(un)answered.

Massachusetts hardcore quintet, Defeater, recently released an album called, Abandoned – a visceral 40 minute epistle about a Catholic priest coping with grisly experiences while attached to an infantry unit in Europe during World War II through alcoholism. Consequently, this character feels distanced from God as he struggles to reconcile the horrible things he has seen, the choices he’s making, and trying to be the spiritual leader he needs to be – out of ammunition and cowering in a spiritual foxhole, waiting for God to answer his cries for help. The album’s concept ties into a meta-narrative that weaves throughout Defeater’s entire discography about a blue collared family from New Jersey in the 1950’s swallowed by tides of drug abuse and murder. According to the band, this album is a topical tangent written to outlet their struggles in believing in God. The angst shines bright through songs like Unanswered

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Abandoned – Defeater. Epitaph Records.

I was a good man once, I was a good man once.
But years of unanswered prayers have left me faithless.
I was a good man once but now hopeless and abandoned.
I was a good man once, I was a good man once.
But years of serving in hell have left me faithless.
I was a good man once but now hopeless and abandoned.
Now hopeless and abandoned.
Hopeless and abandoned.

Doesn’t that sound like a familiar mantra in many of our spiritual lives?

I think it’s interesting how much social commentary prayer receives and Defeater is one of many examples I’ve seen and heard. In season 4 of Boy Meets World, Sean Hunter begs God to save his father figure/mentor/English teacher that slipped into a coma from a motorcycle accident. Jason Street castigates his girlfriend in Friday Night Lights for praying healing over his paralysis from a tackle gone wrong in the series pilot. Prolific country artist Garth Brooks peacefully reconciles unanswered prayers in a song of the same title calling them “some of God’s greatest gifts.” Others like Mitch Lucker of Suicide Silence musically riot over prayer on the band’s debut record, The Cleansing, where in torment he screams “How much must I curse your name and put your beliefs to shame before you prove yourself and end this life? And I’ll say a ****ing prayer, because I know it won’t be answered, where is your god? Where is your ****ing god?” Prayer reveals a lot about us. Though all these examples are anecdotal, they all lean into an intimate topic that muses how we see God. In fact, Christian poet, George Herbert, calls prayer a “natural human instinct” that we default to in distress. Prayer may be comforting, sometimes it’s even painful, and other times it draws blanks.

Pastor Tim Keller wrote a book on prayer that I’ve been leafing through in the last month or so. I first picked it up at my roommate’s brother’s apartment in the North side of Chicago while on a short vacation and when I returned to Winona, I checked out a copy from the public library. There’s a lot of historical exposition from early church practices, famous theologian’s commentary, and scriptural based application of prayer as a discipline – all of which has offered valuable perspective.

In this book, Keller often looks to the example of Paul – a guy who survived and even thrived multiple imprisonments (Ephesians), shipwreck (Acts 27), poverty (Philippians 4), and a mysterious lingering ailment (2nd Corinthians 12). In a sermon series about prayer from the early 2000’s, Keller references David expressing ruthless honesty. The psalms are laced with illustrations (Psalm 3, 51) of a guy who has the baggage of an affair/murder caper and a rebellious son of his who wants the crown and to kill him. Both examples are derivatives of Jesus’ demonstration of how powerful prayer is. I could go on long tangents about the awesomeness and depth of Keller’s work, but here is the bottom line I learned…

David, Paul, and Jesus offered their everything and nothing to God. When times were good, they offered praise and thanksgiving for provision. Under taxing circumstances they brought their fears to the feet of God, trusting He will make all things right.

So should we.

When writing this post, I cracked open an old journal I bought from Target at the beginning of my junior year in college. In it, I’ve scratched down sermon notes from college group on Monday nights, Sunday mornings, entries pouring through break ups, moments of joy, retreats, step group, and leafed through almost three years worth of prayer requests. Its pages are stained, have rips, wrinkles, and a tattered, sticker covered, brown, leather cover. There are even sketches and a few laughs laced in between. It’s like that journal breathes. It brings back memories of prayer meetings, deep conversations with the people I care for, processing the recurrence of anxiety, and sorting out my shortcomings.

One of my favorite quotes in Keller’s book is when he said, “Prayer—though it is often draining, even an agony—is in the long term the greatest source of power that is possible.”Airing out my dirty laundry in those coffee stained pages traversed a lot of emotional landscape. I went on this odyssey back to my junior year of college that told the story of someone struggling with addiction and anxiety. Much like Defeater’s overtures… I was a “good man” once, but years of unanswered prayers to ease insecurity left me hopeless and abandoned. That kid experienced something profound, because after I finally took hold of the hand God extended to me in rescue, something changed. I cared about others for the first time. I saw God in the sublime – a cooked meal on my table, a bed to sleep in, friendships, and moments of laughter. Looking back on those entries, I saw the narrative of a guy who was scared. I was beginning to face systemic, lifelong issues that I wasn’t sure how to deal with, but all I knew is that my encounter with Jesus resorted me to lift these fears up in prayer. Those were not easy. Like Keller said… draining. Even agonizing. They haven’t really gotten any easier with time, but God has taught me through recovery that prayerfully processing the good, bad, and ugly is where I’ve experienced the most peace and gained the most perspective.

In Luke 18, Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow. It’s the story of a widow begging a godless, tenacious judge to give her justice in her case against someone who wronged her. Eventually, the judge agrees when he is burdened by the widow’s willingness to plead her case over and over again. Jesus says in verses 6 through 8, “And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Most importantly, the first verse in this parable says, “Then, Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” Keller echoes this in his book, saying, “The infallible test of spiritual integrity, Jesus says, is your private prayer life.

When I began to see prayer as a conversational dialogue with God and let Him (and others) in, prayer became easier. Easier. Not perfect. It’s a hard learned discipline that I’m still sharpening. I don’t want this to come across like I have this together and keep a strict schedule…. it’s sometimes very sporadic. But, I have been learning the value in keeping this line of divine communication open and active. I don’t know how many people can truly say they’re content with their prayer life. I’ve known a few and I’m definitely not one of them, but it’s part of the process in God operating on me. Letting the Holy Spirit surgically remove my character defects through conviction, counseling, support groups, vulnerability, and prayers of confession and praise has been part of this healing process. I am still learning patience. God giving me a “later” doesn’t embitter me anymore, but it can still be frustrating when I’m desperate for an answer. Hence, the persistence echoed by Jesus in Luke 18. Years of what I thought was unanswered prayers was God forging me in fire.

God wants us to enter into something intimate and vulnerable with Him. I cannot guarantee that God will grant you or I something like a promotion, a spouse/relationship, or even happiness, etc. but I can say from experience and from what scripture promises, is that prayer will change how we see temptation, trial, and even the smallest moments of joy. It’s like wearing a new corrective lens. Things become sharper. Clearer. James 5:16 is one of Celebrate Recovery’s most cherished passages and one I would share with anyone…. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About blangl33

A sojourning son of a living Savior.
This entry was posted in Devotionals, Journals, Music Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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