Saturday, June 28, 2008

Praying when nobody seems to be there.

Are you troubled by cold calling? Every day we get a call. Someone with a strong Indian accent wants to help us with our debts (we don't have any), or a recording tells us how much money we have locked up in our home, or someone offers us free double glazing if we allow our house to become a show-house for them to demonstrate their wares, or a man with a Birmingham accent thinks we are not getting the best return on our investments. Yesterday, a rather nice lady with a Yorkshire accent asked me, "Do you have trouble getting out of the bath?"

How do you deal with them? Some people just put the phone down on them. Others get abusive. One lady I know replies, "No, I don't have any money worries, but do you know where you're going when you die?" and then continues, "Let me tell you about the Lord Jesus Christ..."

In the days when we called it 'junk' mail rather than 'spam' David Frost had a good idea. Inside most junk mail there is a prepaid reply envelope, that is only paid if it is posted. He suggested that we sent it back empty. That would deter them.

On the same principle, one fellow I know, just puts the phone on the table and lets them talk away. After all they're paying for the phone call. There's nothing to say you have to listen. I wonder how long it takes before they get tired at the other end of getting no response? If you are a fan of Fawlty Towers you will know all about telephone responses. Prunella Scales' brilliant portrayal of Sybil with her "Oohhh, I knoooooooow" and her braying laugh, which her husband compares to "someone machine-gunning a seal" sent the verbal signals to her friend Audrey that someone was listening.

When we pray we lack those verbal reassurances. Not only is God invisible to us, but he does not reply, "I know" down the telephone. There are times when we feel God is very close. Yesterday, I went to a meeting in a tent to celebrate the 60th aniversary of Moorlands Bible College. The music was led by Stuart Townend. Although I have some of his cds, the experience of singing his hymns with 500 people with him leading and his band sounding loud and clear was a magical one. Then hearing Alistair Begg, the Senior Pastor of Cleveland's Parkside Church, preach on the cross - its clarity, centrality and crucial nature - left me close to heaven. But at other times, as Philip Yancy says, God's baffling tolerance of the world's atrocities and my unanswered prayers, make me feel that I am talking to the ceiling.

The first thing to realise is that my feelings about the matter are not a measure of God's presence. Like the sun, he is always there though clouds hide his face. Wherever we go, not just in beautiful gardens or exhilarating mountain tops, God is with us. Think of the most disgusting place: a filthy prison without sanitation where the inmates are tortured by the guards or a 'hospital' in Africa without sheets or blankets, without medicine, where people lie waiting to die with undressed wounds and untreated fevers. It sounds like Hell - a place defined by the absence of God.

But listen to what Jesus said, "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."
Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Matt 25:34-40)

When we visit such places He is already there. He is in the sick and hungry, the tortured and the oppressed, the weak and the lonely.

As the psalmist writes, "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:7-12)

We live by faith not by sight. We pray in faith; not from telephone responses.

Did you just notice that God spoke to us? He said, "Where can I go..."

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