A candle flame – so fragile, so weak. What use can it be?
It is a symbol of hope, a symbol of remembering, and symbol of defiance – darkness, you shall not win!
It is a symbol of our prayer at the top of the watch tower, ready to see God’s answer. ‘If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come.’
We will make a prayer candle.
You will need:
- A white pillar candle
- map pins
Push the pins into the candle to represent people or situations you wish to hold before God. You might use different colours for different prayers. You might use just one pin or you might make a symbol using several pins. You could do this for yourself, or as a family or group and have different colours or different parts of the candle for different members. You might have just one prayer or you might have many.
Every time you pray, light the candle. If you do not have the words to pray, that is alright.
Remove the pins when you have an answer to a prayer, or when the need for prayer has passed, or when the candle burns down.
As I started writing this, it was the 15th anniversary of 9/11. In common with most westerners, I vividly remember watching and re-watching the dreadful footage. For my generation, and my location, this is the event we all remember. For an earlier generation it might have been the assassination of JFK or the outbreak of WWII. In other places around the world, tragically, the choice of awful events is larger and more recent.
On Facebook today I watched a video of happy children playing on swings and slides. It was the first time that some had ever done this. Why? The children were Syrian and the playground was in Aleppo. There is currently a fragile ceasefire there and children, who have seen more tragedy in their short lives than I pray my own will ever know, are playing outside. They are happy simply not to be bombed.
This is wrong, This really is just plain wrong.
‘Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?’ Habakkuk’s complaint could have been written today. It’s a very real question. If we have a powerful, loving God who says he cares about us – how come there is so much evil in the world?
I’m not going to trot out some simplistic pat answer – this question is bigger than that. Folks better than me have been wrestling with it since the year dot. And yet, while this is usually the first shot from the arsenal of the ‘God can’t possibly exist’ brigade, history is filled with people who deeply struggle with this dilemma and still conclude that, despite the suffering – perhaps even because of the suffering – God must still be who he says he is: powerful, good and patient.
Possibly it is that latter quality that could give us a clue. God is patient with me when I do wrong. His patience with other folks who do wrong could look like inaction from my point of view. It all depends on which side you see. As a mother I have sometimes had to hold my child still while nasty people stab them with needles. I hope that their knowledge of me as a usually loving mum would help them to understand why I act like a very unloving mum sometimes.
I am not for an instant suggesting the suffering and evil are God getting us vaccinated, just that there is sometimes bigger stuff than I understand. But it does not help when I see pictures of lifeless bodies washed up on beaches. I confess that I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know why. But my knowledge of my Lord as a kind, forgiving and patient God leads me to trust him even when present reality does not match.
These are only vague clues and hints, not even approaching a full understanding, if such a thing is possible this side of glory. For a very honest examination of these kind of questions I suggest ‘Paradoxolgy’ by Krish Kandiah. I am currently reading this book and I think it is important that we do not try to minimise these big questions, or pretend that they don’t exist, but I do not have room to properly address them here.
All through the Bible we see people very honestly showing God their confusion. Some even shout at God! That’s OK. He can handle it. David exposes his concern as evil ones prosper in Psalm 37, and Jeremiah writes of his anguish in forced exile in Lamentations. But both of these men, despite seeing the reality of evil and suffering, trusted that there was reason and righteousness. Beyond their sight, perhaps, but still there, like Habbakuk’s watchman on the tower, looking for the Lord. They trusted that justice was coming, even though it was beyond the horizon, out of sight. Perhaps it might not arrive on their watch or in their lifetimes, but watchmen still wait.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. (Ps 37)
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. (Lam 3)
We need to be active, and struggle against evil and suffering. We also need to be still, watching and waiting on God’s timing, trusting in his mercy and patience with all of us who sin.
What could I work for? What could I pray for? What could I trust for?
I thank you for staying your hand of judgement and leaving time for repentance.
I pray your kingdom come and justice be established over all the earth.
Compassionate Mother God
May you gather these hurting ones as a hen gathers her chicks.
Psalm 37 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised
Exhortation to Patience and Trust
Do not fret because of the wicked;
do not be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon fade like the grass,
and wither like the green herb.
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will make your vindication shine like the light,
and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
over those who carry out evil devices.
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For the wicked shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.
Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.
But the meek shall inherit the land,
and delight in abundant prosperity.
The wicked plot against the righteous,
and gnash their teeth at them;
but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that their day is coming.
The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to kill those who walk uprightly;
their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.
Better is a little that the righteous person has
than the abundance of many wicked.
For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
but the Lord upholds the righteous.
The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will abide for ever;
they are not put to shame in evil times,
in the days of famine they have abundance.
But the wicked perish,
and the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures;
they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.
The wicked borrow, and do not pay back,
but the righteous are generous and keep giving;
for those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land,
but those cursed by him shall be cut off.
Our steps are made firm by the Lord,
when he delights in our way;
though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong,
for the Lord holds us by the hand.
I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.
They are ever giving liberally and lending,
and their children become a blessing.
Depart from evil, and do good;
so you shall abide for ever.
For the Lord loves justice;
he will not forsake his faithful ones.
The righteous shall be kept safe for ever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
The righteous shall inherit the land,
and live in it for ever.
The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
and their tongues speak justice.
The law of their God is in their hearts;
their steps do not slip.
The wicked watch for the righteous,
and seek to kill them.
The Lord will not abandon them to their power,
or let them be condemned when they are brought to trial.
Wait for the Lord, and keep to his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on the destruction of the wicked.
I have seen the wicked oppressing,
and towering like a cedar of Lebanon.
Again I passed by, and they were no more;
though I sought them, they could not be found.
Mark the blameless, and behold the upright,
for there is posterity for the peaceable.
But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
the posterity of the wicked shall be cut off.
The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
he is their refuge in the time of trouble.
The Lord helps them and rescues them;
he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.
Lamentations 3:19-26 New Revised Standard Version
The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
Habakkuk 1:1-4 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.
The Prophet’s Complaint
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgement comes forth perverted.
God’s Reply to the Prophet’s Complaint
I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.