The olive leaves shuddered in the midnight breeze; the full moon’s light flickered. The Master lay with his face in the dust, crying out in broken sobs; Peter, James, and John averted their eyes in discomfort.
They were still weary from the Passover wine; the aftertaste of the bitter herbs still lingered in their mouths. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
When life presents challenges, our first instinct should be to cry out to God for help. One should not be tempted to say, “I got myself into this mess; I’ll get myself out.” Nor should one assume that because God already knows your needs it is pointless to call on him. One must certainly not say, “I don’t deserve to ask God for help now because I did not pray when things were going well.” Rather, God is eager to hear the prayers of all those who raise their voices and ask him for help.
Many Scriptures express this notion, but the ancient rabbis derived it from a surprising source:
And when you go to war in your land against the adversary who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the LORD your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies. (Numbers 10:9)
They noted that before engaging in combat, the Israelites are to “sound an alarm” in order to gain God’s attention. This is not talking merely about trumpet blasts, but about prayer.
The verse says, “That you may be remembered.” God is not forgetful or oblivious, so what is the point of such a prayer? It is an acknowledgement on our part that God is in control of outcomes. While we may march forth in battle, through prayer we admit that success and failure are not in our hands, nor are they a matter of chance or fate.
We must never hold an indifferent posture toward God wherein we attribute our trials to mere accidents and coincidence. By doing so we fail to recognize his supreme control over all things in life.
As such, it is critical that we rush to our Father in prayer at all times of distress, whether they are personal or community-wide problems. We also examine our lives to make sure that we are carrying out God’s will rather than our own:
And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." (Mark 14:36)
One might think that the Son of God would have an easy time getting his wishes fulfilled. Instead, we learn,
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. (Hebrews 5:7-8)
The matriarchs of the Jewish people, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, were all barren. Why was this so? The ancient rabbis suggested, “Because the blessed Holy One longs for the prayers of the righteous.” It is not that God enjoys our suffering, but when we pray in times of difficulty, it has a transformative effect and binds us in closeness to our Creator. Children who are born to barren parents after intense prayer are sure to be raised with special dedication to God.
Receiving a gift from God as an answer to fervent prayer, then, is far superior than receiving gratuitous blessings.
There Is No Other
When adversity comes, sometimes spiritually inclined people make the mistake of attributing independent power to the devil. While they would not consider the devil to be as strong as God, they seem to put the two on a level playing field by supposing that the Almighty has let an attack sneak by.
From the perspective of Judaism, this would be considered a major error bordering on idolatry. Moses explained to the Israelites:
To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you… know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. (Deuteronomy 4:35-39)
Difficulties in our lives are not outside the sovereignty of God; somehow they serve a greater purpose. Occasionally, at the end of it all we can perceive that purpose, but in some cases it is beyond our ability to grasp in this life.
The concept that “there is no other besides him” means that we should not see hardships as outside attacks, but as tests that provide us with the opportunity to grow:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
One might think that if even calamity comes under the sovereignty of God, then who are we to resist it? Yet by all means we must resist evil and do whatever we can to alleviate suffering, both through our actions and through prayer. If we find ourselves in a position to work and pray to end suffering, then we are assuredly there “for such a time as this” to involve ourselves with God’s process of redemption. This is the purpose of such testing and how we rise to the challenge that our Father has set before us. When we cry out to God, we confess that he alone has the power to change outcomes. There is no other.