Why I Don’t Talk to April But Pray

When my dear April ceased to breathe, a piercing emptiness settled over my home and my soul. Where once there had been laughter, playful banter, and deep theological reflection now there was only thick, sticky, and suffocating silence.

As my heart broke under the weight of April’s death, I longed to be heard, to pour out my heart without reserve and without concern of time, schedule, or setting. But when I asked aloud, “Where are you, my love?” the air brought back no reply.

Why I Generally Don’t Talk to April

Though some have suggested that I trade my past marital dialogues for a therapeutic monologue, I find the option rather uncompelling if not troubling. I have no idea how April would respond to the experiences, concerns, hopes, worries, and fears that I now carry about with me. I can certainly speculate about how she might react to this or that. But as all good historians know, such speculations prove to be anachronistic and wholly inauthentic. They are nothing more than the manifestations of our imaginations on to reality which by logical necessity distort reality. We cannot project out without either adding to or taking away from what would be real. Such imaginary interactions with our dead loved ones are to reality what orcs are to men.

But even if she were to interact with my ramblings from heaven, she would have little to share with me for she is perfect, and I (as my kids will happily attest to) am not. As Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” The struggles, fears, worries, hopes, and desires that I wish to process aloud with her, the things the make me yearn for her open ear, derive from my incomplete knowledge of the Lord and from my sinful frailty. April no longer shares in those things, nor can she relate to my incompleteness for she knows the eternal joy of completeness. She has crossed the Jordan. Even if she could respond to my mumblings, I could no more understand her knowledge than a three-year-old could understand the terminology used to develop rocket science. As Paul noted of his vision of heaven, “he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” And what she could share with me has already been shared with me through the Scriptures. As Jesus said in his parable of the rich man and Lazarus, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them (Lk 16:29).”

This is not to say that April has no knowledge of me nor awareness of what happens in my life or in the lives of our dear children while she awaits Christ’s return in heaven. Scripture seems to indicate some heavenly awareness of earthly things. But while her love for us and us for her remains, we have no meaningful way to communicate. Death has separated us until it will one day again unite us. Until then, I must embrace the reality of her absence.

Why I Pray

But I do not have to embrace the silence. Though I have lost the companionship of my April for a time, I am not alone. My cries do not go unheard. The Psalmist offers all who grieve a glorious hope writing, “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry.” I still process my life out loud. I cry out to the Lord through the penetrating silence that has enveloped my bedroom, kitchen, car, office, and even the church sanctuary. When I am alone and in need of help, I talk to the God who is there in the silence, bottling my tears as I weep through the night, extending grace to me as I argue with him through the day, and filling my heart with hope as I plead for fresh signs of his goodness and love. In other words, I do not bottle up my emotions but rather audibly process them with the Lord. The Puritan John Flavel who discovered the goodness of this process a few hundred years before me wrote,

To whom should children go but to their father, to make their moan…Did we complain more to God, he would complain less of us, and quickly abate the matters of our complaint.

Oh friends, it is sweet to process one’s life through prayer. Indeed, to talk with God is to commune with him and to experience the truth, love, and grace that transforms our lives.

However, such practices are not unique to widowers or to the grieving. As one theologian noted,

Invoking God, calling on him in prayer, isn’t an emergency measure…something that we turn to in extremity, at the hour of death or disappointment or depression. Calling on God’s name accompanies all of human life and all human activity.

Or to borrow from the apostle Peter, all of us are to cast our cares upon Christ because he cares for us (1 Pt 5:7).

What April Knew

Towards the end of her life as April verbally processed her fears with me, she would at times bring our conversations to a conclusion and kindly say, “I don’t expect an answer from you, Peter.” The comment unnerved me. I was her husband…her best friend…her truest confidant…her pastor. Surely, I should have some answer…some hope to offer…some word to say. But with each passing day, I have come to increasingly appreciate her wisdom in those moments. My shoulders could not carry all her burdens. Nor could her’s carry mine. They were not designed to. But Christ’s could. To Him, she turned.

A few weeks later when I lost my April, my heart shattered into a million pieces like a glass striking a hard kitchen tile. Nothing made sense. Everything hurt and was out of place. But I was not alone. Though he crushed me, my God did not leave me nor forsake me. He heard me. He hears me.

Don’t talk to the dead who cannot help us as they await the resurrection. Talk to the God who hears!  

Don’t Post…Pray

As the post coronavirus world spins about with seemingly little regard for the axis of sanity, men and women find their hearts weighted down by tomorrow’s fears. Like the soothsayers of old, they dissect the animal of social media, seeking to extract messages about the future. Equipped with unverified tidbits of truth, they take to social media, believing a barrage of tweets and articles linked to their Facebook page will convince the world that social distancing will lead to the downfall of the United States. Others fear a lack of facemask will result in thousands of needless deaths. Regardless of the fear, most American seek the same anti-dote: social media validation. This should not be the practice of the Christian. We should find our hope in the sweet closet of prayer, tucked away from buzzing highway of social media.

David wrote Psalm 3 as his world descended into chaos. His son, Absalom, had declared himself king. As David fled Jerusalem, his top advisor joined the rebellion. In the space of a few hours, the comforts of home were replaced with the fears of death. The whole world had gone against him. David writes, “Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, “There is no salvation for him in God (Ps 3:2).” Though David’s world lacked sanity, David did not lack hope. He knew God was his shield. Though men had turned against him, David knew God had placed him on Israel’s throne. God’s could not be overthrown by a rouge prince. David placed his trust in God.

Christian have even more cause to place their trust in God because he has died for their sin. The Christian’s glory is the glory of God given to her at salvation. God died to save her, lifting her from death to life. Since God saved her, she has every reason to trust God with her coronavirus fears.

Facebook post cannot keep you or I from catching the nasty virus. Twitter battles cannot prevent the downfall of our nation. But God can. Not only can God protect us, we can trust him to protect us for he hears our cries for help. David writes, “I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill.” Though David slept in a tent while Absalom slept atop David’s castle, God heard David. Though fears may dance atop our hearts, God still hears and answers our prayers from the pit of chaos.

The Christian’s Instagram post will not change the thinking of the President, of the Governor, or of the mayor. They will not hear the Christian’s theory about what the doctors are really up to. If the truth-be-told, most of our friends will not take our concerns seriously. But God hears the cries of his people. The ruler of the universe who directs the hearts of kings and who laughs at the armies of earth hears our prayers. Our Facebook posts cannot prevent anarchy. But, God can. Our Twitter wars cannot heal the sick. But, God can. Our Instagram posts cannot keep the church from mishandling the coronavirus crisis. But, God can. E.M. Bounds notes,

National affairs need to be prayed over…Lawmakers, law judges, and law executives need leaders in Israel to pray for them. How much fewer mistakes if there was more praying done in civil matters?

Do you fear death, the destruction of the economy, or a police state? Follow David and pray to the God who hears you. To whom will you take your fears?

Did Prayer Fail?

prayWhy pray? Why go to church? Why worship God?

These questions have been dramatically tossed out before our culture. When Devin Kelly slaughtered twenty-seven people ranging in age from an unborn baby of eight months to a seventy-seven year old man, he directly challenged the value of Christianity.  When men, women, and children our gunned down in the very act of praying and worshiping, culture cannot help but surmise that following Christ is a pointless practice. And now some would extend that sentiment and claim that religion is dangerous.

Most members of secular culture tolerate some religious observances. The finger pointed up to heaven as the baseball player rounds the bases and the kneel by the quarterback who just crossed the goal line are deemed acceptable. Admittedly some do get a little queasy when encountering these displays of religious devotion. But most Americans view religion to be nothing more than the Marxian opioid that enables people to slug through the difficulties of life. Our secular friends do not inhale our religious fumes but they are happy for us to partake.

Much of that indifferent, societal good will vanished on Sunday, November 7.  The worship of Christ resulted in the death of twenty-seven people. Instead of working hard to create laws that would have protected them and others from a mass shooting, the men, women, and children were worshiping God at church. Even worse, several national politicians worship this God.

According to many in celebrities and politicians, the prayers of the church members and other Christians failed. The day began with friendly smiles ended in the tears of sorrow. Hence our culture asks us, “Why pray?” The rhetorical questions implies we should not pray. God is distant, asleep, or at the very least inept. The time for prayer is gone according to the great thinkers of the twitter universe. The time for meaningful human action has arrived. Society needs to dispense with the opioids of religion and take real action.

While many in America challenge the relevance of praying, they do so from a secular worldview. They challenge prayer because they believe religion is nothing more than a social drug. They deny the reality of heaven and hell. Many Americans are modern day epicureans, seeking to find meaning in pleasure and experience. They believe that joy consists of doing as much of what you want when you want it for tomorrow we die.

They may employee the occasional prayer to God when they encounter an illness or a bumpy airplane ride. But to them, prayer is nothing more than one of many life-lines that can be used to escape or lessen tragedy. And if it fails to help you achieve your goals it should be abandoned.

But this is not the end goal of the Christian worldview. The goal of the Christian, to borrow from the shorter catechism, is, “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” The goal of the Christian is to commune and to be with God. Christians do not discover life through accumulating wealth, through mastering education, or through experiencing unique events. They discover life by experiencing God through his word and prayer by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Did Devin Kelly’s murderous actions separate his victims for the love of God? Did he destroy the Christian worldview? Did prayer fail?

Did Prayer Fail?

No.  Death is not the end of life. Death is when real life begins for the Christian. Death is not the ultimate sign of resignation and failure. For the believer, death is the conduit through which he or she accesses unfiltered communion with God. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:23 that, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ for that is far better.” Being with Christ means we experience no more pain, sorrow, or frustration. And it means we commune with God perfectly. We will no longer experience quiet times interrupted by day dreams. We will no longer fall asleep while praying. We will no longer leave a worship service perturbed, confused, and unloved. We will have a perfect relationship with God. The men, women, and children who died that day did not experience futility or failure. Their prayers did not go unanswered. They were answered in the most real and meaningful way possible. They came to worship God in part and ended the day worshiping him in full. To be with Christ is far better than anything in this world.

Why We Hurt?

While death was gain for the 27 people who died a few days ago, death is not gain for their families and for the people left behind. Paul also deals with the reality of loss. He notes in Philippians 2:24 “But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” Paul knows that death breaks human relationships. Death brings harm and discouragement to those who are left behind. Thankfully, God’s grace and mercy covers and sustains the broken-hearted. But the pain and sorrow associated with death is poignantly real, seeping into the depths of our hearts.  Christ had to die to overcome death. And he did. And all who follow him will not be conquered by death. Rather they join Christ and conquer death through the power that raised Christ from the dead. All who appeal to God through prayer confessing their sins will not be disappointed. They may not get their best life now on this earth. But they get something far better. They get what God promised them, life with him.

Did prayer fail on November 7, 2017? Absolutely not.

Will you keep praying?

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[i] against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.[j] 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-37