The Redemptive Purpose of Desperation
When It’s Just You and Jesus
By Rick Padgett
You and I might be impressed with a remodeled vacation house, a shiny and powerful SUV, a great winter jacket, or expensive new boots, but God is looking at our hearts. That’s what attracts His attention, and He proves it in the life of David. When Samuel was considering candidates for Israel’s second king, God steered him away from those who appeared impressive on the outside.
The Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
Despite all of David’s later excesses, God never lost His fascination with this shepherd-king. If anything, God’s promises to David became more extravagant. Among the strongest, unbreakable promises God made to a man in Scripture are those He made to David. God said, in effect,
“There is no way I’m ever going to change my mind about the house of David. I will set one of your descendants on the throne forever. It’s never going to change” (2 Sam. 7:16, my paraphrase).
I’ve often thought, Well, God, David sure gave You a lot of excuses to change Your mind! Something in the heart connection between David and God, however, released God’s extravagance. God gives us extravagant promises, too—individually, one-on-one. But let’s look first at the backdrop of everyone’s life story.
Everyone’s Story of Desperation
You know that feeling when everyone disappears except you and God? When it’s just you and Him and nobody else? My word for that is desperation.
It’s no coincidence that 70 percent of the Psalms address times of desperation in the lives of David, Asaph, and other psalmists. Sometimes the desperate circumstances loomed ahead. Sometimes the desperate times were past realities. Often, the desperate situations were present threats. What happens when we face desperate situations? Or, better put, what do we want to happen?
1. We ask hard, difficult, desperate questions. “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Ps.13:1–2).
We rarely feel so alone as we do when we face desperate situations. In the times we want and need God most, we often feel that He disappears. We know He has promised never to leave us or forsake us—at least, we believe that at first. Then the questions begin to swirl around us, disorienting and disturbing us. The same was true for David. In every psalm, however, he uses such doubts as springboards to earnest, focused prayer.
2. We pray urgent and desperate prayers. “Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ and my foes will rejoice when I fall” (Ps. 13:3–4).
If there is anything good about dire circumstances, they engage us emotionally on the deepest heart level and then super-energize our prayers. David often prayed (my paraphrase), “You’re my God. Now prove it by saving me! If you don’t, I’m going to die. Then the wrong people will celebrate for the wrong reasons.”
Of course, there are worse things than dying. We see that repeatedly in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. The Apostle Paul could say, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Still, if God fills you, you want to live to the full, not die haphazardly, recklessly, needlessly.
So, we pray! We pray with urgency and fervor, knowing God is the only One who can guarantee our life and safety. In even the worst of circumstances, the Lord can give us His peace and assurance and courage and boldness.
3. We cling to God more desperately than ever. “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me” (Ps. 13:5–6).
In the midst of terrible turmoil, how could David worship God, especially with such confident and joy-filled words? The above verses from Psalm 13 are only a few examples of his consistent habit of acknowledging his terrible plight, asking life’s toughest questions (knowing God alone has the answers), and then remembering God hasn’t forsaken him.
David could do this even though God’s answers and presence didn’t automatically shield him from the traps, arrows, spears, and swords of his enemies. Sometimes wicked wounds and gruesome deaths surrounded him. Yet he always promised and fully expected to praise the Lord—if not here, certainly on the other side.
Most of us will never see an active war zone in this life. Yet life can still crash down around us, destroy us, and then take us out.
Desperation is when there’s no Plan B, when we’re beyond human help, when God has us exactly where He wants us to be.
Ed Bower’s Example
My friend Ed Bower was a master of understatement. He never made a big deal about anything. I guess he had decided if something was important or funny, it didn’t need a drum roll.
Ed had cancer, and I spent many hours with him in the last stages of his illness. We sat in his family room surrounded by medical equipment and hospice care. In those final weeks, Ed would bless every visitor in what seemed like an unfair exchange. Those who came to comfort, left comforted. Those who came to encourage, left inspired.
Shortly before Ed left us, another friend asked if he could come along on my weekly visit. Ed and his wife graciously agreed even though they didn’t know my friend. But I was nervous. As I ushered my friend next to Ed’s bedside, I didn’t know what to expect. I decided to sit back and let things take their course.
Ed was remarkably lucid that day. After some small talk, we were faced with the stark reality of a dying man surrounded by his wife and seven children. Into the uneasy air of the room my friend asked a seemingly innocent question. He looked at Ed with genuine compassion and asked, “What days does your doctor come?”
In Ed’s typical monotone he answered, “The doctor doesn’t come anymore. It’s just Jesus and me.” Ed’s matter-of-fact response hit me like a stun grenade to the chest. I looked away. My head was spinning and I could barely breathe. I don’t even remember how I said goodbye. I think my friend prayed. I just remember slumping against the garage wall outside as I waited for my friend to say his goodbyes.
Trying to understand what had just happened, I began to pray, God, what is going on?
Immediately I heard His quiet voice of authority: This isn’t about Ed. It’s about you. What is true for Ed is true for you. It is always just you and Me.
Ed gave me insight into how to live life with little static. Very little stood between Ed and God. All the voices interrupting his need for God had been silenced, and he reveled in God’s presence around him.
God is still saying, “It’s always just about you and Me.” In His infinite math, He is one, and He deals with each of us as one. At the same time He wants all of you and all of me. He seeks out the most irreducible of relationships—the one-on-one journey—to demonstrate His vast and jealous faithfulness to our hearts. I call it God’s unlimited fidelity.
God’s Promises in Our Desperation
So what are God’s extravagant promises for you and for me, individually, one-on-one? At the point of desperation, God is always there.
God is looking for the strength of desperation in every heart, and He will pursue you and respond to your desperation for your good, always.
God doesn’t divide His love. He makes sure no one gets left out. He has one unit of measure: all. All of Him, always, for you.
The Lord’s answer to desperation is, and has always been, to offer Himself, and all His resources, to make you whole. The greatest possible demonstration of that in heaven or on earth, of course, is seen in Jesus Christ. God went first in showing love. He always goes first. And He always gives His all. He did so to prove His undying, unending, everlasting love for you and me.
The cross is the ultimate demonstration of God’s unlimited fidelity. The exhortation to follow Jesus Christ to the cross, though, is never primarily a call to suffering. It is an invitation to enter into the all of God’s love. That means the death of human calculations—of trying to figure out how to avoid all risks or trying to enter into life with God slowly, carefully, guardedly, incrementally.
In your heart’s journey, God promises to create a sustained place where you have an audience of One, where it’s always just you and Him. We find that place through various desperate situations. Whether we face a slow death, as Ed Bower did, or some other crisis, God wants us to live in His audience-of-One reality.
How is your heart? How does God see it? Are we willing to let Him use whatever it takes to draw our hearts closer to His? May we, like David, turn our questions into prayers, and find our prayers turning into a closeness with God unlike anything we’ve ever known before.
RICK D. PADGETT leads Westgate Ministries, an intercessory prayer fellowship in Portland, OR. He is the author of Get Prayer and Get It All, which is available in trade paperback or as a free digital book at rickdpadgett.com.
Fasting Enhances Prayer
By Alvin VanderGriend
I, Daniel, . . . turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed (Dan. 9:2–4).
The Bible does not command fasting, but it does bear witness to the fact that fasting was highly valued and regularly practiced by God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments. When men and women of the Bible added fasting to their prayers, God honored their efforts in some pretty amazing ways. Moses, David, Ezra, Elijah, Daniel, Nehemiah, and Anna were all people who fasted. In their fasting and prayers, they gained great things from God.
Following are several ways in which fasting can contribute to the spiritual health and well-being of individual Christians or groups of believers.
Biblical fasting enhances prayer. Very often fasting and prayer are linked together in Bible references. Daniel pleaded with God “in prayer and petition, in fasting.” Fasting is a God-given strategy for deepening and strengthening our prayer lives. Fasting enhances earnest prayer by allowing us to detach from the physical and attach to the spiritual.
Fasting can fortify us in a crisis situation. When Israel was threatened by a multinational army, King Jehoshaphat inquired of the Lord and “proclaimed a fast for all Judah.” In response to His proclamation, fasting Israelites humbly acknowledged their dependence on God and said, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chron. 20:3, 12). In response God gave them a great victory. Crisis situations have a way of driving us to the Lord. Fasting keeps us centered on Him. Don’t hesitate to add fasting to your urgent prayers when you face a troubling situation.
Biblical fasting helps us discern God’s will. The church leaders in Antioch understood this. While they were worshiping and fasting, the Holy Spirit said to them, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). Fasting will sharpen our spiritual hearing and make our hearts increasingly receptive to the Spirit’s promptings.
Biblical fasting is a vehicle for self-examination—a vehicle that often leads to repentance and confession. Fasting gives the Spirit opportunity to search our hearts and reveal our true spiritual condition. When Israel was confronted with a crisis brought on by their sin, God spoke through His prophet Joel and said, “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God. . . ” (Joel 2:12–13).
Biblical fasting is a God-ordained form of self-denial. Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). Self-denial often means self-sacrifice and suffering; not something that comes easily in our self-indulgent, pleasure-oriented world. Fasting works to counteract the self-indulgence characteristic of the flesh and reinforces the kinds of self-disciplines instilled by the Spirit.
Biblical fasting leads to a closer walk with God. It led to a deep spirituality for the prophetess Anna who, Luke tells us, “never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:37). Fasting led to intimacy with God for the disciples of John who often fasted and prayed for spiritual reasons (Luke 5:33). Fasting helps focus our attention on God and makes us more sensitive to Him and His working in our lives.
Finally, biblical fasting provides a way to prepare for a mission. Nehemiah prepared for his mission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem by fasting and prayer (Neh. 1:4). When the time came for Jesus to begin His earthly ministry, He fasted 40 days and nights in the wilderness so that He might fully know the Father’s will (Matt. 4:1–2). By means of fasting we not only come to know God’s plan for our lives, but we are also moved to submit to His will.
Fasting can help you make spiritual gains in any one or all of these areas. God honors those who honor His ways.
Excerpted from Praying God’s Heart: Prayers That Make a Difference by Alvin VanderGriend. Available from prayershop.org.
(C) 2014 Prayer Connect magazine.