I am reading Philip Yancey's new book, Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference. I have learned that when I read a Philip Yancey book, I am nourished, I am enriched, I am blessed. Because I have been struggling with the duration of the wait as I pray for our prodigals, this book caught my eye as I walked through the book store yesterday afternoon.
Emily Dickinson has captured the very place I find myself:
There comes an hour when begging stops
When the long interceding lips
Perceive their prayer is in vain.
Now, it is not my intent to be blasphemous, in keeping with the desire to be completely honest, I am desperate for a break in the silence. Family and friends encourage, family and friends support me in prayer. Still, the years of struggle weaken my spirit. Has this happened to you?
In a chapter entitled, The Sound of Silence, Yancey suggests that we Touch the Void. While many people believe that if your faith is strong enough your prayer will be answered, I have discovered that even Jesus begged "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Furthermore, the Psalmist wrote:
Furthermore, the Psalmist wrote:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
But if I go to the east, he is not there;
if I go to the west, I do not find him.
When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.
O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, and am not silent.
...my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
"Where is your God?'
I spread out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
I am not alone in my lamenting.
Yancey goes on to offer Survival Strategies for this unavoidable "season of dryness." Quoting Teresa of Avila, Yancey reminds me that "God is not really silent, we are deaf. My job is to remain vigilant like a sentry on duty, straining to hear the sounds of the night as well as the first signs of dawn." This is not a quick and simple answer to a long and difficult struggle. This is a process of growth. Yancey challenges me to ask the question, what is the purpose of my prayers? Do I desperately call out to God to hear my plea? Or do I pray to be in communion with Him?
Ouch! Communion? I am here to confess, my prayers are about gratitude, my prayers are about worship, my prayers are about petition; but communion? Regarding this kind of prayer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "Seek God, not happiness--this is the fundamental rule of all meditation. If you seek God alone, you will happiness: that is its promise." Have I been chasing God, merely, for my own satisfaction? Or do I chase God to be in communion with Him? The difference in my answer leads me out of my season of dryness. The difference in my answer sheds light on the dark night of my soul.
"Touching the void"-- not abandoning the effort, rather, looking at the silence full face; with the Psalmist saying, "I spread out my hands to you!" Instead of hiding away from God, claiming disappointment in His silence, we may enter communion with Him, guaranteeing satisfaction! James 4:8 affirms, "Come near to God and he will come near to you!"
Philip Yancey asks, "Do you seek only answers or will you seek communion?" Perhaps, this is the same question that God is asking today!