© 2016 Lynn Abbott
I remember the day we buried Dad as clearly as I do today’s events. When Mom and I returned from Dad’s memorial service, the indifferent phone clamored for our attention.
Exhausted and emotionally spent, we allowed the answering machine to pick up, and my father’s very familiar baritone, in an extremely matter-of-fact voice, stated, “Hello. This is Gene. I can’t come to the phone right now…”
Needless to say, my mom and I both burst into hysterical fits of laughter, and we vowed to switch the message as soon as possible. A little comic relief? I’d say so. But it was more than that.
It was the inauguration of a new path, a significant shift in my spiritual journey.
Maybe, I’m a bit slow. I dunno. However, it seems that as I have grown older, God has used each new stage to draw me into deeper relationship with Him. I’m sure it is possible to meet God in that way without physically aging, but for me, the two have often gone hand-in-hand.
And so it was that when my mother died a few years later, I didn’t have to ask God why. I already knew the answer even though I didn’t much like it.
Neither Mom nor Dad could come to the phone. Both had gone where there is no cellular service. And I could no longer discuss my day, my decisions or my joys with my trusted advisory team.
God played His Hand well. And like the title of Sheldon Van Auken’s book, I experienced “A Severe Mercy.” A glimmer of God’s grace in grief.
Funny that. You and I have access, previously unimaginable, to the Sovereign of the Universe. With the rending of the temple curtain upon Christ’s death, Yahweh was no longer inaccessible.
No longer, for fear of death, must humanity depend upon imperfect, human high priests or wait for invitation into the throne room. Christ has not only called us “friends,” but also taught us to pray radically, “Our Father.”
Yet, I frequently found myself running to human counselors rather than to the Divine. And God is a “jealous” God, so to speak.
He wants all of me–heart and soul. In fact, my life-long spiritual journey has been all about that: giving God more of me. And my parents’ deaths pushed me farther and higher.
In grief, I learned to “God Talk.”
Psychologists tell us that most of us “self-talk.” That talk is molded by our experiences, by others and by suggestions made by various external sources. And it’s pretty much constant. Incessant, actually.
Sometimes, self-talk yields positive results. Other times, it drags us down. It’s unpredictable like that. And those who preach positive thinking advise us to simply focus on the uplifting.
But God offers something better. Something more powerful. A gift of God’s grace, it frees me from self’s natural, limited point-of-view. It breaks the bonds of self-talk.
Paul describes it in three words, “Pray without ceasing,” (2 Thessalonians 5:17).
As a young person, I puzzled over that. It seemed impossible to pray continually. After all, I had to go to school and later to work. How could I pray without ceasing?
Yes, it is true that Christ took time out to pray daily, to commune with Abba. And that’s certainly important.
Prayer, however, encompasses so much more than that. It’s God Talk, and through it, His Word saturates and transforms our minds. As I meditate on the things Abba has told me in His Word, as I talk to Him about my concerns, my solitary self-talk is replaced with ongoing conversation with the Creator of the Universe. How amazing is that!
Instead of talking to myself, I continually sit in the presence of the Eternal Counselor, the Everlasting Father, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace. The Holy Spirit brings scripture to mind. And conversation with the Light of the World ensues.
I’m not sure why it took me so long to see it. The book of Nehemiah gives hints of this deeper relationship.
Nehemiah, in fact, understood God Talk well. Despite his rise to prominence while in Persian captivity, he longed for his native Israel’s capital to be rebuilt. In prayer, he expressed heartbreak over Jerusalem’s wasteland.
Apparently, he wore his grief on his… face. One day, while Nehemiah performed his duties as royal cupbearer, King Artaxerxes noted his demeanor: “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.”
Nehemiah tells us that he was very much afraid. Without a doubt, that’s the understatement of the year. After all, Jerusalem had been conquered by Persia. Nehemiah’s life was literally in Artaxerxes hands.
For this reason, Nehemiah scrambled to find a diplomatic way to express his heart. He began, “‘Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates consumed by fire?”
His respectful authenticity obviously earned Artaxerxes’ trust and the king responded in compassion. Nehemiah probably never anticipated what happened next: the king invited him to make a request.
Nehemiah’s gut reaction? He writes, “So I prayed to the God of heaven,” (Nehemiah 2:4).
Reading the passage carefully, I think I can safely conclude that Nehemiah did not drop to his knees before the banquet table or run to his room to pray. No, Nehemiah’s relationship with God extended even beyond his prayer closet. He practiced “God Talk.”
And the connection was clear.
So it is when I talk with Abba throughout each day’s journey. My Heavenly Daddy listens graciously to my unceasing chatter.
Of course, our conversation wasn’t always as continual as it is now. It grew as I did. Grief fostered faith and drew me to God’s throne of Grace…in much the same way as Nehemiah’s grief led him to pray.
And by the way, God blessed Nehemiah’s prayers. Not long after his interview with Artexerxes, Nehemiah journeyed to Jerusalem with permission from the Persian king to rebuild the city wall, (Nehemiah 2:9).
Yup. It all began with God Talk.
Before the journey is complete, I expect my life’s God Talk will grow deeper. One thing, however, is sure. In Christ, I may boldly dial direct.
Abba never roams out of range. And I never need ask, “Can you hear me now?”
“When Thou didst say, ‘Seek My face,’ my heart said to Thee, ‘Thy face, O LORD, I shall seek,'” ~Psalm 27:8
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect,” ~Romans 12:1,2
“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us,” ~Romans 5:3-5
“This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our LORD, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him,” ~Ephesians 3:11-12