Our church is journeying in prayer this month. Our preaching series is “Questions of Prayer,” which aims to be honest about questions we share about prayer and give us orientation points for our praying. An optional step past Sunday morning is working through Steve Harper’s book, Talking in the Dark: Praying When Life Doesn’t Make Sense.
In the last post, I mentioned the balance of acknowledging mystery in our praying (that is, what we don’t know) and acknowledging revelation in our praying and our faith (that is, what we do know – what has been made known to us).
Steve Harper finishes chapter one, “The God Problem,” talking about the presence of God. Simply knowing from the Scripture that God loves us is good, but we need his presence as well. My children often ask for my presence by telling me, “I want company,” when I have told them something to do (“brush your teeth”, “go potty”). We have the same feeling with God. Steve writes, “Knowing that God is love is not enough. We need Presence, and that is precisely what God offers.” (p. 28)
Steve names three ways God offers his presence through difficult times:
- Conquering presence
- Comforting presence
- Clarifying presence
We need to acknowledge that God is able and does come as a conquering presence sometimes in the midst of, and as an answer to, our praying. Sometimes evil is thwarted, diseases are healed, and lives are changed – Praise be to God! Honesty about doubts and mystery can and should go hand-in-hand with acknowledging and giving thanks for the times when God is a conquering presence.
But sometimes evil seems to be permitted, disease continues, and lives remain on the wrong track. What then? At these times, God offers a comforting presence. That comforting presence can come to us as the “peace that passes all understanding.” But it can also strengthen us for the situation we find ourselves in. Steve brings to light the link between comfort and fortify—the Latin term fortis, which means strengthen. When God comforts, he gives us the sort of peace in the midst of the storm that allows us to press on in his strength and not our own.
Finally, God offers a clarifying presence. This is when God’s presence helps us put the present sufferings, challenges, difficulties, injustices, etc into an eternal perspective. Does this diminish their reality? No. Does this diminish their pain? No. But the larger perspective of eternity can give us the certain hope that God is victorious in the end and that the present affliction is only temporary, even though it seems larger to us.
Question: When has God offered you his conquering presence? His comforting presence? His clarifying presence?