Sunday, October 4, 2015

Oregon Shooting, Miss Clara and Prayer

Another horrific mass murder, this time on the campus of a small community college in Oregon, leaves us with the same political debate that other recent and similar incidents have. Arguments will be made for more gun control on the one side and tight controls on guns will be argued against on the other. The arguments will go on, the politician may bring some change to laws, but the underlying reason and response to such tragedy will go largely undiscussed and unaddressed. My heart goes out the families of the victims.

I don’t want to enter into the gun control debate. I see problems with the arguments on both sides. It seems to be a divide that cannot be crossed in a rational and reasonable way. But such madness, as leads to these debates, has no political solution as such evil cannot be addressed through policy change. 

Rather, I want to think about our response to such tragedy, in a still largely Christian nation. We have some information about how the victims responded to the threats posed to their lives. We do know that they were made to confess whether or not they were Christians. Those who said yes, were shot in the head. Those who said they weren’t were shot in the leg.The facts are still unfolding.

The possibility is more real today that some deranged individual with evil intent will walk into a public place and open fire. Friday night my wife and I went to the movies and standing outside were two armed police officers. That was not a scene we would have taken much notice of ten years ago in my hometown of McKinney. Times have changed and are changing quickly.

We must be prepared but how?

We went to see the latest Kendrick brother’s movie “War Room.” If you have not seen this outstanding and very well acted movie you really need to. It is that important. 

There is a scene in which Miss Clara, the protagonist of the movie who is a elderly prayer warrior, and Elizabeth, a young wife and mom struggling with her marriage and the Lord, are walking in a public parking garage. They are accosted by a knife wielding man and ordered to turn over their money. Elizabeth responds with fear and willingness to comply with the thief. Miss Clara stands firm and rebukes the thief in “Jesus’ name.” The thief flees. 

What is the different between Miss Clara and Elizabeth?

Elizabeth and her husband Tony are Christians. They are pursuing the American Dream. They are portrayed as occasional church-attenders. They pray and give thanks before their meals. They do have serious marital issues and Tony is caught in an unethical business dealing as well as thinking about adultery.  Unfortunately, they are all too representative of the cultural Christianity that permeates much of American life. 

Miss Clara, on the other head, is a senior saint and widow who has discovered the power of the “War Room.” She understands deeply the power of prayer to overcome the flesh, the world and the evil one. Miss Clara understands the enemy is not the other person, not even the knife-wielding thief, but a real thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). She is confident that through intercessory prayer Elizabeth can regain peace in her life, as well as her marriage. The power of her prayer life allows her to stand boldly before her would be assailant. She is prayed up! 

A pastor friend of mine recently asked on Facebook, “The gunman in Oregon told all Christians to stand and then he shot them. Would you have stood?” How would you answer that question? 

Many of the responders offered a bold “yes” which is certainly good, if also subject to some self-examination. Without being in such a life threatening situation we can only hope how we might respond, especially if we’re not prepared or trained. It’s easy to be bold on Facebook but Facebook is not the real world. My response: “I would depend on the Holy Spirit, prayerfully.” At least, I hope I would. 

In Nehemiah chapter 2, we find a different real world encounter. Nehemiah, the king’s cupbearer, went before Artaxerxes to ask to be sent back to Jerusalem to begin a rebuilding project. We read: 

“In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, ‘Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.’”

“I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, ‘May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’”

“The king said to me, ‘What is it you want?’”

“Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, ‘If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.’” (Nehemiah 2:1-5, emphasis mine). 

A servant was not permitted to be sad in the presence of the king. It was no a small matter, as it could cost his life. Nehemiah’s faith was strong even if his countenance wasn’t but he was still afraid. When confronted by the king as to the nature of his request, Nehemiah first prayed (Nehemiah 2:4). Right there, before the king, Nehemiah prayed. But this wasn’t the first time Nehemiah had prayed. According to the first chapter of this account, Nehemiah had prayed for days (v 1:4). Nehemiah was prayed up! 

What does this have to do with the Oregon shooting and the answer to the question of how would you respond in the face of such a life-threatening encounter? 

The story of “War Room” and of Nehemiah inform us well of an important reality, especially in a culture where we turn first to our own strengths and abilities. Regardless of how we might profess our boldness, if we don’t know the power of a prayed up life, if we are not walking in the Spirit daily, and trusting his presence in our lives, we just may fail the test if that moment comes. 

The contrast between Miss Clara and Elizabeth is an important one today when we in the Church of America take intercessory prayer for granted and it is seldom practiced. Now more than ever we must stand boldly, in the full armor of God, and as Paul instructs: 

“pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:18)

Thankfully, we also have the promise that our response doesn't depend on us when we depend on him (Matthew 10:19-20). 

Prayer for assurance: 
Lord, I do not want to fail you if that moment was to come but while I know that my spirit is willing the flesh is weak. Meet me in the “War Room” where I desire to find and trust in you alone. Fill me each day with your power and presence so that I might stand boldly in Christ. Amen.

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