Is there a heart o'er bound by sorrow?
Is there a life weighed down by care?
Come to the cross each burden bearing.
All our anxiety leave it there.
All your anxiety, all your care,
Bring to the mercy seat leave it there;
Never a burden He cannot bear,
Never a friend like Jesus....
(Edward Henry Joy 1920)
I made a trip to the altar this week during Family Prayer time. I often feel called to the altar without any clear reason at all, just an overwhelming sense of my own enormous need, my own sense of being drained, my own sense of how incredibly much I lack and how utterly helpless and hopeless I am without Him. I often don’t even know what to say, but I just go, and kneel, lifting up the names of people who press into my mind, remembering praises, lifting up my own needs and my own wounds from the week.
This altar thing used to be really strange to me, as I was raised Catholic and had never even heard of “trips to the altar” before I started coming to our church. I was pretty skeptical of language like “If the Spirit is moving you,” and thought most of it was a lot of emotional hullabaloo. Then I had my first experience of “the Spirit moving me” – in the form of what felt like a punch in the gut, clammy shaking hands, and the sense that I must respond to what God was calling me to respond to or forever fear the consequences. So even this skeptic has been "moved." This shouldn't be surprising really, since God is God and all. Today, the Lord (usually) can call me in a softer way, or maybe those walls are just broken. I like to think I am more receptive. Now I know it is simply a way which I can go, with any need or confession or praise, and meet Jesus.
This week as my knees hit the floor, I was grateful to release some of my heaviness into Jesus’ hands. Music playing softly, eyes closed, I sensed the presence of other believers around me doing the same thing, and let my tears join the rivers of other tears which have spilled out on that altar since long before I was there. What strength is gained in the presence of other believers!
I found myself wondering what a painting of my internal state would look like. Things to pray about were rolling through my head like five o’clock traffic, crashing into each other, mixing and intermingling, one thing combining with another to make some new and bigger need for God’s grace. I am not a skilled artist, but if it were a picture on a canvas, I’m pretty sure it would have been a big, blurry mess of reds, greys, and black. Smudged and swirling and pointless, like one of those pictures you look at and think to yourself “Really – they call that art? Why would someone call that art?”
All I have to offer you this week, Jesus, is this ridiculous painting. This blur of emotion and life baggage which I can’t even sort out enough to make it look like something recognizable…but here it is, I’m lifting it up to you because I’m tired and I know all I can do is constantly turn everything over to You.
And the good Lord takes my confusion, and supplies me with a reminder: “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)
The music and prayer end and everyone shuffles back to their pews. I wipe my eyes and sit down next to Joan, incredibly grateful for a Christian Sister who won’t for one second look at me any differently for having red eyes and smeared mascara. I have been to that altar with her before. And I have been at that altar when she was out in the wilderness, praying that she would come back to be at that altar with me again, with Jesus again. And she has.
God is so good to us, even when we don’t know what to say. I am grateful He doesn’t ask me for a well thought-out prayer list or an organized system of petitioning Him. I often just hit my knees and feel my soul groan, offering big needs up to a bigger God. The Bible describes this, calling it our “birth pains” as we wait for what we hope for in Christ. All the answered prayer in my life is a testament to the fact that God’s goodness is not dependent on how articulate or functional my prayers are, nor how detailed and well-sorted my internal picture may or may not be. Often for me it’s just….Here Lord, here’s all my stuff. I’m tired, I know You are Good, help me. Thank you for always helping me.
This week, don’t shy away from running to your Heavenly Father because you are disorganized, distracted, and don’t know what to say. The Bible promises that the Spirit intercedes on behalf of our messiness – let Him!