Short Nights – Long Prayers

It’s 1:30 on Saturday morning and I can’t sleep – again. Oh, I’ve had a few hours, courtesy of the prescription sleeping pill I take every night – but for the past few nights, this is about the time I give up the fight, roll out of bed, put coffee on, and ask God, “now what?” Four a.m. has been my normal gittin’ up time, and I’ve been grateful for that. Those are precious hours spent in prayer and God’s Word before breaking off to begin daily prep time by 6:30.

But lately, the Lord has steadily been moving those clock hands further back, until the last three mornings have seen me fully awake, coffee in hand and Bible in front of me, at 1:30. That’s just a little weird. It’s not like I can take the day off and go back to bed several hours later. I have full days; four of them spent at my job all day, with frequent evening obligations. Days off from work are also full of “to-do” lists – minor details like laundry, shopping, errands, church, people. You know – life.

So, what is this? This is, I believe, an answer to prayer. My prayer. One that I have repeated countless times, in tears of seeking and surrender: “I want to know you; really know you. And the power of your resurrection, and the fellowship of your sufferings.” It’s Philippians 3:10 and it has been the cry of my heart for many years; a cry that has intensified, oddly enough, as God has begun to answer it. The more I get, the more I want – of Jesus.

But even that is not the full story. My heart hurts. Primarily for one of the most difficult mission fields I believe there is – that of good, church-going, of-course-I-believe-in-God, my-kids-are-in-AWANA-every-week, God-bless-America, throw-an-extra-$20-in-because–we-need-to-support-our-missions-work, solid citizens who show up more Sunday mornings than not and are fully convinced they are okay with God. Pastor and Author Dean Inserra calls them “the unsaved Christian,” participants in western cultural Christianity, inoculated with just enough Biblical lingo to be protected against the real thing. I recognize them – because I was one. And they are everywhere. And time is not on their side. And my heart hurts. And my tears fall. And my prayers arise.

The Biblical illiteracy that suffocates a true knowledge of God within the walls of our churches – never mind our general culture – is stunning in its breadth and depth. At the time in history when God has provided tools to sharpen the sword of His Word to a degree never before seen – because it was not needed to this degree before – we have buried our swords in the rock of laziness, unbelief, and emotionalism (“I’d rather feel it than know it”) and, like Excalibur, are now unable to draw them out. More than unable; unwilling.

So, we have exchanged our swords for plastic, make-believe light sabers and dull butter knives. We have listened to teachers by the dozens who have built careers on books, fog machines, and disco lights, who have fed us diets of “how great you are because God loves you” and theologically-skewed, repetitive and loud praise songs that supposedly worship a God we don’t really know. We quickly label as “legalistic” anyone who dares speak of a God of wrath Who can have nothing to do with sin – and therefore us – without a radical and true repentance, surrender, die-to-self obedience to the Savior of our souls.

Instead of recognizing that we are dead – putrid, stinking dead – in our sins, our feel-good religiosity has taught us that we’re just a little sick, and the medicine a God of love has provided is for us to ask Jesus into our heart – our deceived, desperately wicked hearts – and learn to live and love in tolerance of all things and all people, just like Jesus – our Good Example – did. Except He didn’t.

But after all, who needs the Book? We’ve got the Feelings. Instead of knowing and listening to the King of King and Lord of Lords who said, quite plainly, that unless we deny ourselves, die daily, and follow him, we cannot be his disciple – we have elevated “self” to the status of godhood: self-esteem; self-confidence; self-awareness; self-achievement; self-awareness; self-love.

So, is this what God gets me up early for? To write strident words of condemnation and judgment? No. It’s to break my heart over what breaks His – because I’ve asked for that. It’s to lift many loved individuals, friends and family, to the Holy One and plead for new hearts and opened eyes; to ask the Lord Who loves them to do “whatever it takes” to radically save them and send them out – knowing full well that “whatever it takes” may be sufferings of many kinds.

It’s to pray fervently use me in whatever way He sees fit, in whatever time He has left to me, to love with His love. To somehow reach the dear Vietnamese woman who does my nails, and who has told me in her halting English that she has wished to hang herself because her life is so difficult. Through her, God has not-so-gently reminded me that He has brought the nations to our doorstep since we seem to be so unwilling to send out our children and grandchildren to them. What do I do, Lord, what do I do?

It is to plead with my Lord to grant me words of wisdom and comfort and encouragement and exhortation to those who come to my door, or call my phone, or send me long texts, telling me of their depression and fear and anxiety; their failing marriages, their failing health; their imprisoned children; their own questions of “God, how could You?” – to somehow, some way, in the power of the Holy Spirit, make them understand that Jesus is their Living Hope; that abiding in His Word is the only way to draw life from the Vine; that they must examine themselves to ensure they are in the faith; that not everyone who says to Him, ”Lord, Lord” at the last day will be granted entrance into His Presence for eternity.

It is to go deeper into His Word, knowing it is actual nourishment – real food – and I’m hungry. To be reading a simple historical passage in 2 Chronicles about King Solomon bringing in all utensils and furnishings for the exquisitely finished and beautiful Temple, including the Ark of the Covenant into the Holy of Holies – and to suddenly be reduced to sobbing tears of worship and gratitude that this glorious God has chosen to make me His temple, the dwelling place for His Spirit.

And it is to pray for my sisters and brothers in Somalia, and the Sudan, and China, and Africa, and Nepal – simple people who know nothing of the extraordinarily rich life I lead in America – and of whom I am deeply envious because of their very deep, very real, very personal relationship with Jesus Christ, in the midst of their sufferings and persecutions for His Name’s sake. Oh, that I would know Him in that way. Whatever it takes. On the one hand, a dangerous prayer for this life; on the other, one that leads to the deepest joy and peace and blessing imaginable.

So. As I finish my second full cup of coffee at 3:20 a.m. – thereby guaranteeing I won’t fall back asleep – and prepare to shut this down, and go to the Word – the Living Word – to hear His Voice and to praise and worship Him with true thanksgiving – know that I am praying for you. I truly am. But I am not praying for lives of ease and comfort. I’m praying that you come to know Jesus in a real way – and that you, even today, pick up that heavy cross, and prepare to die – as you walk in His steps. And then to realize that truly – even that burden is light, and that yoke is easy – because the King walks with you.

He is worthy – and He is enough.