Have you ever experienced a period of being “down,” perhaps
even after a great success? How did you get out of it?
Share an experience of facing your fear.
Right now, what is your personal storm?
How has Jesus raised you up after failure?
What is your place of prayer? A closet, a shower, the trail?
What is one thing you can do to expand your practice of prayer this week?
Read over the excerpts from Jan Richardson’s blessings and
discuss them, or read them aloud as prayer.
and Dare, in two main stories. One is that of Elijah, worn out and depressed
after his greatest triumph. The other is that of Peter, scared to death. And,
there’s Jesus too.
Elijah’s great triumph had all Israel
returning to the LORD. But he knew it wasn’t lasting. And the queen sent out
hit squads to kill him. He runs for his life, he’s scared, and after all the
energy that went into his triumph, he is depressed. He wants to die. Instead, God
feeds him, God sets a table for him. He travels to the desert, to the mountain
of God, to Sinai, to Horeb, and meets with God. A powerful wind, earthquake,
and fire pass by. Then, in the sound of “sheer silence,” God finally speaks. “Sheer
silence” can be much more terrifying than death threats and natural disaster.
I want to share a poem/prayer by Jan
Richardson in her marvelous collection, The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of
Blessings for Times of Grief. I read the first of those blessings aloud and
posted it on our church website a couple weeks back. Here is another, “Blessing
the Desert,” that fits the Scripture stories for today:
blessing sounds like
I will tell you
will tell you
chose this night
offer their awful,
will tell you
how it sounds
what was sturdy
give me long enough,
I will tell you also
beneath the wind,
leaves all speechless
knows its season
will not cease
when we cannot bear
Jan. The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief (pp.
65-66). Wanton Gospeller Press. Kindle Edition.
of my earliest memories of standing up to fear was on a school bus coming home
from school in Manila, the Philippines. I was perhaps in second grade. The
school had kids of all ages, and we all rode in the bus together. One of the
older boys had a rubber band and he pulled it back to shoot it at us younger
kids. Everyone ducked. I remember telling myself, “Don’t duck. Don’t duck.” I
stared straight at him and his rubber band, this bully. He pulled the rubber
band back and complimented me.
At that point in my life, I wasn’t well
acquainted with prayer. I hadn’t journeyed to the desert and the mountain of
God with Elijah. I hadn’t spent all night in prayer with Jesus. I’ve
experienced some of that since, spent some hours in a closet for prayer, put in
many more miles of prayer on a trail in the woods, like both Elijah and Jesus devoted
myself to prayer without food. Unlike them, I never went anywhere near forty days.
Before and after that moment, I have
experienced fear, plenty of it. I have learned to stand and face it, not just
because someone dared me, but because this real thing called out some courage
in me, and maybe some stupidity too. More and more, though, my response has
come out of a place of prayer, whether my morning prayer in the shower (because
no one disturbs me there), or my trail prayer when I head into the woods for a
few hours. Courage to dare comes from the place of prayer. It is in that place of
prayer that we hear God speak in sheer silence. It is in that place of prayer
that we see Jesus walking on the rough waters of our troubled sea. It is to
that place of prayer that Jesus retreats when he sends off the disciples. Even Jesus
needs to pray.
we talk about daring today, we are not talking about the stupid things kids do:
“I’ll give you $5 if you swallow a rock.” Or, “Look ma, no hands.” We are
talking about how we gather ourselves in those most difficult moments of our
lives and step forward into an uncertain future.
Peter’s dare comes in a moment of fear. The
disciples think they see a ghost. The waves are, literally, beating the boat
itself. The storm has come, as one writer remarks, “in the line of duty” IB,
7:433. Sometimes we forget that following Jesus is not about having it easy.
Storms come in the line of duty. “Have courage. I am,” says Jesus. “Lord,
command me to come to you on the water,” says Peter. What?!!
Elijah’s dare comes in a moment of fear
and depression. He thinks he is the only faithful one left and, apparently, has
no hope for the people who had just cheered the work of the LORD. He prays to
die. Like many folks who struggle with mood stability today, on the heels of
his greatest victory he is in his deepest funk. “Elijah, what are you doing here?”
“I have been very zealous for the LORD. I am the only one left, and now they’re
trying to kill me too.” “I’ve got some more work for you. And, there are still
7000 folks who have been faithful like you.” God sends him back into the fray,
back into the danger, back into his life.
What’s your personal storm? Where are the
waves beating your boat? Where are you suffering a let down or struggling with
depression? In the middle of all that, how is God’s call coming to you?
Moravian Church is famous for a Hundred Year Prayer Meeting beginning in 1727 –
at least one of their members stationed for prayer for every hour, every day, in
a relay for one hundred years. The place of prayer provided the courage to dare
on a great scale. They practiced tithing and then some, giving a tenth or more of
what they made, and they were able to provide for pastors and send missionaries
all over the world. They were so focused on sharing Jesus that some of their
missionaries even chose to sell themselves into slavery so that they could share
Jesus with other slaves. What?!! Walking on water seems easy next to that.
After some years of working among the
Lisu people in southern China, James Fraser was struggling. The fruit of his
work just wasn’t there. It is so easy to second-guess, so easy to give in to
depression. He entered a time of prayer and offered what he called a “prayer of
faith.” He described it as a covenant with God, a contract, in which he knew
that he had asked of God what God desired of him, and that if Fraser was
determined to do it God was determined as well. Soon, entire households and
villages were following Jesus. God raised up pastors and missionaries from the
Lisu. They reached other tribal groups in their region.
live in a fearful time. The pandemic is not receding. Difficult questions of racism
are being raised repeatedly. People are out of work. Things that were normal and
reliable are now entirely up in the air. What was stable is now gone. The usual
way we do things is completely upended.
To be clear, these aren’t good things. We
don’t celebrate disease, racism, or joblessness here. Yet, there is opportunity
hidden somewhere in this crisis if we are willing to find it. There is positive
change to be found in the midst of this disruption. There is hope in despair,
there is courage in fear.
I haven’t figured out, yet, the unique
call of God to me in this crisis. I am confident there is one, so I am stepping
out, willing to experiment, willing to fail. But I must also be cautious. I
want to be able to be present with mom, to drive her to a medical appointment,
without exposing her and the residents and staff of Smith Health Care to COVID
risks. I have a baby to baptize and young people to confirm, without exposing
them to COVID risks. So, I drive around with a bottle of hand sanitizer in the
car and will be wearing a mask even when running around coaching soccer.
what if I fail? What if you fail? I love that this story of Peter walking on
the water includes his failure. He is a man “of little faith” or “half faith.”
That sounds like me. There’s a little faith in there, just a speck, mixed in
with the fear and depression. It is interesting that Peter himself isn’t the
one who spent the night in prayer. Jesus is. And Jesus raises him up.
This wasn’t Peter’s last failure either,
nor was it the last time Jesus raised him up. But he was the only one willing
to dare that night. I can imagine another disciple saying, “Man, why didn’t I
think of that?” After Jesus was arrested, Peter followed to the courtyard
outside the gathering and denied even knowing Jesus. But he was the only one
willing to dare to follow that far.
Fortune cookie on failure: “A man can
fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he gives up.”
week, we had the story of Jacob wrestling with God. All night long, they go at
it. What a prayer! Jacob refuses to give in. God refuses to crush him. Finally,
God wrenches Jacob’s hip and there is no way Jacob can win. Yet, at the end, it
is the LORD who yields and grants Jacob the blessing. Jan Richardson has
another blessing poem titled “Jacob’s blessing” and it includes some
encouraging thoughts (to me, at least) to turn prayer into dare.
this blessing were easy,
could claim it.
will wound you,
I tell you
will come a day
what felt to you
you moved into
Jan. The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief (pp. 62-64).
Wanton Gospeller Press. Kindle Edition.