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Article 26 of 32 from the Miscellaneous series

July 2003

Monday: Putting the Letters Together

Someone clipped a comic strip called “One Big Happy” and left it on my desk. The first panel shows a little girl kneeling by her bed getting ready to say her prayers. It must have been a long day for her because she begins this way: “I’m so very tired tonight that I can’t even remember the words to my prayers.” In the next panel she folds her arms on the bed and adds, “But since you already know what I’m going to say …” She then begins to say the letters of the alphabet: “A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z.” In the final panel she looks plaintively toward heaven and says, “Maybe you could put the letters together in the right way. Thanks and Amen.”

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I thought about that comic strip after returning from my mother’s funeral service several months ago. After I received word that my mother had died, we hastily rounded up our three sons and made a quick trip to Alabama. The whole thing is a blur in my mind. One moment you’re home, and your life seems to be running smoothly, then suddenly you are hundreds of miles away greeting old family friends you haven’t seen for decades. It was a true “wrinkle in time” for me where the past, the present and the future all seemed to come together for a fleeting moment. Then just as suddenly, you’re back home again trying to get on with the demands of life.

I do remember that I had trouble praying during the trip to Alabama. Perhaps “trouble” isn’t precisely the right word. Perhaps I mean that for those few days I felt distracted and unable to concentrate. It was emotion plus weariness plus being a bit under the weather plus seeing so many old friends so suddenly. But for whatever reason, prayer was difficult and came in spurts, when it came at all.

And it is precisely at this point that I take comfort from the little girl’s prayer. Paul reminds us in Romans 8:26 that very often we do not know how to pray. We don’t know the words, we aren’t sure what to say, our minds can’t focus, and the strength simply is not there. In those moments we have the consolation that the Holy Spirit prays for us when we can’t pray for ourselves. He speaks to the Father with groans that cannot be expressed in human words. This means that we need not feel guilty when we cannot pray. The Holy Spirit “puts the letters together” when we can’t find the words to say.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI.

Tuesday: Sharon’s Law

It happened like this. I was sitting by myself in the airport because my flight had been delayed when a woman named Sharon took the seat next to me. I know her name because she introduced herself and started chatting with me. When she found out I was flying to New York to teach Galatians, she said that she had been in a Bible study of the book of James with some women from her neighborhood.

She and her husband are farmers from western Illinois. She was traveling east to visit her son. At this point the story gets a bit complicated. If I got it right (and I think I did but I’m not certain), she and her husband have two sons, both of them raised in the Christian faith but neither son attends church at this point. The son out East lives in a house with a woman he used to date years ago. The woman was never married but has a child by someone else. The son and the woman he once dated are still good friends. The woman’s child is six years old and Sharon loves her as if she were her own granddaughter. Plus there is another man who lives in the same house. I guess he’s a friend of the son and of the woman. The son and the woman he once dated are not “living together” in the usual sense of that phrase. So I said, trying to piece it all together, it’s sort of like the TV show Three’s Company, only with two guys and a girl. Yes, sort of, Sharon said with a smile. Her son and the woman don’t plan to get married but the son says neither one of them is likely to marry anyone else given their current housing arrangements. And to be precise, Sharon was flying to Baltimore to take care of the “granddaughter” because the mother (her son’s former girl friend, now a regular friend, I guess you’d say, and also a housemate) works for the government and was flying to Iceland for some sort of high-level conference. I think that about covers it. I told Sharon that I barely understood it all and didn’t think I could diagram it on paper.

When all is said and done, Sharon’s greatest desire is to see her son rededicate his life to the Lord. She had wrestled with all of the other details and complicating circumstances until one day the Lord told her, “Sharon, you just love him. I’ll change him.” And that’s what she decided to do. Since then, everything has gone much better. “I just love him, and I let the Lord take care of everything else,” she said with a smile. That’s Sharon’s Law, and it sounds just right to me.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI

Wednesday: His Eye is On the Sparrow

It has been well said that God’s omniscience is a comfort to believers and a terror to unbelievers. The comfort is easy to see. If he truly knows all things and if he ordains all things, then everything that happens to me or to those I love must happen as part of his plan. F. B Meyer has written, “It is in proportion as we see God’s will in the various events of life and surrender ourselves either to bear it or do it, that we shall find earth’s bitter circumstances becoming sweet and its hard things easy.”

I received a message from someone who had never written me before. Suffice it to say that this person’s family is going through a terribly difficult time and there is no end in sight. The trial may continue for some time to come. This is what she wrote: “I have known the truth of Romans 8:28 in my head for many years, but only over the last month have the words had a meaning for my heart. I am convinced that this whole situation has a purpose, but I am still struggling with the “What.” Without the promises of God, I am sure that I would be unable to carry on, going to work and supporting my kids. If this letter sounds disjointed, it is just how my thoughts have been over the past several weeks. But I have continued to hold on to this truth… Don’t worry about 2 or 3 weeks from now, because God has already been there. I know that he continues to hold our entire family in the palm of His hand and that He is directing this to its own end and to His glory. I know that since He cares for the sparrows, He surely is caring for us.”

That’s a wonderful statement by a believer who, though struggling to understand her own situation, has rested her faith on the fact of God’s sovereignty over the details of life. Somewhere I ran across a wonderful statement of what sovereignty really means. God’s sovereignty means “He knows what he is doing, and he is doing it.” That sums it up, doesn’t it?

During a low period in the life of noted author Andrew Murray, he wrote the following words: “He brought me here. He will keep me here. He will make this trial a blessing. He will bring me out again. Therefore, I am here by God’s appointment, in His keeping, under His training, for His time.” It is often said that “disappointment is his appointment.” We don’t see that in advance, only in reverse. Be encouraged. God knows what he is doing even when we don’t have a clue.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI

Thursday—Forever Grateful

The letter came from a friend whose husband is slowly dying. Both husband and wife know the Lord and both of them know what is ahead. She writes to say that her husband has good days and bad days, but “he is still strong, and he and the Lord have some more time for him to be on the earth.” She has been thinking lately about how many days he may have left, and wondering how her prayers fit into God’s plan. Would it be better for her to know the day when her husband is going to die? In some ways, she thinks the answer is yes, because that way she could be fully prepared. But is that a selfish way to pray? Is this just a “control” issue? In her heart she knows the answer. “I absolutely want the Lord’s timing and know that he will prepare me and be with me through all of everything.” Then she adds these inspiring words: “I am sooooo grateful, Pastor Ray. Just to know that, whatever happens, how and when and where, God has it planned and blueprinted!!! What a God!”

There is a great deal of good theology behind those words (and even those fervent exclamation points). While surfing the Internet this week, I came across a sermon by David Coffin, pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church, in Fairfax, Virginia. In his sermon “Our Times are in His Hands,” he comments that there are in fact terrors all around us. “There are forces all around us that can dash our hopes in an instant.” Sickness is one such force, and death perhaps is the ultimate example. “But God has a purpose for so ordering the world. It is in such a cauldron that He refines His people. It is precisely here that God purifies that which is good and cuts away the rest. It causes us to cling to Him, to the one unchanging certainty in our universe.” Pastor Coffin comes to exactly the right conclusion when he says, “The only remedy for calming our minds is to rest on the God of providence. We are under the governance of God. The storms of the world will continue to rage, but God has overcome the world.” I like that phrase-"the governance of God.” He’s always in control.

My friend has come to that same triumphant certainty: “So Pastor Ray, God is still as Big as ever, still in control, and loving and holding us all close and will remain always … in however we need him. I’m forever grateful … just as the song says.” This is not wishful thinking, but the conclusion of a believer who has trusted in the Lord. Solid doctrine leads to grateful living even in life’s hardest hour.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI

Friday—Waiting and Enduring

A friend wanted some advice. After long years of study, he finally had graduated with excellent grades, many awards, and a ranking near the top of his class. He had only to pass an exam and then the doors of opportunity would be open to him. For various reasons, there were problems with the exam and he did not pass. And despite his excellent record, he didn’t receive an invitation to further study in his chosen field. And since he did not pass the exam, he could not take the excellent job offers he had received. Now he has no job, he has to take the exam again, and he finds himself with a huge school debt that he cannot pay. These are his words: “Lately I have been really asking God to show me why he has done this. It seems like the things that my wife and I pray for the hardest are the things that God is not answering in our prayers. Lately I have been praying and praying more than I ever have, but I don’t feel like I’m any closer to God and that scares me. I am doing my best to put my faith and trust in the Lord, but it’s hard because I feel I want to blame Him and I know that is not right. I’ve asked him to forgive me for this and show me where he wants me to go.”

I appreciate the honesty of his words. What is God saying through these difficulties? Perhaps it is a kind of “wake-up” call. One problem we all face is that it’s easy to fall into a pattern of thinking, “If things work out, I must be in God’s will and if they don’t, I must have missed it somehow.” The problem there is one of perspective. We need to think of knowing God as a relationship that grows over time. No relationship can grow deep if it is based on one person getting his own way all the time. My wife and I would both say that it is the hard times that brought us closer together. It didn’t seem that way at the time, but looking back we can see it clearly.

One of God’s goals, his tools to develop us, is to put us in situations where we must wait and must endure and must persevere. Those are rich spiritual qualities that can’t be developed except in hard times. What do we do while we wait and endure? Keep on trusting, keep on praying, and keep on waiting. Take a deep breath, smile, do what needs to be done, find some joy in each day. Soon you’ll be moving on to the next chapter in life–and you will look back and say, “My Father led me all the way.”

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI.

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