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“Are You There, God? It’s Me…” – “Where Were You When…?”

“Are You There, God? It’s Me…” – “Where Were You When…?”

“How Do I Struggle With This?”

The call came in at about 12:15AM, because calls at that time are unusual I jumped up heart racing. “Hey bro, the baby is coming.” Under any other circumstance those words would bring excitement and enthusiasm, but not this day. I quickly got dressed in the car and drove 2 ½ hours from Maryland to Pennsylvania, heart racing and definitely speeding. See 2 of our best friends were expecting their very first child, the problem was she was barely 23 weeks pregnant. They had been warned of some risks a few weeks before, but no one thought it would come to this. 

I’m praying all the way there on that drive. Listening to every worship song and begging God to intervene. I got there and the news they got was bleak to say the least. Doctors and nurses gave 0% of survival. See babies born that early cannot breathe on their own and they are far too young to be hooked up to a breathing machine. We prayed anyway. I remember writing on the whiteboard, “God of miracles”. Nurses came in with booklets and information on funeral arrangements, but we just knew God would show up. 

Then came time for delivery so we all left the room except for our 2 friends. Minutes felt like days in the waiting room. Then around 7 or so in the morning my friend comes in and gives us the grave news. The baby didn’t make it. I could feel all of our hearts just sink as we hugged him. I didn’t understand it. How? Why? But God…? A week later I did perhaps one of the hardest funerals I’ve had to do. For baby Yadier. Coffins were never meant to be that small.

And we were left wondering why? Perhaps the question that cuts the deepest and lasts the longest- why?

“How do we all struggle with this?”

And it has surely hit all of us at some point or another, for many of us more times than we would ever want. So what do we do when it feels like God lets us down? Like our prayers didn’t work? I mean we hear all the time pray, pray, pray, talk to God, but for what if He didn’t care enough to answer me. Have you been there? Are you there right now?

How can I go to God when I’m so angry with Him right now? It feels like he’s the object of my ire and he’s the last person I want to talk to. When things fall apart, how do you even begin to put the pieces together? When life delivers a punch to your gut and kicks you in the face while you’re down, and all you desperately want is to remember what air tastes like, how do you fathom even getting back on your feet?

As we unpack this together this morning, I’m asking for grace because I know so many are in a fragile place and all our unique pain and loss can rise to the surface and our first instinct is “Yea but not me, you don’t know my story. That’s easy for you to say preacher guy but some of us have deal in the real world.” Or we’re still stuck in a past pain that we don’t realize we havent’t healed from. But today friends I’m not speaking from theory or just Biblical concepts but I’m speaking from something that I’ve seen, and lived, someone that’s transformed me. 

Whatever you are carrying today that feels like a 500lb barbell to your soul, we want you to know this today about prayer- We can trust God with our deepest pain and brokenness, because He is with us. This isn’t Bible fairy dust that makes the pain go away. See prayer is not something we do; prayer is someone we are with– Jesus.

“What does God say about this?”

As we jump into this story I’m going to spoil the end for you. Lazarus dies, Jesus steps onto the scene 4 days later and raises him from the grave. It’s the last of seven signs that John’s Gospel will show us that puts the final seal of divinity and power in the hands of Jesus. In the Bible 7 is a number of completion and wholeness, so John purposefully curates these 7 miracles to say something about the nature of Jesus and to say, “He IS who He said He IS, and you can trust Him.”

As we wrap up this short series on prayer I hope it hasn’t gotten lost that prayer is personal, because prayer is a person (Jesus). Every week we’ve seen prayer is not a message in a bottle hoping it crosses the ocean of distance between us and God. Prayer is a God who has already drawn close to us, and says “I’m here; talk with me, walk with me.” No matter what season of life we are in whether celebrating or suffering God is WITH us.

John makes this clear in that the very first sign or miracle he alerts us to in his account of Jesus, was turning water into wine. He shows up and keeps the party going. And diametrically opposed we have his last sign is at a funeral. On one hand the pinnacle of social celebration, a wedding. On the other hand, the depth of human despair, death. And we are given intuitive insight that Jesus is Lord over both. That in celebration and in suffering He is present. He is with us.

Throughout today we are going to wrestle with how do I pray, how do i talk to God when He’s let me down, when he didn’t show up when I needed Him. How do I give God my pain, my hurt, my loss, my grief. The Bible calls this process Lament, a passionate expression of grief and sorrow. But Biblical Lament also moves from sorrow to praise. So let’s read together.

John 11:1-3 (NIV)– Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

We see immediately, their request from Jesus. We said this week 1 in our A.C.T.S, the S is supplication. Making your requests known. And there’s a nugget there in how we come to God. Notice they don’t send this long essay to Jesus. They don’t list out Lazarus’ resume or appeal to how good Lazarus has been. They don’t say, “You know Jesus your boy Laz has a 802 credit score, he was only in 1 fight in his life and He lost, he volunteered at church every week. Jesus he watched the 11:15am kids and you know they ratchet.” They don’t appeal to Lazarus’ history, they appeal to God’s LOVE. They say, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” 

Family when we speak to God we can speak courageously as the children that He loves. Hebrews 4:16 puts it this way, 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. We don’t have to come to God with flowery language, or pitch your voice down so he takes you seriously. You are a son, you are a daughter. YOU ARE THE ONE HE LOVES! We don’t appeal from our goodness, we speak to who He IS– LOVE.

4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

Jesus says this sickness will not end in death. But we know Lazarus dies. If I’m the disciples or Mary or Martha later on, I’m replaying those words in my head. I’m petty. Petty Labelle. If I was them as soon as Jesus showed up at the funeral I probably woulda got kicked out of the Bible, “Uh oh look who it is, Mr. Im-15-minutes-away-but-aint-even-showered-yet. ‘Not end in death’ huh? And you gonna ‘Not end’ up  getting a to-go plate. And mama made curry goat… 3 days ago though!”

But we know God is a man of His word and if He said it it will come to pass. Oftentimes it’s our version of his promise that gets skewed. Verse 5 says, Jesus loved them but he waits. How can those two phrases sound like oil and water? He waits?! Can I tell you one of the hardest things about prayer, harder than a “yes” or a “no” from God depending on what you are asking for; is when God says “wait”, to me those are fighting words. God says “wait” I say “so who’s catching these hands” I’m triggered! What you do when you are in the waiting room of life, and it’s been months, years, decades, and your name hasn’t been called. Even harder than a “wait” is when you feel He says nothing at all. [Pause for 5 seconds let the room get silent]  You feel that? You’ve been there, when it feels like your prayers go no higher than the ceiling.

A pastor that I love used to say, “Everyone wants to see a miracle, but none of us will ever want to sign up for a situation that necessitates a miracle.” God will hear our prayers. God loves when we speak to HIm. God will hear our prayers and expectations, but he is God and he answers our prayers in ways that we don’t always understand or agree with. And I know what some of you are thinking, “Here we go, the old ‘God works in mysterious ways’ cop out answer.” I get it. It feels like a lazy response, if you don’t have the longevity of walking with Jesus to see it become a reality. But many of us have. And i’ll encourage you with this, “If God met all of our expectations, He would never have a chance to exceed them.” 

  • Jesus- “Lazarus is asleep, Ima wake him up”
  • Disciples- “Let him get his rest, homeboy needs it”
  • Jesus is probably looking up at the father like, “Really these guys? You sure I got the right 12. These fisherman acting real fisher price”

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 

Pause right there. Martha comes in hot. But it clues us into what lament looks like, what prayer looks like, from here on out I will use those two words interchangeably. She says, “If you had been here..”

Prayer is coming to God honestly with our hurts, heartbreaks, disappointments, and loss.

  • “God there was no reason why i lost that job, why would you take that from me”
  • “I’ve done everything you asked and my parents still got that divorce.”
  • “How could you take them from us like that?”

It is when we come to God openly and honestly that we get to see him at work in the depths of our heart and soul. For me it wasn’t until I worked step 2 in the 12 Steps which we cover in Restore and there was a question that rocked me. It said, “Describe a time when you feel that God let you down.” I did the Christian answer thing at first “God has never let me down!” And the Holy Spirit said, Ricky can you be honest for a second. And instantly the memory came to mind of being 5 years old at a friend’s sleepover and being sexually molested by his older sister. I began to weep as I pictured that little Ricky, saddened by all the ways the enemy would twist his story from that moment. And I wrote in my journal, “How could you let that happen to me? You were my best friend. Where were you?”. And in that moment I felt the presence of God more real than this mic stand in front of me. And the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and just said, “I’m proud of you, you finally let it out. And Ricky I was there with you and it hurt me too.”

Friends when we lament we aren’t hurting God’s feelings, He’s a big boy he can handle it. We are actually trusting him with the things that far too often end up defining us for the worse- our pain. He knows what we don’t, and that is that that pain unchecked will morph and multiply into something so septic to our soul. You don’t have to run to another bottle, or run to your dealer for that loud pack, or run to the bed of another person. You can run to him. Broken, messy, honest. The truth is God can’t heal what we don’t reveal. Prayer is coming to God honestly with our hurts, heartbreaks, disappointments, and loss.

22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

That’s the kind of faith I want. That’s the kind of prayer life I want. God this isn’t what I want, in fact it’s the opposite. “But even now…” in the middle of my pain, in the middle of my grief, when I’m treading this ocean of tears, EVEN NOW may your will be done. 

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

Martha in her honesty is invited into a deeper revelation of Jesus that she otherwise would not have had. 

Prayer/Lament is God reminding us of who He is

In this conversation with Jesus, this prayer if you will, her honestly opening up. She steps into the character, nature, and power of God. Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” I get goosebumps just reading it. He asks “Do you believe this?” and she replies “Yes, I believe you are the Messiah…”

The miracle wasn’t just that Lazarus would be resurrected, but it was a revelation of who Jesus was, is, and will always be- the Savior who came for us. The real miracle was salvation from eternal separation from God. The reality that death no longer wins. 

The miracles that we are praying are good and we should pray for them, they point us to the reality that God is in control and we are not. We should pray for more of Heaven on Earth. But friends can I tell you, God would have still been God, even if he had let Lazarus stay in that tomb. He is still Lord whether he shows up the way we want or not. And when we pray we are reminded of who He really is; Alpha and Omega; the first and the last; the beginning and the end; the one who was, is, and is to come; firstborn from among the dead; the One whose name is Faithful and True. This is our God!

Spoiler alert: Lazarus would eventually die a second time…so we know that it was bigger than just him being raised from the dead that day in Bethany. Jay Pathak put it this way, “Everyone you know that has been healed is going die.” -Jay Pathak I hope that brings you comfort [tongue in cheek lol]. But it’s true! So since that is true maybe it is not the miracles that we live for but rather a deeper relationship with God even in the midst of our deepest sorrow. Did you know Jesus didn’t heal everyone around him? I mean there’s a moment he’s surrounded by maybe hundreds of people with diseases and ailments at the pool of Bethesda and he heals one guy. One man, who was lame for 38 years. And he later goes up to that guy and says hey homeboy stop sinning, because there’s a fate much worse than being lame. And that is why I came. The real miracle is a transformed life, a transformed eternity when we accept Jesus.

It’s why paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–14, because of Jesus’ resurrection we grieve different. We have hope. He says we don’t grieve like the rest of the world, because we know this isn’t it. So come suffering, joy, pain, loss, and even death my God is NOT FINISHED! Prayer/Lament is God reminding us of who He is

  • Mary finally comes out and a lot of those in mourning come out with her, and she echoes some of the smae things Martha says

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

Our 5 year old Zion has this weird stoic attitude about death, like most little kids. But to hear him talk is jarring, he talks about it as normal as a high 5. One day when the dog trainer came over when we had first gotten our dog. Zion is sitting there playing with dinosaurs, homeboy loves them. And the dog trainer is talking to him about how cool his collection is and Zion asks her, “What’s your favorite dinosaur?

D.T: I think the long necks, the brachiosaurus.

Zion pauses a second dinosaur in hand, looks at her with a stone face with no smile, and goes, “You know they’re all dead right? All the dinosaurs are dead…gone…a meteor hit them.” Completely emotionless, stoic, Zion is looking at her, she has no idea what to say and her jaw is on the floor. It was silent for like 5 seconds and Zion goes right back to playing dinosaurs. I bust out laughing. And I’m like I’m sorry I didn’t know we had Wednesday Adams living in our house.

I say that because I think sometimes we read the Gospels and we conjure up this visual of stoic emotionless Jesus, doing miracles like a deadpan cashier who’s waiting for their shift to end. But these verses give us insight on the emotions and the humanity of Jesus, it says He was deeply moved, and Jesus wept. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible. In fact if you grew up in church as a kid like me, this was my go to. Teacher said whoever can share a memory verse will get their snack first, and I would go “Jesus wept” give me the dunkaroos lady.

Two words. The shortest verse in the Bible is probably the one that so beautifully connects us to the heart of God. It weaves his divinity with our humanity. His wholeness with our brokenness. And he sees the condition of Mary and Martha, their family, their friends, and it breaks his heart. Even though he knows he’s about to raise Lazarus. He stops and mourns.

Lamenting is mourning

You go Ricky that’s obvious. But hearing me lamenting and praying as a Christian doesn’t mean drown your emotions with Christianese and trite sayings. It is pouring out your sorrow. Notice, Jesus doesn’t say, “Stop all that crying, don’t you know who I am? I’m about to do a miracle here.” He weeps. 

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. -Romans 12:15 

Friends, what has happened to us as a society, especially talking to those of us who follow Jesus, where we have stopped mourning and started simply banging the drums of politics and stances. Somewhere along the way we have lost the heart of God for a broken world. Carlos Whittaker says, “Don’t stand on issues, walk with people.” Friends hear me clearly:

  • Jesus weeps when a gunman kills children in an elementary school, he doesn’t say, “Well the real problem is…” He weeps, and so should we.
  • Jesus weeps when another teenager falls to hopelessness and decides to take their own life.
  • Jesus wept when you were sexually abused
  • He weeps at the injustice and effects of racism

Jesus weeps and so should we. You know what mourning does, it keeps your heart soft to the brokenness and hurting people around you. We so badly want to self-protect and not feel, and what happens is our hearts get hardened and cold and we begin dying on the hills of politics, platforms, and issues. But prayer is mourning, and it keeps in reliance with the goodness of God. knowing that the day is coming at the end of human history where God will make everything right 

Revelation 21:3-4 says, 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Knowing that this day is coming doesn’t minimize our pain or our lament. But it does mean we know one day everything wrong will be made right. And until then you and I through Jesus can bring more of Heaven on Earth.

Jesus says take me to the tomb. They say Jesus it’s been days there’s gonna be an odor by now. He tells them “didn’t I tell you youd see the glory of God”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 

He’s saying this for you and me, we can be sure that God always hears.

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Lamenting prayer is trusting God’s track record and His character

  • Jesus came through and Lazarus bust out like the Thriller video but the thing that kept this from being a parlor trick or a flash-in-the-pan mojo miracle, was Easter. The Resurrection
  • The reason you can trust him with your emotions and hurt is because he already won. 

Some of you know our friend Mike Papale is dying of cancer. Mike has been a part of Gateway for a number of years as a volunteer, a leader, and eventually joined our staff, unpaid because he worked for the IRS. He jokes “If Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector, there’s hope for me.” Mike was an army ranger in the special forces. Later in the DEA. He’s seen a lot of life and a lot of death, but it hasn’t made any of this any easier. His wife Kaye and daughter Oona (16) and two boys Sammy (18) and Lucca (16) are hurting, pray for them. Grateful we as a church family have been able to be close to them in what looks like the final days. It has been hard. And listen we have prayed for physical healing and continue to pray for that. But we align our will with the heart of God, and have seen his goodness and mercy in all of this.

Last week I asked him if we could record him. Mike has a heart and a passion to teach God’s Word, and before he got sick I was working with him to do that. It never materialized in the way he wanted but I wanted to give my friend a gift of speaking to all of you, as his earthly life winds down and the horizon of eternal glory comes closer. Hear the words, the faith, the hope, of a man who did not ask for this but who’s faith has never been stronger.

“What should you do about this?”

We’ve done this throughout the message but I want to give you another tool in your prayer life, how to lament with God. You can take a picture if that’s helpful but we also want to let you know this is in this week’s digging deeper. Thankful to our Grow Team for this resource. If you or your family is suffering a loss, do this together: 

  • Stage 1 – Direct our discussion to God: He is the one who hears and wants to respond.
  • Stage 2 – Describe our pain/ doubt/ fear: Don’t hold back God can handle it. Like a parent asking their child what is wrong when they are mad or sad, God wants to hear from us.
  • Stage 3 – Depend on God: this is where a prayer of lament shifts from complaint to us reminding ourselves of the good news that God has made a way for us to be whole, healed, perfect one day through Jesus life, death and resurrection. In this part of prayer we ask for God’s comfort, perspective, and help knowing he will respond NOW & has made a day where all wrongs will be made right for us in the future.
  • Stage 4 – Dwell on God’s faithfulness and Character: No matter our circumstances we can know a God who is good, kind, and love. His character is true and we can lean into Him when our lives are hard. Our hope can be secure because he is secure.

“How can we all live this out together?”

The other beauty of Lazarus’ resurrection is that Jesus tells them “take the grave clothes off of him” in other words you don’t have to live in bondage anymore. You don’t have to live trapped by your old ways or your addictions there is new life in Jesus. If you have made the decision to follow Jesus, or are making that decision today to step out of the grave, we would love to celebrate that and mark that with you today with baptism!

Imagine what it would look like if we truly mourned with God and with each other. We would not feel alone and suffer in silence. We could care for one another and bear each other’s burdens. We would see the goodness of God in our past, present, and future.

We can trust God with our deepest pain and brokenness, because He is with us.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind if he were to ask you, what can I do for you? What’s the pain point, the loss, the grief? Bring it to him raw and honestly. You can take it to Jesus

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