Gerry Sittser sees martyrdom a little more broadly than he used to. It’s not just dying for Christ physically in an arena or under a dictator; it’s also dying to self through the situations when we hold onto faith even when it seems impossible to do it; when there seems to be no material evidence that shows us God is good and for us. It’s being faithful in the face of affliction. Sittser lost his mother, wife, and one of his children in one car accident! He is a theology professor and does not just write about grief and prayer, but he does those two very well. In a sermon on John 16 last week at Christ Church, I mentioned Sittser and many were asking for more information. Here is the Amazon list of his works. I also listened to a podcast interview with him on his book, When God Doesn’t Answer Your Prayer. The podcast is The Illumined Heart and the June 5, 2009 edition is with Sittser and can be downloaded or subscribed to at Ancient Faith Radio here. Here are some of his key insights that I shared Sunday:
Faith is in a living relationship with God (not answers from God) Sometimes we are held up by the church community; sometimes we can’t pray with words or complete sentences. Our questions and theological answers are only good as they lead us to experience God.
Sittser had to “re-learn the heart of prayer. He began to see prayer is the means by which he would seek the face of God. He realized that for many, “Answered Prayer” had become equivalent to the American dream: perfect marriage, perfect kids, financial security and a home in the suburbs. A turning point in his agonizing first years of grief came in reading Luke 11 with fresh eyes.
And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:9-13, ESV)
God’s fatherly answer to prayer is the gift of the Holy Spirit. God gives us himself! All other gifts are included in this relational gift of his presence and power. This doesn’t eliminate specific prayers and gratitude for specific answers. But it changes the landscape of what answered prayer looks like a world where Jesus promises tribuation. (John 16:33)