The Focus of My Prayer

They’re complaining around here about a newspaper article written by some northern reporter who was featuring one of his city’s sports heroes, a fellow who grew up in the Bunche Village neighborhood of Metairie. Most of the article was about him, we’re told, but one paragraph got everyone’s goat locally. The reporter said something to the effect that Metairie is dirty, dingy, and dangerous.

The athlete had told the reporter that the railroad track runs through the village where he grew up and that frequently dead bodies were found alongside it. Sounds like a scary place, all right.

That same railroad track runs 200 yards from my house since I live just south of Bunche Village. We’ve not seen any dead bodies, but the world being in the shape it’s in, I don’t doubt that guy did across the tracks.

Aaron Broussard, President of the Jefferson Parish Council (we don’t have a mayor for Metairie; even though the population is over 300,000, it’s unincorporated and run by the parish) responded quickly to point out that Metairie is one of the safest places in Louisiana (which just raises the question of how safe Louisiana is) and far safer and cleaner than the city where said reporter lives and works.

My own observation to all this is: it all depends. Depends on what part of town you’re in, depends on where you look. Every city of any size I know anything about has its lovely sections and it’s eyesores, its “Norman Rockwell” neighborhoods and areas where you would not want to be caught after dark. Metairie is like all those other places.

Just depends on your perspective. On your focus.

In his book, “Too Busy Not to Pray,” Bill Hybels tells of the time he was scheduled to preach to a crowd of 30,000 people in India. He was much younger then and the membership of his Willow Creek Community Church had not yet reached the astronomical proportions it would later attain. In short, he was scared out of his wits.

“My praying took on new earnestness. ‘Oh Lord, deliver me. Make it rain. Make me disappear!’ The mountain looked so large that I saw no point in asking God to move it. I would be content if it would simply cave in on me and put me out of my misery.”

Hybels sat on the stage thinking about the Christian workers for whom this evangelistic event was the culmination of their labors. “I knew that those praying men were living in poverty and fighting unbelievable odds in order to tell God’s message. They had given their whole lives so that people caught up in false religious systems could come to know the truth of Jesus Christ. And since these annual meetings were the focal point of their whole year’s efforts, I felt sick at heart over the setback their work would suffer because of my inept preaching.”

He continued panicking. “This is going to be a disaster! What am I doing here?” At one point he noticed some leaders on their faces in the dirt praying. He thought, “I know what they’re praying about. They realize that this American who is going to give the main message is perfectly capable of emptying out the whole park in a matter of minutes!”

Just before Hybels was to preach, a woman from his church stood to sing. Bill thought to himself, “I probably should support her in prayer. But my turn is next, and when the chips are down, it’s every man for himself.”

He was so caught up in the awesome task before him and his personal inadequacy, Pastor Hybels almost did not hear the words she was singing:

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;

There is no shadow of turning with Thee;

Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not;

As thou hast been thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning new mercies I see;

All I have needed thy hand hath provided —

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”

Bill Hybels writes, “Something happened to me as I listened to the lyrics, ‘Great is THY faithfulness.’ As the words rolled over my mind, it suddenly dawned on me where the focus of my attention had been all day. I was focusing on myself — my language barrier, my cultural confusion, my inexperience, my weakness, my fear of failing, my terror of a crowd that size. I was looking squarely at my mountain, and all I could see was my inability to move it.”

He concludes, “My prayers were pitiful because I was looking at my inadequacy instead of God’s adequacy!”

Here’s how the Apostle Paul put it: “Not that we are adequate to think anything of ourselves, but our adequacy is of God” (II Corinthians 3:5).

I made a little discovery in the Old Testament some years back that continues to bless me to this day. Every time God calls Himself “El Shaddai,” three elements are always present in His relationship with the person he’s dealing with —

1) The overwhelming nature of the task before the person God is calling

2) The complete inadequacy of that individual to do what God is asking

3) The total sufficiency of the Lord in this situation

The first mention of that name of God is found in the opening of Genesis 17. “When (Abraham) was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am El Shaddai; walk before me and be blameless. And I will make a covenant between Me and you….” Abraham’s response was to hit the earth in complete submission. The Lord continued, “As for me, behold, my covenant is with you and you shall be the father of many nations….I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you.”

When the Lord finally completed His lengthy and multi-faceted promise, “Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is 100 years old? And shall Sarah, who is 90 years old, bear a child?'” (17:17)

Abraham knew full well the task was far beyond him and he knew he was insufficient for what God was promising and expecting, but he was about to learn how completely adequate God is.

Put your focus on the task and you will die of fright. Focus on yourself and you will drive yourself to drink. Focus on the sufficiency of the Lord Himself and everything else falls into place.

Hebrews scholars are not in agreement over the root meaning of El Shaddai, and I’m certainly no Hebrew scholar, but for my money, the best explanation is this: “Shad” is the Hebrew word for “breast,” and “El” short for “Elohim,” the word for God. This makes the literal meaning come out to something like “God, the breasted one.” The point of the name must surely be that “as a mother is to a suckling babe at her breast, so the Lord is to us.” He is all-sufficient.

Moses heard God’s call on Mount Horeb. The Lord was singling him out to deliver a million Israelis from Pharaoh’s grasp. His initial reaction is the same as yours and mine would have been: “O Lord, who am I?” (Exodus 3:11)

See the wrong focus?

“I will certainly be with you,” God told him. In other words, “it’s not about you.”

Incidentally, if you want a great Bible study, check throughout the Old Testament from one end to the other for all those places where God calls people to His service and notice the promise He gives them. Like a broken record (remember those?), He keeps saying, “I will be with you.”

(Okay, I’ll get you started….)

God said it to Moses a half dozen times in various places.

He said it to Joshua when he succeeded Moses. (Joshua 1:5)

God said it to Gideon. (Judges 6:16)

God said it to Jeremiah (Jer. 1:8).

And in the New Testament, we have Matthew 28:18-20 and Hebrews 13:5-6, among other places.

Times are hard, the needs are great. You are not up to the task before you, anyone looking to you is in trouble. Where is the Lord when you need Him most?

He’s there. We have His word on it.

Get your eyes on Him.

Peter was walking on water. It was a miracle! Just then, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a massive wave rolling in. “Beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord save me!'” (Matthew 14:30)

So much depends on where you are looking.

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