IS ANYBODY OUT THERE?
††††††††††† Picture something ridiculous with me:
††††††††††† Imagine that prayer is a telephone -- like in that old camp meeting song "Jesus Is On The Line, Tell Him What You Want".
††††††††††† Imagine dialing, D-E-A-R G-O-D, and hearing four rings.
††††††††††† Then a peppy voice answers saying, "Hi. This is God. I can't come to the phone right now, but if you will leave your name, number and a brief message -- no more than 30 seconds please --- after the tone,† I will get back to you as soon as I can. Have a nice day. BEEP!"
††††††††††† That never happens.
††††††††††† God does not use an answering machine.
††††††††††† In fact, I'm sure that Heaven is one place you'll never find answering machines at all.
††††††††††† Neither does a bored receptionist screen God's calls to keep the riff-raff from bothering him. When we call upon the name of the Lord, not even the archangel Gabriel answers; God himself hears our call and listens.
††††††††††† Or does he?
Why was that guy's prayer answered but not mine?
††††††††††† At a meeting I attended, Steve prayed to be able to make an evangelistic trip to Alaska. At the same meeting, I prayed for money enough to pay our light and water bills.
††††††††††† At the next week's meeting, Steve testified that a Christian businessman had given him a brand-new, straight-off-the-showroom-floor, fully equipped† camper van and money enough to make his trip to Alaska!
††††††††††† Hallelujah! Praise God!
††††††††††† But I did not testify at that second meeting. The local power authority had cut our lights and water off. They stayed cut off for ten long weeks till I had earned enough to pay the over-due bills.
††††††††††† When I called on God, I received no immediate answer.
††††††††††† I did not get his answering machine.
††††††††††† I did not even hear static on the line.
††††††††††† That sometimes makes me worry that the phone is ringing in an empty house.
††††††††††† Could it be that no one is there to take my call?
Am I talking to myself when I pray?
††††††††††† Is there even really a God out there for me?
††††††††††† Could it be that the reason I get no answer to my prayers is that there is no God out there to answer?
††††††††††† Are vivid answers to prayer, such as Donald's getting his computer or Steve getting his van, just matters of coincidence which would have happened anyhow whether anyone prayed or not?
††††††††††† Super Christians with strong faith may not ask such questions. Simple Christians who rest in child-like faith may not question either. But most of us fall somewhere in the middle and while we seldom voice such doubts in church, we wonder if God is really out there when we get no answer to our prayers.
When God flunked my test.
††††††††††† I have a long history of doubt when it comes to prayer. Before I became a Christian 30 years ago, I dabbled in Westernized oriental religions and called myself an agnostic leaning toward atheism. When a missionary witnessed to me about Christ and I began to feel convicted over my personal sinfulness, I came up with a clever plan to use prayer to test God. I prayed, "Ok God, if you're out there, then make such-and-such happen by noon tomorrow. If that happens, then ... Well, I'll examine you more closely; but, if it does not happen, then I'll know for sure that there is no God."
††††††††††† God flunked my test.
††††††††††† Such-and-such did not happen.
††††††††††† But I'm a generous guy; I wanted to give poor God every chance. I tried the same prayer-test again and again.
††††††††††† I held out the hoop and he would not jump through it.
††††††††††† Sometimes, God can be very un-cooperative.
††††††††††† He will not be manipulated. He will not be controlled by us. He was not on trial. I was.
††††††††††† When we pray, we do not negotiate a contract between equals. He is Creator, we are creatures. We have no rights we can demand, save those he chooses to grant us.
††††††††††† Anyhow, although God would not perform when I commanded him to, the more I prayed and pestered him, the more ... Well the only word I can think of is ... hungry I felt for him. It got to the point where, I wanted him whether he was there to pass my childish tests or not.
††††††††††† He gave me a sense of longing, of yearning, of thirsting. Now this intense desire that I felt contained an element of incredible sweetness, a heart-pain I loved to feel.
††††††††††† But, my mind protested, "John, it's crazy to want something that does not exist."
††††††††††† All humans feel thirsty and want water. Naturally. There is such a thing as water.
††††††††††† All of us feel hunger and want food. Naturally. There is such a thing as food.
††††††††††† We feel lust. Naturally. There is such a thing as sex.
††††††††††† Every person sometimes feels a heart-longing for the Eternal. Naturally.† There is such a thing as God.
††††††††††† We don't want what ain't; we want what is.
††††††††††† God is.
††††††††††† He is as real as water, food, sex or anything else you really want.
††††††††††† In his Confessions the great Catholic theologian St. Augustine speaks of a God-shaped niche in the human soul where nothing less than† God fits. I picture this niche as a vacuum inside us, like a black hole in space,† which can be filled to capacity by the Infinite but which sucks in everything else and still remains empty. A vacuum demands filling.
††††††††††† Even when we are little kids we feel this emptiness of soul and we hunger to fill it. I remember laying awake at night on the sofa where I slept and thinking about GOD, big and huge (to my five year old mind there was a distinction); Sweet, so sweet as to be hugged and hugged and hugged; yet Scary too, the awesomeness of the Creator being totally foreign to all created things.
Our hunger for Eternity vs puppy love
††††††††††† When I tried to describe my sleepless feelings to my mother, she thought I was trying to talk about Billie Michelle, the little girl who lived next door.
††††††††††† "Puppy love," Mama said. "Isn't that cute. Johnny's got puppy love."
††††††††††† Gurrrr! How do you write a five-year-old boy's snarl? No way did I love Billie Michelle. She was a GIRL, for Heaven's sake.
††††††††††† If the gnawing hunger meant puppy love, then who needs it!
††††††††††† I think† this same dynamic works again and again in everyone's life.
††††††††††† When we were young and sought the meaning of existence, then the† world, the flesh and the devil dismissed our yearning as adolescent growing pains. We hungered for eternity and they said it was just hormones flowing. The wise voices teased that† we were only hungry for sex. "You need a woman; you need a man," they said.
††††††††††† To a young adult, the wise voices whisper, "You hunger for success. Advance in the company. Get trappings: Lear jet,† board membership, gold card. Success is what you want."
††††††††††† As we mature, the voice of the world, the flesh and the devil† says, "What you are hungry for is security. Buy bonds. Get a home. An insurance policy is what you need. Security will make the hunger pangs go away".
††††††††††† But the deep hunger of the soul never ceases.
††††††††††† When we sprout white hair, yet still know that† heart-longing ache for Something -- or Someone, the devil taunts,† "You silly old fool! You're just longing for your lost youth."
††††††††††† Thus many of us are tricked into never getting the one thing† we want most desperately. And we die just as we lived --† desiring the Eternal but settling for mere glitter.
††††††††††† But there is hope even for such folks as us.
††††††††††† King David, the slayer of giant Goliath, the sweet psalmist of Israel, a man of wealth, power and position, a man who had all this world had to offer, David also understood the same heart-hunger that you and I know.
††††††††††† Remember singing this Psalm in camp?
God, thou art my God;
††††††††††††††††††††††† Early will I seek thee:
††††††††††††††††††††††† My soul thirsteth for thee,
††††††††††††††††††††††† My flesh longeth for thee
††††††††††††††††††††††† In a dry and thirsty land,
††††††††††††††††††††††† Where no water is.
†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† -- Psalm 63:1 KJV
††††††††††† David talks about this theme again and again:
††††††††††† "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God."-- Psalm 42:1 NIV
"You open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing"
-- Psalm 145:14 KJV
††††††††††† "He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him." -- Psalm 145: 19 KJV
††††††††††† If even† the king panted,† hungered and thirsted, if he longed and desired and yearned for God, surely the whole thing is much too complex for those of us who merely feel vague whims toward an undefined something better now and then.
††††††††††† Not so. We tend to make godly living into a complex worm's nest of worry. That is not the way it works.
††††††††††† King David taught his readers how to focus and find joy in a way that's simple yet profound:
TRUST AND DO
††††††††††† He said, "Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pleasure.† Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart."-- Psalm 37: 3 NIV
††††††††††† Trust and do.
††††††††††† Then you can dwell, enjoy, be safe, delight -- and He will give you the desire of your heart.
††††††††††† Think of that!
††††††††††† The desire of your heart.
††††††††††† The single thing you've hungered for most all of your life is right at your fingertips.
††††††††††† How wonderful.
††††††††††† How utterly wonderful!
††††††††††† Now, while every person knows that deep, secret desire, we should be cautious about building an esoteric theology on yearning. The universal yearning of mankind for God is just one hint that there is Someone out there to hear our prayers. There are other hints. In the next chapter, let's look at that yearning some more along with two other hints...
You have been reading Chapter One† of the book Why Donít I Get What I Pray For? by John W. Cowart †(IVP, 1993)
Click here for Chapter Two