken away, pray that God will strengthen us to remain faithful.
Here we can look to Jesus as our model. Constantly we see him, especially in the Gospel of Luke, getting away for prayer. In Matthew 6 he tells us to go into our closet and pray. That’s what Jesus did. It might not have been a literal closet for Jesus, but it had the same effect when he went all by himself on a mountain to be alone with God. I don’t have a prayer closet, but I do like to find a quiet room in the church. Often I walk into the dark sanctuary, sit in the front and pray. Sometimes like Brother Lawrence, I pray while washing dishes, seeking to have a conversation with God all day like Lawrence did.
We need to learn to get away from our phones, from TV, from the internet, from people, and spend time sitting in God’s presence.
I know waiting can be so hard. But the one place we will find the strength to watch for Jesus and be faithful for his return is the place of sitting in his presence. It might be while you are driving, and you turn off the radio or the podcast, and you just talk with God and listen for him. It might be while you are exercising, and you remove the headphones from your ears, turn off the music and listen. Or maybe you keep the headphones in and listen to music that helps you pray! Or maybe an app that guides you into listening to God. It might be in the quietness of the morning before people awake, or after they have gone to bed. It might be on lunch break in the park, in your car, in the bathroom. As we saw in Deuteronomy 18, God says that we need to learn to listen to Jesus.
When we listen, when we bask in his presence, we find strength to remain faithful, even in the dark times, even in the waiting.
Watch, and pray, the days are coming. Maybe for some of you, the days are here. You are living through pain right now. Maybe for some of you those days are coming. What is your practice of prayer? Do you need to increase the time you spend in prayer? Do you need to spend time working on the quality of your prayer?
Anthony Bloom, in his book Beginning to Pray, gave an illustration that really hit home with me. He said, consider your relationship with your spouse or significant other or maybe even a close friend. What would that relationship be like if the sum total of your communication with that person was you going up to them for five minutes each day, pulling out a list of stuff you want them to do, running down the list, and saying, “Great talk. Please do all that for me. Talk with you tomorrow.” The next day, you do the same talk again. Sometimes you skip days, thinking very little of it, but when you resume talking to that person, it is more of the same, your five minute wish list. And that’s it. How would that relationship go? It would fail very fast.
When I was on sabbatical, and I was learning about listening to God, that story really convicted me. I started practicing listening prayer. But I will tell you that since I have been back from sabbatical, with the busyness of life, it is so easy to think, I don’t have time for listening to God. Jesus reminds us in Luke 21 that nothing is more important. Right before he was about to encounter the most momentous event of his life, which was his crucifixion, you’d think he would be taking every last second to teach his disciples, to help prepare them for what was coming, give them tools to succeed. But he doesn’t. Instead he prays. At the moment of crisis Jesus is praying.
How can we be a people of prayer? Are you in a moment of crisis? Are you praying, listening for the voice of God, basking in his presence? If this resonates with you, but you are not sure where to begin, I recommend that you read Bloom’s book, and another one called Into The Silent Land: The Practice of Contemplation by Martin Laird. Study those books. Then find your closet, watch and pray.