This morning I woke up at 5:30. I had gotten about seven hours of sleep, and my body was ready to plow into the day. A stack of work in the office was gently calling my name. I planned an early morning bike ride, shower, and then a full day in the office.
But an odd thing happened that completely redirected my day. As I lay in bed enjoying the warmth of the covers, I thought about a church I attended when I lived in Tennessee. Frequently, during the midst of a service the pastor would call us to pray. If you were physically able, you would kneel in front of your chair in the auditorium and silently pray for a few minutes. A stillness would settle over the room. Finally my pastor would close in prayer. I remember those moments. There was no agenda. It wasn’t prayer for a specific item. It was merely a time to humble ourselves and pray.
I crawled out of bed and made a cup of coffee. The memory of those moments in Tennessee was still heavy on my mind. It occurred to me that I have drifted away from prioritizing this vital focus on prayer. The Holy Spirit was quietly calling me back to conversation with him. I realized that at some point I had become comfortable with the ministry I am guiding. I was comfortable in my life in general. I was comfortable. As a result, I was careless in prioritizing prayer.
It was still dark in the house. A single lamp cast a glow near my favorite chair. I sat with my cup of coffee and talked with the maker of the universe. I prayed for our country. I prayed about the direction we are heading. I prayed for my home church and for our leadership team. I prayed for my own life and ministry. I just sat and talked with God. As I talked with him, I thought about the time Jesus was coming down from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem.
It was his moment of exaltation. The crowds surged forward. Many threw their cloaks on the road, creating a carpet for the donkey he was riding. His disciples were overjoyed. They shouted “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” It was a celebration like the coronation of a king.
Suddenly, Jesus halted the donkey, and for a moment the procession came to a standstill. An uncomfortable stillness settled over the crowd. Jesus gazed toward the city of Jerusalem as if lost in another place and time. The disciples looked at one another, confused. Slowly Jesus closed his eyes, and a cry rose from somewhere deep within. Finally he could hold it no longer, and like a torrent breaching a dam, the tears overflowed and streamed down his cheeks. His body trembled as he wept.
Because he was seated on the donkey, he was head and shoulders above the crowd. Everyone saw the emotion. No one moved. No one shouted, “Hosanna in the highest!” No one said a word. Most looked away. The sight of a man weeping in public made them extremely uncomfortable. Finally through the tears, Jesus spoke.
“Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Jesus paused, gaining his composure, and brushed his tear-streaked face with his hand. “For the days will come upon you,” he continued, “when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
At last the silent procession moved on into the city. But the celebration was crippled by the tears of the king.
(Adapted from Luke 19:36-44, ESV).
It is a haunting image: Jesus is weeping while others are celebrating. But Jesus saw something they didn’t. He was broken by the knowledge that the people did not understand the perilous state they were in. He predicts great devastation in the days to come. And he closes his statement with an unusual phrase. He says these trials are coming, “because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Now when he says, “the time of your visitation,” he is not referring to a time when they will have a visitor. The word used for visitation has the idea of a time of inspection. It is a time of investigation. It is as if he is saying that because they did not understand that God was searching out and inspecting their lives, calamity was coming as a result. The time for repentance had passed. Mercy was giving way to judgment. All these trials were coming because they did not understand that God was watching.
Which brings me to you and me. I wonder if we truly understand the days in which we live. We are comfortable. In North America we enjoy a standard of living that is exceptional in all the world. Within our church culture, we enjoy a sense of peace. But is reality hidden from our eyes?
Our country doesn’t seem to understand how desperate we are for God. Our churches in North America do not seem to understand how desperate they are for God. But what about me personally? Do I understand how desperate I am for God? If I did, wouldn’t that lead me to pray? If my eyes were opened to my condition, and I fully understood the consequences of that, wouldn’t that lead me to pray? Would it lead you to pray?
If we understood that God is watching us and testing us to see where our hearts really are, then we would also understand the importance of prayer. But because we do not understand our desperate condition, we also do not understand the value of prayer. Are the things that make for peace hidden from our eyes? Do we not know the time of our visitation?
Our churches are closing at an alarming rate, and still we do not pray. Our marriages are being decimated in record numbers, and still we do not pray. Our children are being lured away by the culture, and still we do not pray. Rightly did Jesus say, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
My friends, our comfort has blinded us to our need. I include myself as well. But something happened to me this morning. I saw more clearly the days in which I live. I saw more clearly my own life. And it led me to pray.
My wake-up call came at 5:30 in the morning. When will yours come?
This article was originally published in the April 2017 Newsletter.