Tuesday, September 2, 2008

God on mute?

Over the summer my church has been reading through a book by John Piper, When I Don't Desire God. At the risk of being stoned or excommunicated, I must now make a confession: I don't love most of his books. His preaching is amazing and I read his seminal work, Desiring God, when I first became a Christian and enjoyed it very much.

But I've found the handful of his subsequent books that I've tried to read to be sort of more of the same, variations on a theme. So I've been reading other things to stir myself to a deeper fellowship with the Lord. My current selection is God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer by Pete Grieg.

In case you haven't heard of him before, Pete Grieg is the founder of the 24-7 Prayer movement, a network of prayer rooms around the world focused on continual intercessory prayer. The 24-7 site says:
Participating groups pledge to pray 24 hours a day for a week or more in a dedicated prayer-room. They then 'carry the baton of prayer' for that period. The prayer passes from location to location in a never ending flow linked up by the Worldwide Web. We are a virtual community praying in real locations. Right now someone, somewhere is praying 24-7.
The movement began in 1999 to turn youth culture back to Christ and mobilize prayer. Sixty groups in 15 countries are now praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and seeing the Holy Spirit fill a place as well as a person (Acts 2:2).

ANYWAY, so I am reading God on Mute. And it's wonderful. Pete's wife, Samie, was diagnosed with an orange-sized brain tumor not too long after the 24-7 movement got underway. Pete's book doesn't pull punches as he outlines his own struggle with praying for Samie as she faced brain surgery and later, as seizures wracked her body. He honestly describes bargaining with God, arguing with Him, as he pleaded for Samie's healing. And in the process helps others either in desperate situations or who feel like they pray but there's no answer.

He focuses extensively on Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will" (Mark 14:36), a prayer after which there was no descending dove, no booming voice of God from heaven to reassure Him. Pointing out that Gethsemane means "the oil press," Grieg explains the pivotal role of olive oil in culture at the time of Christ. It was not only used for cooking, as it is today, but for fuel for lamps, as a tool in Israeli worship and to anoint kings. And how this fits with the imagery (and reality) of being crushed and broken:

Grieg writes:
This unparalleled resource ... could only be acquired by crushing the fruit of the olive tree to a pulp. Without intense pressure and the destruction of something good, there could be nothing better.

It's easy to see the potency of these images for Jesus, who endured such pressure that night in Gethsemane to become the everlasting Light of the World, the Healer of Nations and the anointed King of kings. Precious oil can flow in our lives too from the crushing experiences we endure. ...

We may not see any such beauty in our own lives, and perhaps this is good. But we know there is an anointing -- an authority -- that can only come to us through the darker trust of unanswered prayer. It is an illumination both in us and through us that can only come through suffering: a healing that we can only minister when we have ourselves been wounded. Ultimately we know that there is a sevenfold worship more precious to God than any other: the offering of a broken heart and a crushed spirit that prays, "Abba, Father, everything is possible for You. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what You will." (pp. 101-102)

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