THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK: The message of the half-hearted prayer

Rev David Clarke.
Rev David Clarke.

Before his conversion, the great Christian leader Augustine had been enjoying a hedonistic lifestyle.

Yet, through the influence of a godly mother, he knew in his heart that he was made for better things.

He longed to turn over a new leaf, but feared the changes it would demand. His oft-repeated prayer was ‘Give me purity, but not yet!’

A similar reluctance is found in one of the treasures of Jewish literature. In a compendium of wisdom drawn up between 200 -600 A.D. we find this prayer concerning the Messiah, ‘Let him come, but let me not see him in my lifetime.’

It is a startling prayer, because for centuries the Jewish people longed for the coming of the Messiah, the One who would deliver the nation from the hands of their enemies, and secure national salvation. The coming of a Messiah is hinted at in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, but finds its most audacious expression in the Book of Isaiah, where the prophet writes, ‘Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace.(Isaiah 9;6). When Jesus was presented by his parents in the Temple, the aged Simeon rejoiced that the Messiah had come, and offered the prayer, ‘Now dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have see your salvation’(Luke 2; 29).

As a race, the Jewish people did not hail Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, and the hope still burns within them as they await the Messiah’s arrival. Why, then, this strange prayer ‘Let him come, but let me not see him in my lifetime?’ They realise that the coming of the Holy One is to be feared as well as rejoiced in. Malachi, the last of the writing prophets recognised that truth, asking, ‘Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire’ (Malachi 3; 2). As the New Testament warns , ‘It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’(Hebrews 10;31).

In his hymn ,’O Lord and Master of us all’, the poet and hymn-writer John Greenleaf Whittier has a verse which runs as follows: ‘Thou judgest us; Thy purity doth all our lusts condemn; The love that draws us nearer Thee, is hot with wrath to them.

He recognised the twin feelings of delight and fear at the divine approach. When Archbishop Bancroft attended the dying King Charles II, he warned the king that he was about to appear before a judge who is no respecter of persons. The King whispered back in agony, ‘But it dare not appear’.

The only way to face that encounter, is with a humble and repentant trust in Christ, the Saviour.