Yesterday began normally for a city farther north in our province; blue sky, light winds, but very hot with low humidity. By mid-afternoon the winds shifted. Within minutes, a forest fire to the southwest doubled in size and came raging toward them. This is city houses many part-time workers in the oil industry varying the population from 50,000 to 100,000. The fire went wild and orders to evacuate certain sections began, but by suppertime, the entire city was told to get out. The four lane highway became a one-way and the smoke dropped visibility. Air quality went off the chart.
I watched the ‘breaking news’ on television and began to pray. That quiet voice of the Holy Spirit immediately told me to think before I opened my mouth. My first thought was: what is God doing by allowing a fire like this? I know He controls the weather so why so hot and dry, so vulnerable? This city is known for lots of money; have people become more interested in making money than anything else? I felt like crying at those questions; these people are fleeing for their lives without much more than they can fit in a suitcase or their cars. I don’t know much about them, yet stopping to think about the will of God affected the way I prayed.
In today’s devotional, Chambers says to guard against bringing personal sympathies to God with a demand that He does what I ask. This writer uses verses that remind me of the only reason I can pray in the first place . . .
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:19–25)
My approach to God can only happen because of His Son’s sacrifice; I have confidence in prayer because of the blood of Jesus. He died for my sin, and that makes prayer a humble privilege, not a spiritual right. God is still God, not a genie in a bottle. He tells us to pray according to His will. That is vital.
So is intercessory prayer, yet Chambers says another vital thing: I can think that parts of my life are not in need of the blood of Christ because I am doing just fine in those areas. With that view, it is easy to overlook the common needs of every sinner, particularly if they seem to be doing just fine. If I do that, then intercessory prayer is easily discarded. After all, if I am ‘okay’ then others are too and I don’t need to concern myself with them.
This attitude has other symptoms. One of them is getting annoyed with God because He does not have the same sympathy toward the needs of others as I do. I think they should be healed; He does not heal them. I think they should not suffer; He seems to ignore their struggles.
I want to pray for a miraculous storm to rise out of that cloudless sky (those ‘clouds’ are smoke) and pour rain to douse the fire and save the homes. The horror of the scene overwhelms objectivity; I want God to stop this tragedy. But what if God is answering someone’s intercession, someone who has asked Him to awaken souls to their need of Him? Or what if His church in that place has slid into a ‘living for worldly pleasure mode’ and He is going beyond mild discipline?
Our Father God isn’t into comfort like most of us. He loves the Son, yet to save sinners, He put His dear Jesus to a horrible death. It is with “much tribulations” that we enter the kingdom of God, and after getting there, we are not immune to pain and loss. Paul suffered the loss of all things that he might know Christ. Peter also wrote to persecuted believers:
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10)
Unless He reveals otherwise, I can only guess what God is doing, but I know that He is in charge of the wind and the rain, and can control which homes stay standing, and which burn to the ground. He can also reach the hearts of needy people.
The trauma of this massive fire is extreme, but so is the realization that I need to be on guard that my natural sympathy for human suffering does not overwhelm me and prevent me from seeking the will of God and how to pray. This does not mean to drop compassion. It does mean yielding to the right and power of God to bring people into His kingdom — and into a deeper and fuller obedience — in whatever way He decides.
I’m stressed, as is everyone watching this terrible event. How can the will of God be discerned when my stomach is in a huge knot? When this happens, my hubby often offers this quote: “If you don’t know for sure between judgment and mercy, it is better to err on the side of mercy.”
God’s words echo in my heart today: “Be careful how you pray” but also “Blessed are the merciful . . . !”