Of Rocks and Stones

by Rick Booye

            They were rocks, just plain old rocks lying in the dirt, all relaxed and laid back. The rain washed them. The sun warmed them. The dust covered them. Life was as they hoped, utterly stressless, utterly useless. The rocks loved it. But it didn’t last.

Rock-life ended the day a man came by and picked a few of them up. His hands dug down around their dirty undersides and pried them out of their comfortable dust. He brushed them off, viewing them from different angles, and took them home.

At first the rocks were quite pleased with all this attention and somewhat excited to belong to a real person. After all, it’s not normal for a rock to be considered valuable enough to belong to a living being (though they secretly think they are quite important).  Certainly, it seemed that their rock-lives had taken an enjoyable turn for the better now that the man had gathered them and made them his.

The journey to their new home was pleasant enough, even if rocks are not accustomed to being carried very much (they prefer to think of themselves as self-motivated).

Once inside the house however, the rocks experienced several new sensations.  First, they were scrubbed thoroughly with water. This offended them since a certain rocky dirtiness had always been admired among them.

Next, their new owner placed them into a large cylindrical steel can. Once inside they felt a cool, thick, gritty liquid poured over them. It squished down between them and filled the cylinder past the half-way mark. Good thing rocks don’t need much air. Then a cap was screwed tight to the top. They felt the whole container tipped on its side as their new owner placed it on a motor-driven roller. He flipped the switch and the motor hummed to life. Over and over it turned the can, slowly, relentlessly. The grit scrapped their skins. They tumbled end over end.

Well, they didn’t enjoy this at all. Rocks don’t like being lumped together in close quarters. They prefer open spaces where they can imagine that they are the only ones that matter. Neither do they appreciate the implication that all rocks are basically alike in most ways, and that none is inherently better than another. Being all bunched together hurt their pride. And they really hated the friction and constant movement. They were all rolling around together, bumping, scraping, rubbing each other’s rough spots. Even when they tried hard not to rub another the wrong way, it seemed the can would turn just so and the friction would sand edges off both of them. All this was quite painful, especially at first. (Many began to think how easy life was when they were just lying around on the ground.)

The process also took a lot of time, which is something rocks usually have plenty of, but in this case they resented.

Finally it ended. The man lifted the cylinder off the motor, unscrewed the cap and tumbled the rocks out of their rolling prison. Interestingly, they had begun to roll together rather smoothly by the end of the ordeal. So many of the rough edges had been removed that the whole experience took on a new dimension. The rugged individuality that had once caused so much trouble was reduced to a very smooth surface, which retained the original shape but allowed movement and cooperation. They had become more than ordinary rocks.

As the owner rinsed them all (this last washing was quite enjoyable) he smiled his approval. They were now stones, polished and beautiful, each unique, yet fitting together perfectly. Each had a luster and depth all its own, reflecting the owner’s light in a different way, bringing a special beauty to his home. And yet, together they seemed to be more beautiful than as individuals. There was a harmony of the colors and shapes, a glorious blending of the uniquenesses.

All the former roughness was forgotten now. The stones enjoyed touching each other and belonging to their owner. They began to realize that somehow in the polisher there had been a profound change in their basic essence, something much deeper than the shine alone. They had begun to live … like Him.

Looking back now the stones view it all from a new perspective. They had never realized how dead and alone they were before the Master picked them up. Somehow, they had convinced themselves that they were not in need of polishing or change or any other life than the one they were “born” with. But now they knew the truth, that there is a life infinitely beyond the ability of a rock to understand.

They also understand that the process of grinding, scraping, and polishing was purposeful, effective. At the time it seemed inefficient and needlessly painful. All they wanted was to get out of the can and on with the program. But the can was the program.  The shine they needed was developed in the process they hated. Far from being a waste of time, the despised polisher was miraculously effective in transforming the character of the stones, which turned out to be the real project all along.

They saw now how much they needed each other. Before, as they lay in the dirt, smudged and smug in their rocky individuality, they were completely unaware of their potential as a group. Closeness and cooperation were of no value. Unity (the kind they had now) was unheard of, unimaginable. But now they couldn’t imagine being utterly alone again. Their unity was their greatest advantage. They were so much more complete together, so much more luminous and glorious belonging to each other than they could ever have hoped to be on their own.

So it was all worth it. What had appeared easy and fun had turned out to be difficult and painful. But then, what had appeared useless and destructive turned out to be transforming and rewarding. The Person had used everything to benefit His stones and they were glad of it, all of it. And His purposes for them in the future? Who knows? Anyone wise enough to turn dead rocks into living gems can be counted on to think of something.  (I Peter 2:4-5, Rom.8:28-30, Eph.4:1-6).

Discouragement in Prayer

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

Luke 18:1

 This is the opening of Jesus’ famous parable of the persistent widow and the unrighteous judge. The parable itself is a fascinating piece of teaching by Jesus, but I would like to ask a question that arises before he even gets into the story. Why does Jesus teach a parable specifically to encourage persistence in prayer? The counterintuitive answer is that he gives this teaching because discouragement is the most normal experience in the life of prayer. The Greek word translated “lose heart” here means to be deflated, weary, tired, despairing, in a mood to quit. That describes most Christians sometimes and some Christians all the time. Oddly, what Jesus is basically saying is that prayer, by its very nature in this age, will be at times a very frustrating exercise. Why is it this way? Let me offer at least three possible reasons.

 

First, answers to prayer do not usually come quickly enough to keep our attention. Many divine responses come long after we have given up praying for the thing! Our gnat-like attention spans lose track of the request long before the answer arrives and so we are not impressed. On top of that many of us are closet skeptics anyway, and so are prepared to interpret events as coincidences or accidents unless they happen immediately.

 

Second, answers to prayer rarely present as “miracles.” The Lord isn’t in the entertainment business and much of his work slides under our sensory radar unless we calibrate our awareness to look for him. Also, we expect a certain sort of answer and he often solves the problem in a completely unexpected and unimpressive way. When this happens it doesn’t occur to us that he did the thing, because it wasn’t quite the thing we requested.

 

Third, time itself is a crucial element in all that God does in this fallen era. Speed does not improve God’s work, either in our hearts or in our circumstances. Any cook knows that time in the oven is just as crucial as any other ingredient in the recipe. Especially relational issues are this way; friendships, romances, business partnerships, anything that relies on humans to know and trust each other, will take time—usually more of it than we want to invest. This is why the Psalms are filled with exhortations to wait on the Lord.

 

All three of these issues conspire to discourage us in prayer. So, the Lord says we must not give up. A rule of thumb that I use is that if I am severely tempted to give up praying for something important, that’s the time to specifically stay at it. It’s good to know that being discouraged is a normal part of being a prayer partner in any meaningful aspect of God’s work.

 

So, let us pray …

 

Christian Prayer

In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.

John 16:26-27

New Covenant prayer is arguably the single greatest practical privilege we have as Christians. Jesus is basically telling his friends that soon they will be able to pray the same way he does—directly to God as their Father based on a personal covenant love relationship that cannot fail. This is a distinctly new sort of experience he bestows on his disciples, or he wouldn’t have been as excited about it as he was. He is far more enthused about our potential prayer life than we are (Lk.11:1-13; 18:1-8; Jn.15:16; 16:23-24).  Note four things he says in this passage about Christian prayer:

First, prayer is in his name. That makes it in some mysterious and powerful way an improvement over prayer offered under the Old Covenant. A Christian is metaphysically joined to the authority and identity of Christ, the Messiah, God’s own Son (the name), by simple faith (“believing that I came from God”).  And because we are under his grace and authority we come into the Father’s presence in a relationship to him unknown prior to Christ (Rom.8:14-17; Heb.4:14-16). Before the gospel, before the work of the cross, this was not available. Jesus (shockingly) said that among the OT believers there was nobody greater than John the Baptist (A very radical thought in light of all the great names in the Old Testament!). And yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater (in a better position) than John (Lk.7:28). He must be referring to the work of regeneration and justification that comes in Christ to the simplest Christian, and with that New Covenant work—the right to pray like the Son of God himself. Wow!

Second, we call God “Father” when we talk to him, just like Jesus did. This was not done prior to Christ and was in fact one of the outstanding characteristics of his own prayer life. It is not found in any other religion and not available through any other message than the gospel of Christ. This means that what passes for “prayer” in much of the world, because it is emphatically not in the name of Christ, is not anything like what goes on in the smallest gathering of the most humble Christians. Wow!

Third, the Father hears us directly and personally, just like he heard Jesus. Jesus says that he will not ask the Father on our behalf, but our prayers are heard immediately by God himself. This means, among other things, that we don’t need other angelic or saintly “mediators” to “get God’s ear” for us (1 Tim.2:5; Heb.4:14-16). This does not mean that Christ does not speak to the Father about us. He does (Heb.7:25; 1 Jn.2:1-2). But it does mean that our access to the Father is, like Jesus’ access, instant, constant, secure, personal, and effective through the Holy Spirit (Rom.8:26). Wow!

Fourth, the Father hears our prayers because he loves us. Because we love Jesus, the Father loves us like he loves his own son. Consider the fact that God loves you as much as he loves Christ Jesus himself. In fact, he gave his son up to die for us so that he could have us in his family forever (Rom.8:31-32). Most of us simply do not believe this, and because we don’t believe it we feel less confident than we should about our prayers. Wow!

So, Christian prayer is a unique and powerful right. It is not like pagan prayer, Old Covenant prayer, New Age prayer, non-Christian religious prayer, or mystical meditation on the numinous. It is personal, perpetual, open communication with the God of the universe as our Father. Let us pray.

Pastor Rick