Intractable Problems by Mike Betts

Mike Betts on Lowestoft Beach

‘Do not be afraid Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.’ – Luke 1:13

None of us likes to have ongoing issues of pain, fear, sadness or complexity in our lives.  We pray often in desperation.  Many times tears accompany our petitions; secret tears often.  We wonder if God has heard. Why does nothing change? We conclude sadly that either God has not heard due to some fault in our prayer or faith, or that he does not care, or worse still that he simply does not have the ability in the present situation – bearing in mind the fall and sin – to do anything!

How wrong our conclusions can be if we let our minds and emotions be the guide for assessment.  In Luke 1 we read the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth who for many long years have sought God to bless them with a child.  They continue to serve God faithfully and without bitterness.  They seem to have gone through the stage of grief over something lost and anger and disbelief have given way to acceptance.  Zechariah is serving Gods one day when suddenly an angelic visitation announces to him that not only was his prayer heard and received long ago but also the answer to it, though late, was never in doubt; in fact it was soon to be.  Some sympathy perhaps with Zechariah might be allowed were it not for the fact that an angel from heaven is standing clearly before him.  This was no sense in his heart of an answer to prayer; it was a formidable messenger announcing a decision of heaven.

What can we learn from this? There may be a painful issue close to you that you have been praying for for years; perhaps an illness or disability that does not go, a longing for children like Zechariah and his wife had, perhaps the longing for a marriage partner as years go by; the concerns of ‘will this ever happen?’ grow until sometimes the pain of thinking of it is too much and it is better to come to a place of acceptance and peace.  Some people mistakenly, in my view, confuse acceptance and peace with lack of faith.  We have to live in the now and the not yet.  Paul said he had ‘learned to be content’; Paul was not lacking in faith – he knew some of the things God had promised him and yet often they seemed a long way away.  In such seasons he learned to rejoice and be at peace in the mystery of God’s providential dealings.

For us it can never be right not to pray or not to continue to knock on heaven’s door for the things we so dearly want.  Jesus in fact told us we should ‘always pray and never give up’.  The story of the widow knocking on the unjust judge’s door illustrates Jesus’ point.  Additionally the Bible invites to ‘present your requests to God’; notice it is not someone else’s requests, or the requests we think likely to be answered, or even the requests we think God would be most interested in.  No, we are told to present our requests to God.  Of course the requests do need to fit within wisdom and guidance from scripture before you all start praying ‘Lord may I win the lottery?’. No, these requests are the deep ones that we know from scripture God sees and has a heart of love and compassion for.  We need to trust God in who he is and obey God in what he asks.

What are your requests? What are the deep secret things of your heart? The things that cause your tears to flow in petition? Keep asking and keep knocking and let the peace of God that comes through trusting in who he is and in what he is capable of doing be the garrison of your mind.  Refuse to let your emotions and opinions dictate your theology.  Jesus said ‘You believe in God, believe also in me’ if we believe in him we must also by implication believe in what he is capable of doing even if at times life remains surrounded by mystery.


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