Steve Harris handed me an extraordinary book for my 60th birthday, entitled God on Mute, written by an English evangelical Christian named Pete Greig. In 1999, Greig co-founded the "24-7 Prayer" community that now spans the globe.
The book chronicles the personal quest of Pete and his wife Samie as they have coped with her diagnosis of first a brain tumor, then ongoing epilepsy seizures. It's a towering work of hope and anticipation for that final day of victory and fulfillment that continues to elude them, as with all of us, who must engage the reality of the silence of unanswered prayers.
I can only speak for myself, though Steve and I have discussed this topic a thousand times in the last several years, when I say that my whole soul resonated with every page of this book, and especially the concluding "Afterword" provided by Samie:
"This really is the book I was looking for when I first found myself crying out for some hope, help and answers following my diagnosis. So my prayer is that our honesty in the hard times (although in this I do think Pete has described me more favorably than I deserve) can help someone, somewhere, who is struggling with his or her own unanswered prayers. I don't always understand God's ways in my life, but I'm absolutely certain that He can be trusted." (Samie Greig in God on Mute, "Afterword").
I know there are days in the lives of every human being when you wonder if it has all been worth it -- this extraordinary journey through the adversity of long-sought goals and plans, when the heavens seem like brass overhead as we pray, as we work as hard as we can, when we earnestly long for an outcome we believe to be worthy and desirable, and then nothing seems to happen. For each in our individual journeys the path sometimes turns into an epic struggle, an odyssey of monumental proportions never imagined as you began.
For some the journey is laden with insurmountable health issues, as it was for the author and his wife. Others wage a lonely fight for survival as single parents. For others crushing debt and financial burdens seem unbearable and never ending. Still others' dreams and hopes are stampeded by the sins and terrible consequences that extend into the lives of innocent loved ones. Parents are left wrestling with wayward children who can never seem to find the path to lasting happiness and joy because of their destructive choices. In each case prayers are offered, but no relief seems to come.
To all these I offer hope today, when all seems lost.
God sustains us all with gentle whisperings of assurance of what is possible to those who believe in the potential for good the gospel posits. To you who struggle against all odds toward the success you seek, goes my undying and fiercest loyalty for your leadership and example in the wake of seemingly insurmountable odds stacked against you. I've always hoped my meager efforts could improve those odds some, including the comfort of this blog page if it is possible to reach out to you. But to God, ultimately, goes all the glory because none of it would be possible without His divine guidance through it all.
Like Samie, I have come to know that He can be trusted, and in my more faith-filled and rational moments (or is it that I have finally arrived at the borders of insanity?) I do not believe He leads us down these long and often lonely roads of mortality only to have it come to a dead end in a box canyon. He always provides a way for our escape if we remain faithful and attuned to His Spirit. When one door closes, it is usually in preparation for something better yet to come that is still unseen.
Whatever the outcome in your individual quests, I am content with the lessons learned in our collective "wrestle before the Lord" these past several years, and for that I am most grateful to you who struggle onward and upward for your vision filled with possibilities.
Gethsemane means "The Oil Press" and, as I'm sure you know, olive oil was one of the great resources of the ancient world. Back then, it was not only used in cooking (as it is today) but also as a fuel -- a source of light -- that was burned in lamps in every home and as a source of health, used in various medicinal treatments of the time.
In fact, in the Qur'an, Muhammad lists no fewer than 70 conditions that he says should be treated with olive oil.
The Israelites also used olive oil in worship, pouring a fresh measure each day into the seven cups of the golden menorah that was kept burning continually at the heart of the Jewish life in the temple and in the homes of the faithful.
Fittingly, as part of the Restoration, Joseph Smith introduced olive oil as the symbolic and tangible ingredient for anointing the sick in preparation for healing blessings pronounced upon the sick in priesthood administrations.
Furthermore, olive oil was used for anointing the kings of Israel. As such, it had particular resonance for Jesus in Gethsemane, because the very word "Christ" means "anointed one," referring to this Jewish custom of touching the forehead of a prince with olive oil.
This inestimable resource -- important for cooking food, lighting homes, curing diseases, maintaining worship and anointing kings -- could only be acquired by crushing the fruit of the olive tree to a pulp. Without intense pressure and the destruction of something good, there could be nothing better.
It is relatively easy for us in retrospect to see the potency of these images in Christ's suffering in Gethsemane. He alone endured such pressure that night in Gethsemane that He became the everlasting Light of the World, the Healer of Nations and the anointed King of kings. Sometimes, however, we lack the perspective to identify precious oil that can flow in our lives too from the crushing experiences of mortality we are called upon to endure.
We see, nevertheless, powerful testimonies of this precious oil flowing in the resilient faith of our pioneer forefathers who crossed the foreboding plains of America to settle in the communities of the Rocky Mountains. It is evident in the rich texture of faith in African-American spirituals born out of slavery. We see it in the stories of Holocaust survivors, who somehow found faith through the horror of the concentration camps.
We may not always see any such beauty in our own lives, and perhaps this is good. But in our heart of hearts we know that there is an anointing -- an authenticity -- that can only come to us through the darker trust of unanswered prayer. It is an illumination both in us and through us that can only come through suffering. It is a healing that we can only minister to others when we have ourselves been wounded.
We are, if we are faithful in the crushing defeats of this life, becoming something better, a work of creation more fit for eternal glory. Pure gold is never refined in an air-conditioned chamber.
Bitter irony in unanswered prayer often confirms in resounding silence that dross and filth is being burned out of us.
Ultimately, though we do not always detect it with our mortal eyes, we know deep in our souls there is a sevenfold, even an hundredfold worship more precious to God than any other. It is the full-measure offering of a broken heart and a crushed and contrite spirit that prays, "Abba, Father, everything is possible for Thee. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt."