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HOUR OF NEED

HOUR OF NEED                                                                                                                            When will be your next time of need? What I mean is, when will be the next time you feel like you’re at the end of your rope?  When you’re suffering with an issue or ordeal that you just can’t seem to handle. Times like that meet up with us all. It may be sickness or an accident filled with pain and suffering. The ailment might be your own or one you’re called to assist for someone you love or care for. Have you ever lost a job or a best friend in death or endured the severing of a friendship, or a divorce? Maybe it wasn’t a specific loss, maybe you were just plain lonely? Life is filled with all these deep moments. Sooner or later it’s your turn. What do you do, how do you confront it? I’ve been through the ringer enough over the years to discover answers that really work, every time and under every adversity. I say “discovered” since the solution is not my invention but is the advice of age-old wisdom that has worked in every age and every circumstance. Permit me to present something in perhaps a little different way than what you may have heard before. Maybe an alternative way of viewing the problems you have or will have.

First consider this. Ask yourself, when you were confronted with an adversity, what is it you really wanted? Of course, to see the problem go away as quickly and painlessly as possible. However, solutions take time and they are never, ever guaranteed. If I lose a job, it may take six or eight months to find another. If you’re in a car accident it may take years of therapy to recover fully. You may never be able to repair a relationship with a former friend simply because reparation doesn’t depend on you only. In other words, most problems don’t depend on anything you can do to solve or your wishful solution may not be realistically possible. NO GUARANTEES. I’m a prayer person, I believe in asking for help. But I’m practical-minded enough to know that many prayers appear to go unanswered. Your loved one dies, a friend never returns no matter how hard you importune him or her. So what do you do, knowing in the back of your mind, you may never get well again, you may die no matter how hard you pray? We all die sooner or later.

What’s the answer? And THERE IS AN ANSWER! That answer was impressed upon me again recently as I attempted to deal with the pain of watching my son waste away with a severe case of leukemia. I felt helpless. We were trying every avenue available, but when chemotherapy is not working and when other alternative treatments aren’t working, what do you do, other than pray?  My answer came when I was reading the Bible and I came across a verse that spoke to me personally. It was as if God singled me out and was instructing me personally. I hope you’ll take a couple moments to meditate on His answer and the wisdom this verse unlocks. Read with me Hebrews 4:16:  “Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” There is so much power and wisdom locked up in this one sentence! This verse is worth memorizing but first we need to carefully meditate on the thought word by word.

As you can see, the verse is about what to do in “Our time of need,” any and all of the needs we previously mentioned. And permit me a moment of musing here. Have you ever thought that most of our times of need revolve around losing something? Losing health, job, friend, life, family relationship, money and material things, our equipoise (well-being) on and on? You and I have lived long enough to know that some of the things we lose will never be found again. Pray as hard as we can, youth will never return in this life. Lost opportunities may never come back, that’s the nature of reality. But that’s not the WHOLE TRUTH. There is an absolute guarantee connected to adversity that we fail to consider and the wise man who wrote the book of Hebrews was moved to reveal the truth. In our hour of need we MUST pray not just for healing or the lost to be found but equally as important, and PERHAPS MORE IMPORTANT, pray for MERCY AND GRACE. That part’s guaranteed! When I read that, it all became clear to me. I was suffering, my son was suffering. I couldn’t stop that pain but I could ask for and receive what was as important, mercy and grace, to mitigate the pain. Almost immediately after reading this verse the pain and heartache began to dissipate. To me the experience was as much a miracle as an actual healing of the sickness.

Before having my mind opened, I couldn’t see all that I was praying for when I prayed. I wanted not only answers but the mercy and kindness necessary to cope with the adversity.  The answers to resolve the problem will always come, I’ve learned, maybe not the way I might like but they always come in time (how long is anyone’s guess).  Yet in the meantime I can have the calm, the serenity, the clear mind to do my part to see that the prayer comes to pass. Think about these two words, “Mercy” and “Grace.” First about “Mercy.” What comes to mind is compassion, sympathy, offering a favor, a favorable attitude toward someone in need or goodwill toward someone in a dire situation. In legal matters we think of leniency rather than strict justice. The Bible is filled with real life examples of mercy and coming to the aid of another’s need.  The Lord shows how much he cherishes mercy when He made the blanket statement addressed to all, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13 )  He asks us to cultivate an attitude of compassion and desiring to come to the aid of others who may be suffering. Jesus’ two beautiful stories of the Prodigal Son ( Luke 15:11-31) and the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 30-7) come to mind here.  Certainly if God looks for such qualities in us, He, himself, is the epitome of what mercy is. Every one of us has been the recipient of countless instances of mercy directed toward us over our lifetimes.  Parents caring for us when we were sick, sharing with us, putting us first when there were limited resources or friends and even strangers going out of their way to help when they’ve seen us stranded at the side of the road with a flat tire. How many of these acts of mercy directed toward us are inspiring and motivating by the fact that we were given that capacity by God in the first place. Much of that mercy shown us comes from other humans using their God-given ability to think thoughtfully and caringly about others.  God is telling us through this Hebrews writer to ask for and expect mercy from Him, however it may come, whether that be an act of benevolence from another going out of her way to help or whether it be a feeling of calmness and serenity that descends upon us from a higher source.  Expect the beauty of mercy in those times of need.

Coupled with mercy our verse holds out the hope of “Grace.” This is a term normally used in spiritual settings and is often employed without thought to its full connotation. Let’s start by saying “Mercy is NOT GETTING something you deserve or might deserve, while Grace” is GETTING something you DO NOT deserve. You’ll find there is no adequate synonym for that English word “Grace” used in everyday vernacular. This is because God’s Grace, the model for perfect grace, goes beyond anything we humans can imagine.  However, we can approximate the word by saying “Grace” is unrequited love or unmerited divine assistance, a sense of God’s approval bestowed on humans.  God’s unexpected kindness during times of travail is a special blessing. I hope you’ve experienced that blessing from time to time. Moments when you don’t know what to do, you’re at the end of your ability to cope, you pray and an indescribable calmness and sense of serenity envelopes you. All of a sudden, you feel able to cope again.  That’s a special gift of kindness that emanates from The Father. It is one thing to feel sympathy from another but it’s a step above to feel affectionate sympathy and that’s what our Father radiates. This is what He’s noted for. He displays tenderhearted affection as opposed to a natural response of sympathy. Can you discern the subtle difference? We can show sincere sympathy and in the next instant we’re on our way forgetting the unfortunate one. Tenderhearted affection moves the Lord to continue with the sufferer till she is comforted and has the needed strength to endure trials. And that’s what God promises, overt tender affection without a limit time.

So this is what scripture is telling us and we want to be clear on this. Not that adversity will totally end but that we will be able to cope with the trial. Divine healing is never 100% certain.  And extreme disease like stage four cancer or AML leukemia, as my son had, even with confident faith may only have a 25 % cure rate or less. Why only a small percentage are cured, even when they pray, is understandable. Life and death are so complex and there are so many variables that a finite human mind cannot fully fathom.  Therefore, the process by which one person is healed and another is not, with or without God’s help is beyond the capacity of our minds to comprehend. During suffering we ask for help and wisdom in all areas we can influence the outcome and ask for divine intervention to the extent of the limitations that providence has set and which we can’t understand. Two individual cases of sickness appear to be identical but we admit our minds don’t have the capacity to understand what is going on nor are we privy to all the complex details. Does the fact that one patient had tried to take care of his health and the other didn’t have any effect on God’s actions? I don’t know, we can only speculate. All I can say is when my heart was dying due to cardiomyopathy and the doctors had to decide whether to put me on the heart transplant list, the fact that I had attempted to take reasonable care of my body through diet, exercise and moderation did have an effect and within 3 days of being put on the list I had a new heart. I prayed and I knew the Lord was somehow involved. Knowing our Father is full of grace and undeserved kindness, we are comfortable He’s not playing favorites. Taking another situation, let’s say you’ve been out of work during the last recession and a job comes up perfectly fitting your qualifications. You pray but at the same a guy from the next town over has the same qualification and he prays for that identical job. What is the Lord to do?  Can’t you see you know nothing about the other guy and when you don’t get the job it’s easy to jump to the conclusions God doesn’t answer prayers. Not that he doesn’t, it’s just that you don’t realize there are other variables that the Lord takes into account. That’s a simplistic example, but hopefully you can understand, there is a lot more going on in this world that you’re unaware of. God’s not playing favorites here, but in a sense He is! Remember, first, outcomes are never certain. You have very, very limited control over outcomes. What you do have control over is how you handle the set of problems. You have control over your behavior and your attitude. And here is where God in a sense can play favorites; he can help you with the ability to endure suffering. God freely offers everyone the ability to endure. But we must ask for it. God does not force His help on anyone. That goes for your prayer for a close friend to have God’s special consideration.  That prayer CANNOT BE ANSWERED if the friend is not open to God’s spirit! I’ve learned that our Lord is willing to grant favors but you have to ask for them and you must subjugate your FREE WILL to accept them. God will not bypass your free will, in most cases, without your permission. (That’s one of many, many reasons He’s allowed evil to permeate a world of autonomous creatures.) Did you notice in our scriptural consideration from Hebrews that the writer invites us by saying, “Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence?” We are implored to importune the Father with the certainty that under these circumstances He definitely will answer such a prayer and will receive mercy and grace while another not approaching with confidence or not even approaching will not. No favorites here, just one person asking and another not. I can say from experience, when I’ve encountered adversity, I’ve always felt the promised mercy and grace within my very being. But that’s only when I ask or other ask for me in cases when I didn’t have the physical capacity to ask. Imagine a sense of calmness, conviction, mental and emotional strength with fortitude to endure! A feeling that someone is holding your hand in the dark. That’s what is promised here, no more, no less.

Finally we stress that last ingredient for granted help from the Person most able to help. Yes, we stress, one must ask. Put into words exactly what you’re asking for.  I’ve often found when I’m forced to put into MY OWN exact words what I’m seeking, I am able to see more clearly what I really need. For example, rather than asking for “wisdom” ask specifically for “wisdom to know what to say to the bank when they want to foreclose my home mortgage.” Then, “What are some of the options I can propose to the bank?” When we put into words what we need, the answers often automatically come.  Next the Bible writer makes it abundantly clear the necessity to petition with the proper attitude. He says, “Let us CONFIDENTLY APPROACH THE THRONE OF GRACE”.  The point he makes is there is little reason to repeat words in a prescribed prayer, if the petitioner doesn’t have an expectant attitude toward what he asks.  The Bible often speaks of “God’s spirit testifies with our spirit.” (Romans 8:16  ) If one’s spirt exudes confidence and begins looking for answers, God’s spirit will respond to ours.  Usually just saying, “I want help, Father, whatever…” just won’t cut it.  Whereas, “Father, I know you can assist me in finding a job fitting our family’s schedule and providing funds for our budget given my career background or even in a new field I hadn’t thought about,” is more specific and causes you to think of other possibilities. And to add, “I’ll be looking for suggestions from you that might come from referrals, ads, former workmates or employers”, gives you a track to run on and coaxes you to begin looking for how God’s work and influence will come to your aid. Isn’t it wonderful to have such succinct instructions from someone who truly cares for our welfare?

I don’t see a need to go further explaining this one verse. It’s clear and concise. Remember CONFIDENCE when praying. Remember “Our time of need” is any time of serious concern or urgent emergency whatever the type of need. And remember, though outcomes you envision are not guaranteed, you are guaranteed two considerations that may be even more comforting than outcomes imaged. You are promised MERCY and GRACE to accompany you in your trials. Communion with the Father, feeling the calmness and the sense He’s there with you with you IN SPIRIT AND WITH SPIRIT is a wonderful help.

P.S. In the midst of writing this piece, the worst tragedy of my life to date occurred. My middle-aged son, Matt, died of leukemia after a year of battling the disease. I had to postpone finishing this article to regain my composure. The outcome in this case was not what I hoped and prayed for, but we have received a guaranteed outcome. My son felt mercy and grace to his last moment. My wife, family and his friends who prayed with us are being imbued with a wave of mercy and grace. Thank you, Father.

 

 

Institute For Mere Christianity