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The Nobility Of Barren Prayer
I remember the day so clearly. Actually, I remember plenty of them and even still experience my fair share of them. What long and empty collections of hours in prayer they include. Days of barren prayer. I remember one day very specifically that, in truth, was not too unlike most of the others. It was not the first day of its kind but one of the harder days, to be sure. More than anything, I desired communion with God and to be rid of the internal compulsions that hindered the fellowship that I was made for. I wanted my Lord to catch the little foxes ever nipping at the vines within my heart (Song Sol. 2:15). I knew that this would transpire only in sitting in the place of my barrenness before the One that I loved, replacing the invitations of secondary comforts with the One Compulsion who is worthy, the Magnificent Obsession of all the ages. Only there would all of my false clingings surrender their hold.
Alone in my room. Bible open. Schedule cleared. Heart expectant. And only quiet to meet me. Only silence to accompany me. My words seemed to drop to the ground. The pages of my journal were empty. There were no tears to offer in longing. Prayer was hard. The Word was not moving nor causing my heart to be tenderized. All emotions seemed to sleep. One hour turned to two as I watched the clock almost minute by minute. This was one of the days when I could hardly remember the point of my focus. Why was I here? What was I doing? What was the point of the waiting? Have I missed it entirely? Is this all a waste? I moved from sitting to pacing, from reading to praying quietly and from praying quietly to silence. Still nothing. No response. No movement. No sound. Two hours turned to three. Morning turned to afternoon. And on and on the day went - slowly and painfully empty - the day of a waiting heart in barren prayer.
Though the story might seem better if I now expressed a turning point when all of the sudden God broke in and everything changed, it did not. For that is neither the true story nor the point of its illustration. Afternoon turned to evening, and I found myself in my car driving aimlessly. Parking in a shopping area parking lot, away from the other cars, I watched the people come and go so casually, all the while still lifting my heart in prayer to God. I looked through my windshield to the sky of clouds and felt the distance between my own heart and the Creator of the earth. Finally finding tears, I cried in pain, not in sweetness, "O God, when will You come to my little heart?"
Ending my day that night, so relieved to see its completion, I could only say one last thing to the Lord: "Write it down in our book, O God. Though it was so empty and so dry, may it count in an eternal relevance I do not yet comprehend. Write it down so that one day You might read to me of its preciousness. Remember this day, though I know it will blend into so many days just like it in my own memory. Count it as valuable to the heart of God. And O God, give me one grace, I pray. Give me the grace to give myself in prayer once again tomorrow. To believe that it matters. To put my heart before You though I feel so unproductive and unfruitful. Give me the grace to spend tomorrow once more before You in love. For I can think of no more noble way to spend a day than to spend it with You, whether I feel Your nearness or not. Oh, help me in the times of fainting. Give me the grace for one more day."
The Richness of What We Call Barrenness
"'Sing O barren, you who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you who have not labored with child! For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married woman,' says the Lord (Is. 54:1)."
We are on a journey into the heart of God, and that journey is essentially one of prayer and communion with the One we love. As we position ourselves to know this fellowship with God, coming before Him in devotion and prayer, one of the very hardest and most common things that we encounter are the times of emptiness we experience. When we come before Him, we hope for times of exhilaration, yet instead we find ourselves watching the clock for when the hour will be through. Instead of tears, we feel barrenness. We sit in our rooms or in our place of prayer, and we wait. We read the Word, saying it back to Him in prayer. We pace. We sing. We watch. We lift our voice. We lift our hearts. And we feel nothing. We see nothing. In all natural considerations, nothing is happening. We don't hear Him. We don't feel Him. We can't tangibly behold anything that He is doing in our hearts. We spend long hours in an empty room with no response from heaven and no experience of God. It is enough to greatly discourage and even keep us from this whole pursuit of Him, unless we understand what is transpiring in His heart in these times. We have to know what His heart is like and just what He feels in these seemingly barren days.
The testimony of these prayers from the Eternal Eyes is that they matter. They indescribably count in the ascent up the mountain of the knowledge of God. They are the pages that fill the book. They are the normal days between the extremes. And He has designed them to be so. He has composed our journey to not only include times rich with sound and emotion but also all the times of emotionless quiet and stillness. They, too, are part of the journey. These times feel barren to us, but they are not. They are far from fruitless to the Ancient of Days, and He does not forget one moment of their composition. Soon we shall reap a harvest for if we sow to the Spirit, surely we will reap of the Spirit (Gal. 6:8).
The Lord does not despise our weakness as we so often imagine. He is not caught off-guard by our frailty. Quite the contrary, as Creator and Savior, He loves and enjoys the process of our finding our strength in Him and learning to lean into Him. It is in our weakness that His strength is made perfect (2 Cor. 12:9), and it is out of weakness that we are made strong (Heb. 11:34). He has set up His kingdom with the inclusion of our weakness. "For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God..." (2 Cor. 13:4). He is not a High Priest who cannot sympathize with us in this weakness (Heb. 4:15); He knows it fully and embraces us in this place as He beckons us to continually lift our weak voice and our weak gaze in prayer and communion with Him.
In these times of such weakness and barrenness, the grace that God imparts to our hearts is the grace of the "one more day." One of the small but not insignificant graces we find as we arise in the morning is the strength to pursue Him with eyes of faith for one more day. These long days of barren prayer hold but one light at the end of their darkened tunnels: their completion. We reach our beds at the close of these days as the single victory worth recording. We made it. Though faint and weak and disillusioned, we said, "Yes." Our one prayer cast toward heaven is that somehow He will call these feeble fumblings valuable and that with His matchless wisdom He would redefine these seemingly stationary seasons as essential movements on the journey.
The Lord invites the one who is barren - the one who has not yet known what it is to bear fruit and reap the harvest of labor - to lift her voice and sing (Isaiah 54:1). He reveals how deeply He values this song though it arises from the midst of emptiness. Prayers lifted to the Lord and songs sung to Him from our place of dryness are desired by Him. He is not waiting for us to bear fruit and experience what we would call "victory" in prayer before we lift our voice. He calls it a victory when we willingly lift our voice to Him from the wilderness of our barrenness. This He calls noble. This He deems wise. In this place, our weak words overcome His great heart.
A Prayer of Barrenness
My heart aches. I love Him, yes, but faintly.
I desire Him, yes, but weakly.
I want Him, true, but waveringly.
Even the pain that lies within
I recognize to be such faint pain,
A mere discomfort next to the heart-wrenching anguish
That grips true lovers
My knowledge is nothing. My wisdom, infancy.
I see nothing as it truly is.
Eternity what is light. This life of earth what is dark.
Stories remain stories. Not sinking deep within my soul,
And scarring me with Divine invasion
Your cross is a picture, Your Heaven a fantasy.
Tears are sweet emotions, moved by Your sacrifice.
But not the tears of sharing in Your sufferings.
I say Your name so sweetly but do not know its Face.
All I am is far. So distant, so removed.
But You beckon me come.
Yet, my Lord, I am nothing. I have nothing. I know nothing.
When I thought I had something,
It dissolved before Your beauty,
And I was left naked. Possessing nothing.
Poor for words. Empty of all. Needy and alone.
Even so, my Love, call me.
Yes, do not leave me here but beckon me come.
Though I have nothing, though I am only poor,
I cast myself on your unfailing love
Where else would I go?
Whom have I but You?