Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

The 12th Hour: Praying after It’s Too Late July 27, 2012

Filed under: 2 Kings,Micah — Stephanie Rische @ 11:08 am
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Every Thursday I have the privilege of meeting with an amazing group of praying women. Most of them are older than me, wiser than me, and have a longer track record with God than me. I can’t quite explain it, but there’s something about the way they pray that makes my breath catch in my throat every time.

Their prayers have a certain unshakable quality to them—a kind of quiet confidence. They’ve seen God prove himself faithful so many times in the past that they know they can trust him, even when disaster is nipping at our heels.

One Thursday a few weeks ago we felt calamity’s hot breath panting closer than ever. We’d been praying a lot of “11th hour prayers” in recent weeks—asking God to intervene in desperate situations that were growing increasingly dire. Each week we came before God, asking him to step in at the final hour and prevent these worst-case scenarios from happening. We knew he could intervene. We’d seen him do it before.

But on that particular Thursday, all the things we’d been dreading became reality.

The woman with the two young daughters succumbed to cancer.

The marriage we were interceding for fractured beyond repair.

The prodigal we were praying for cut off communication with his mother and moved across the country.

The young immigrant who was struggling with depression took his own life.

As we gathered in our little meeting room, our hearts were heavy. How do you pray after it’s too late? How do you pray when the worst thing has already happened? How do you pray when the clock strikes midnight and God has just stood by, silent?

 

The Israelites knew this feeling of desperation well. The prophets had predicted that judgment was coming and that Israel—God’s chosen people, the very people who had been blessed with his special protection for generations—would be overtaken by their greatest enemy, Assyria. They were on the cusp of their worst-case scenario. Would they still have faith when the thing they dreaded most loomed large and inevitable?

In the midst of everything, the prophet Micah made this statement of quiet confidence:

As for me, I look to the Lord for help.

I wait confidently for God to save me,

and my God will certainly hear me….

Though I fall, I will rise again.

Though I sit in darkness,

the Lord will be my light.

—Micah 7:7-8

Micah didn’t insist that God would prevent disaster from coming his way. He didn’t assume that if he was faithful, God wouldn’t let him fall. But he did hold on to the belief that if he fell, God would help him rise again.

Hezekiah, the king of Israel during Micah’s day, didn’t let the promise of coming judgment skew his view of God either. Even when his world was on the verge of falling apart, he believed that God could still see what was happening, that he would still listen to his prayer:

 

O Lord, God of Israel…you alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Open your eyes, O Lord, and see!

—2 Kings 19:15-16

 

When our worst fears become reality and we no longer know how to pray, may we take our cues from those who have gone faithfully before us. Like my praying ladies, who continue to gather each Thursday, no matter which side of the disaster we’re on. Like the prophet Micah, who believed that God would raise him up again after he fell down. Like King Hezekiah, who believed it was never too late to ask God to bend down and listen.

We have passed the 11th hour, Lord. Yet still we pray. We beg you to bend down your ear to listen. Even when we don’t know the words to say.

Question: Have you passed the 11th hour in prayer before? What did you do?

 

I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year (not to be confused with chronically) and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.

 

Big Hope June 29, 2012

Filed under: 2 Kings — Stephanie Rische @ 1:09 pm
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  A few weeks ago my husband, Daniel, and I went to our friends’ house to introduce ourselves to the latest addition to their family—an adorable eight-pound bundle, newly arrived from the hospital and decked out in a duck-themed onesie.

We asked his parents if there was any special meaning to his name, and we found out that his first name means “Big Hope” in Korean. As I held him, I looked in his eyes—wide and unblinking, taking in everything with solemn contemplation. Big Hope. So much hope wrapped in something so small.

Not long after our visit, I was talking to my Tuesday prayer buddy. We’ve been praying over one thing consistently ever since we started meeting. Week after week, year after year. “I’ve been wondering,” she said. “What’s the point of hoping?” The question wasn’t bitter, nor did it stem from a lack of belief. She was asking genuinely, almost pragmatically. “Is there any real benefit to hoping?”

The woman from Shunem described in 2 Kings 4 had the same question. She and her husband had shown hospitality to the prophet Elisha whenever he was in town, and he wanted to do something for her in return for her kindness. She insisted that she didn’t need anything—she had a pretty good life already. But Elisha heard that she had no children, and he knew immediately the perfect gift for her:

Elisha said to her as she stood in the doorway, “Next year at this time you will be holding a son in your arms!”

 “No, my lord!” she cried. “O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.”

—2 Kings 4:15-16

Sure enough, though, she had a son, just as Elisha had promised. The miracle came true. Her hopes were fulfilled. But that’s not the end of the story.

When the boy was older, he was working out in the field with his father, and he suddenly became ill and died. The woman from Shunem went straight to Elisha, and she had a few words for him.

She said, “Did I ask you for a son, my lord? And didn’t I say, ‘Don’t deceive me and get my hopes up’?”

—2 Kings 4:28

Like my friend, this woman couldn’t see any advantage to hoping. If you don’t hope for something and God delivers, it’s a pleasant surprise, right? And if that longed-for thing doesn’t happen, well, then, maybe it prevents a little piece of your heart from breaking.

Our friends were taken aback to discover that in the United States, Hope is exclusively a girl’s name. I guess I’d never given that much consideration, but come to think of it, it does seem a little strange. What kind of commentary does that offer our view of hope? Does the fact that we don’t name our boys Big Hope reflect that we consider it lightweight? Dainty, even?

The poet Emily Dickinson didn’t do much for hope’s macho image when she described it as “the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul.” Our lexicon betrays our own fluffy interpretation: “I hope it won’t rain.” “I hope he’ll call me.” “I hope that semi coming toward me gets back on his side of the road.” We treat hope like so much wishful thinking, a feather that falls haphazardly wherever it chooses.

After doing a little digging about hope, I was intrigued to discover that in church history, the image used to depict it was pretty much the opposite of a feather: an anchor (Hebrews 6:19). Up until around the fifth century AD, it was one of the main symbols for Christianity, more prevalent than a cross. Believers in the first century even had the image of an anchor etched into their tombs as a symbol of the eternal hope they clung to.

I have to wonder if hope isn’t so much about the thing we’re hoping for itself but a tether to keep us close to the Granter of Hopes. Without hope, we drift aimlessly in the big ocean of doubt and fear and uncertainty. The woman from Shunem did get her son back—he was miraculously brought back to life. But whether or not God gives us the specific thing we long for, I believe hope is worth it. Hope pulls us back in, close to the heart of the one who anchors our souls.

I pray that hope as an anchor for you, my Tuesday friend. And on the days you can’t hang on yourself, I will hold on to hope on your behalf.

Big Hope.

“Hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky….Hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency.”
—Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

Question: Is there something you are hoping for? If you are having trouble hanging on to hope right now, I would be honored to pray for you.

I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.