The Pastor’s Pen – May 26, 2019

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‘For whom should we seek a blessing?’

May 26, 2019

Scriptures: 1Chronicles 4:4-11, John 5:1-9

1 Chronicles 4:4-11

…and Penuel was the father of Gedor, and Ezer the father of Hushah. These were the sons of Hur, the firstborn of Ephrathah, the father of Bethlehem. Ashhur father of Tekoa had two wives, Helah and Naarah; Naarah bore him Ahuzzam, Hepher, Temeni, and Haahashtari. These were the sons of Naarah. The sons of Helah: Zereth, Izhar, and Ethnan. Koz became the father of Anub, Zobebah, and the families of Aharhel son of Harum. 

Jabez was honored more than his brothers; and his mother named him Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.” Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from hurt and harm!” And God granted what he asked. Chelub the brother of Shuhah became the father of Mehir, who was the father of Eshton…

…(and so on and so forth). 

John 5:1-9

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids-blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

*****

‘Do you want to be made well?’ Jesus asked the man who had lain there close to 40 years.  Jesus asks, ‘Do you want to be made well’…and he asks it of each one of us as well.  Do you believe that you are worthy of God’s love and care, of God’s healing grace and mercy?  Or are you instead convinced that God is either not always there, or if God is there, surely you are not important enough to warrant his attention.  How often do we pray for others without ever doing the same for ourselves?

And a related question I guess is; have you noticed blessings in your own life?  Have you seen the hand of God in your life…not necessarily in making your life all rosy and sunshiny, but perhaps have you noticed that in the most difficult times of your life that somehow our Lord is always there somewhere? I have…and it took a while for me to understand that the promise Jesus gave was not in fact, that he would make all our problems go away and prosper us in every endeavor we undertook, but rather that he would be there right beside us through all of the difficult times and struggles that life happened to throw our way, for sometimes life can truly be a far cry from comfortable or ‘all put together’.

And it took even longer I think for me to realize that those times when Jesus found me in the midst of my struggle, when I was so far down that but for the grace of God, I would have given up, that his presence, his intervention, even when my eyes were not open enough to see or to realize it, were in fact the most profound of blessings…and somehow entirely sufficient.

And I also know that most people are much more comfortable doing for others than having others do for them.  For some reason we find it easier to hope that God hears our prayers for others in need, than the possibility that God may want just as fervently to address our deepest needs as well.  Whether or not we wish to believe it, it truly is a blessing to give…as well as to receive.  In fact, in Acts Chapter 20 and verse 5, Paul tells us that it was Jesus himself who said it is more blessed to give, than to receive. 

In other words, the one who extends blessings unto others is somehow deeply blessed as well in return.  And the reverse of this is also true, namely that, if we refuse to accept the help of another, if we do not let others care for us and look out for us in our own time of need, then in fact we are denying them the blessing they would receive as the giver.

But a deeper concern, at least from my vantage point, is that it seems that so many do not feel at all worthy of a blessing from God.  So many feel that whatever life has handed them is somehow their ‘lot in life’, and no amount of intervention from anyone is going to change it.  I believe that it is these who do not often ask God to bless them, or to assist them in finding their way through what at times can feel like ‘life in a labyrinth’. 

So, we have those who don’t feel worthy of God’s blessings or attention, those who never ask God to bless themselves, and those who ask for blessings, but only for others, not themselves.  However, in reading through our scripture passages today, I would contend that God is equally interested in extending his love and blessings to every single one of his children, everyone created in the divine image, regardless of whether or not one feels worthy. 

To illustrate that contention, I have two short stories I wish to share with you.  The first was given to me years ago by a dear friend and hung on the wall of my office at my former place of employment.  It was simply titled, ‘Prayer’.

*****

It seems that a voyaging ship was wrecked during a storm at sea.  Only two of the men aboard were able to swim to safety to a small desert island nearby.  The two survivors, not knowing what else to do, agreed that they had no other recourse but to pray to God. To find out whose prayer was more powerful, they agreed to divide the territory between them and stay on opposite sides of the island.

The first thing they prayed for was food.  The next morning, the first man saw a fruit bearing tree on his side of the land and he was able to eat its fruit.  The other man’s parcel remained barren.

After a week, the first man was lonely and he decided to pray for a wife.  The next day another ship was wrecked, and the only survivor was a woman who swam to his side of the island.  On the other side of the island there was nothing.

Soon the first man prayed for a house, clothes, more food.  The next day, like magic all of these were given to him.  However, the second man still had nothing.

Finally, the first man prayed for a ship, so that he and his wife could leave the island.  In the morning, he found a huge ship docked at his side of the island. The first man boarded the ship with his wife, and decided to leave the second man on the island. He considered the other man unworthy to receive God’s blessings since none of his prayers had been answered.

As the ship was about to leave, the first man heard a voice from Heaven booming, ‘Why are you leaving your companion on the island?’  ‘My blessings are mine, since I was the one who prayed for them’, the first man answered.  ‘His prayers were all unanswered and so he does not deserve anything.’

‘You are mistaken’, the voice rebuked him.  ‘He had only one prayer, which I answered.  If not for that, you would not have received any of my blessings.’

‘Tell me’, the first man asked the voice, ‘what did he pray for that I should owe him anything’?

‘He prayed that all your prayers be answered’, answered the voice.

*****

How often, I wonder, do we consider that the blessings we have received, might in fact be the result of prayers of others? How often do we even consider that others might be aware of our needs and sincerely pray to God on our behalf?

I do not remember where I heard the second story, but it was just as powerful.  This story is untitled as far as I know, but it goes like this.

*****

It seems there was a man who, after a long life, finally died and went to Heaven.  He was amazed at the beauty and grandeur of Heaven as he stepped through the gates and was greeted by Simon Peter.  ‘Welcome to Heaven’ crowed Peter, obviously so happy to greet the newcomer.  ‘We have been waiting for you and are so happy you have come to join us.  With your kind permission I would like to give you the Grand Tour’.  The recent arrival gladly agreed and the two set off on a whirlwind tour through places of beauty and glory for what seemed like an eternity.  In fact, when they had finished there was only one building, standing off to one side that they did not go into at all.

‘And what dear Peter, is in that beautiful white building over there’, asked the man of his host.  Quietly Peter turned away as he replied, ‘Oh there is nothing there for you to see.  That building is really of no concern’, he told the man.  ‘Oh, but I simply must see it as well, your tour was so amazing, surely you are not going to leave out one building’, he asked?  Peter once again sought to dissuade the man from his request telling him there really was no need to trouble himself over that one last building.  But the man persisted and at last Peter gave in.

Leading the man over to the building he opened the door to a huge gleaming interior full of silver shelves as high as the eye could see, and all filled with boxes with a name and date upon each one.  Looking at the boxes the man saw that they were in fact in alphabetical order.  Suddenly he had an idea.  ‘Peter’, he asked, ‘is there by chance a box here with my name on it?’

Once again Peter tried to change the topic and sort of stammered a reply, ‘Oh…I don’t think you need to…’  ‘But I insist’, the man countered, ‘If there is a box here with my name on it I must see it’

Giving in once again, Peter led the man to the place where, sure enough, there was a large box with his name and date of birth printed neatly upon it.  Reaching out and lifting the cover off of the box, the man looked inside.  He stared at the contents for some time before replacing the lid and turning back to Peter with a puzzled look on his face. ‘I don’t understand’, the man said, ‘what are all those amazing things inside of that box?’

Looking at the man with deep compassion tinged with just a hint of sadness Peter replied, ‘My dear one…those are all of the blessings our Lord of love wanted to give to you, but you never asked!’

*****

Truly our Lord of love has so many blessings for us if we would only believe enough to ask him for them.  Our God stands ready at all times to grace us with the fullness of the Holy Spirit…that near and dear one who will walk through life with us and provide us with all we need to do the will of God…all we need to do is ask for this profound blessing.

As I said at the beginning, it seems so much easier, and in a way perhaps, so much more holy to ask for the needs of others to be fulfilled rather than asking on behalf of just ourselves.  And yet, our scripture from 1st Chronicles today has something else to tell us.

This verse, known as the ‘Prayer of Jabez’, is a very short story stuck right in the middle of a long and tedious listing of the genealogies of Old Testament figures.  We are all familiar with what are commonly referred to as the ‘begats’…you know, so and so begat so and so, who then begat so and so, and so on ad infinitum.  This short little story, right in the middle of that long litany of names and relationships has much to tell us about the nature of our God. 

I came across this verse years ago in a small book titled, The Prayer of Jabez, which I used in a Christian Literature Weekend Retreat.  I was intrigued that it seemed to be such a seemingly selfish type of prayer…as though this individual only had concern for his own well-being.  And even more astounding it seemed that God not only heard the prayer of this man, but answered it just as he had asked.  So puzzling, and yet so intriguing

And in looking into it further, I wondered if I might ever learn to be so bold as to pray a similar prayer on my own. I wondered if God might be so wildly loving and generous to answer my prayer just as the prayer of Jabez was.  And so, I looked at the prayer carefully and constructed for myself a prayer along the same lines. 

Now before I share that prayer with you, I will tell you that God has been exceedingly faithful in fulfilling every last part of this prayer.  And I will also tell you that before any of you ever consider praying for yourselves in this manner, consider that answers to a prayer such as this can come at a pretty high price.  But then, it is true that a life lived closer to the fire of the Holy Spirit may be extremely hot at times, but it is without compare to anything else the world may offer.

So, in looking at the prayer of Jabez I prayed; Lord, bless me this day indeed. Increase my ministry of love, service, and devotion unto you alone to the point that I may not breathe but that your hand be upon me.  Keep your hand upon me and keep all those I cherish and adore safe by the power of your Holy Spirit. Surround them by your Spirit and repel any evil that may seek to come against them…thank you Lord, amen

I have prayed this prayer for years, and for years the Lord has been faithful in answering it in full.  In fact, the only time I have not prayed it is when I have forgotten to and found myself wondering why it seems I can’t breathe…wondering why it seems that the Lord feels so much more confident than I in my ability to handle the tasks he has set before me.  It is then that the Spirit softly whispers that I asked that my ministry of love in the name of the Lord be ‘increased to the point that I could not breathe but that God’s hand be upon me’.  ‘All you need to do’, the Spirit reminds, ‘is to remember the hand that remains ever upon you’.

Again, I would caution you, that our Lord takes us seriously when we give even a little bit of our life and our life’s control over unto him.  If we ask the Lord into our lives…he comes…and life from there on out is filled with blessings…and with challenge.  But then again, isn’t any challenge in the sure and steadfast company of God a blessing?

Our God desires a trusting, open relationship with each one of us.  Nothing is more precious to God than the heart of one of his beloved opening up to him even just a crack.  Each one of us is able to seek out this God of love who is already seeking us out, each one of us can lift up a prayer of blessing…for others, and for ourselves.

‘Do you want to be made well?’, Jesus asked the man who had lain there for close to forty years.  ‘Well’, to paraphrase what the man answered, ‘well, I think so, but every time I seem to get the chance someone else beats me to it. I guess I am not meant to ever get well…just not worthy or deserving of a blessing as great as that, I guess’.

Don’t you ever believe it…God is there, God is ready…lift up your eyes, open up your heart…and ask for the deepest needs of your soul…and then…

…then pick up your mat, and walk…walk alongside of those blessed through your prayers for them as well.

…amen

Image by Leonardo Valente from Pixabay

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