Back in the 90s I was on a missions trip. Turns out it was a two-week prayer journey . . . to India. The plan was to visit India and meet with national workers who were living and sharing the Gospel in a Hindu or Muslim environment, with very few Christians. In fact, at that time, it was catalogued as the place least-reached with the Gospel in all the world. And we were going there to spend two weeks praying.
So, by twos, we would walk the streets of India and just pray. We weren’t there to evangelize or stop and talk to people about the Lord. We were simply praying silently, expecting God to use our prayers. We also had two appointments each day to meet with different local pastors or missionaries – people who were advancing God’s kingdom in that country.
These tireless workers would share stories of how years of labor would result in someone finally coming to faith in Jesus Christ. And the testimony of the new believers, as often as not, included how they suffered for their faith – beaten, kicked out of their homes, treated as “dead” to their families, and abandoned. There was much violence and persecution of believers there.
It was a wild and humbling experience. One day, while out on a prayer walk, it was close to lunch time and we were looking for a suitable place to eat. We walked by a building and heard the sound of gorgeous bells pealing from it. Then the bells stopped. Such a cool and amazing experience, we thought.
Suddenly we were in the midst of the surge of worshipers exiting – and here we were a group of white foreigners in the midst of this throng of men, all wearing the same sort of white robe. We stood out as different and all of them were looking at us. They surrounded us. We figured out that it was a mosque.
Fear began to overwhelm me. We had just been praying that God would break the strongholds of the enemy in this nation, and now here we are surrounded by a horde of about 200 devoted worshipers. They were not smiling. I was in over my head, in deep weeds and had no idea what might happen next.
And in those days, there were no cell phones and no way to google myself out of the mess. I couldn’t call on Siri, who would have had no answers anyway. We were not sure where we were. We had no idea where our friends and contacts could be found. On top of that we didn’t know the language!
I learned very quickly how to pray. It was not about proper vocabulary for prayer, or the right order of praises and requests. It was a deep flowing out of my soul.
In this helpless situation, the people around us began talking to each other, with serious animation in their voices. Within myself I was praying with serious animation, “God, get me out of this, get me out of this . . .”
One English-speaker stepped out of the crowd and translated what was being said by the mob – “They want to know why you are here . . .”
Our own group leader said, “We are tourists, from America” exactly as our visa stated. One of the leaders of the crowd spoke out loudly. And I’m thinking, “Is this how my life will end? Take me now, Lord.”
But in a moment the crowd of men dispersed. They all walked away. And the English-speaker said, “You tourists, from America – come with me.” What was I to think? Were we now hostages? Hated Westerners about to be slaughtered?
So now again, I prayed all the more desperately within myself, “God, get me out of this, get me out of this, please.”
“God, get me out of this.” Have you ever prayed that prayer? We all have prayed this, many times. In such dire situations, we are not praying some light thing from the comfort of an easy chair – but like when a call comes late at night from the police, or when the report come from the medical tests, or while in the waiting room of a hospital, or other hard things we have faced in life. Something more than an Algebra test in school – this felt like “life or death.”
We are often in so far over our head, in deep weeds. And whether we seek rescue from a mob in India, or finances for missions work, or meaning in the midst of a divorce, or healing from cancer – we always cry, “God, get me out of this!” We want God to get us out, to move us to the next place. But in such difficulty we see that we are desperately dependent on God, with no help in ourselves.
What is the heart of God in these “get-me-outta-here” situations? Mary and Martha faced such desperation when their brother Lazarus was sick. From this story we can discover why we can depend upon God in desperate situations.
- God has a passion for us.
Scripture is clear that Jesus loved them, with true heart-felt love. Even though He delayed His coming, the Lord loved the two sisters and Lazarus (John 11:5, 17).
As Jesus talked with Mary, He was in anguish (John 11:33-34). He connects with those in desperate need on an emotional level. And here is the famous shortest verse of the Bible, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Such a simple verse.
- We see also that God has the power that we do not have.
“The dead man came out” (John 11:44). God got him out of there. Lazarus had no power to come out. This was a matter of dependence on God’s power, the power that we don’t have.
The end of the story is not the raising of Lazarus.
The question remains: Why? If He has such passion for us, and if He has such power, Why, oh why, does He so often leave us in pain and tragedy, or surrounded by turmoil and opposition? Jesus had the passion of love for those in need, and He had the power to solve their difficult problem. But there is no explanation for why He did not immediately help them get out of their mess.
Most editions of the Bible conclude the story of Lazarus at verse 44. This leaves no answer for the delay of Jesus.
- God has plan that is greater than our understanding.
That unnatural division comes up short from revealing the greater plan of God in the desperate situation. The “therefore” connects verse 45 to the account of Lazarus.
Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in Him. (John 11:45)
We so often pray, “God, get me out of this” yet the difficulty worsens. There is tragedy and disaster, and often death! Meanwhile those who are looking on see the glory of God and come to believe that Jesus is the Hope of all nations, the promised Deliverer, Salvation for the ends of the Earth!
Jesus wanted Lazarus back, but He wanted more. He wanted everyone back. He wanted everyone to see His glory and have a strong proof to believe in Him and be saved (John 11:40, 42; 20:31). He wants everyone to have His life! The miracles are aimed toward His greater grand plan:
. . . that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:31)
This is not to say that if you’ve had tragedy and grief you should just buck up and get over it, because God has a bigger plan. The reality is that you are in His heart and in His hand. He does have the power, and He does have a plan that makes Him worthy of being trusted by us in our most difficult dilemmas.
Your pain is real. Your tragedy is real. Still He loves us and He has the necessary power to “get us outta here.” And in the midst of all the deep difficulty, He yearns for us to trust Him. He wants us to keep depending on Him so that we can be a means of displaying His great glory. That is His plan.
So, back to India . . .
In the streets of India we were surrounded by 200 angry looking men. Then one of them says, “Follow me” and leads us into that mosque and closes the doors behind us. And I am thinking, “God, why didn’t You come through? Now I’m going to die.”
The man said, “You are tourists from America? Then allow me to give you a tour of this great mosque.” Though forbidden for us, still, he led us up a spiraling ascent through the all the seven stories. He was showing us into various special sacred rooms, allowing us to view things that no outsider had ever seen.
And what do you suppose we were doing? We were praying the entire time – praying that the Living God would bring the nation out of its darkness! We were taken into a stronghold of false religion so that we could pray for salvation to come to India.
At the sixth floor, the “guide” pointed us to a stairway leading up to the top level, the seventh. First the guide went up and put all of the people out of that level, and they came parading past our group of unauthorized foreigners. Then from the top of the stairs he said, “Now come up with me. . .”
The “guide” explained that they took the mosque to be in a significant location, central to the spiritual life of Islam in India. From this prayer tower you could see the whole city, sprawling to the horizon with millions of people. The view from the top showed miles and miles of city skyline.
Instead of taking us out, He takes us deeper
I had been praying “God, get me outta here,” but God had a plan I did not understand. He took us deeper into the situation instead of bringing us out!
The man said, “I will go down, and you can stay here as long as you like.” He went back down and left our group of praying saints by ourselves – with God. Here we were on a mission as prayer warriors, praying at the top level of this mosque at a significant spiritual center of India, overlooking the needy city.
Now my prayer had been, “God, get me outta here!” But God’s plan was to take me right into the depths, into the heart of it! He is saying in the midst of our difficulty, “You don’t get it, but I’ve got a plan that is bigger that you don’t understand. No, I’m not taking you out; rather I am taking you in deeper!”
God took us up seven stories, to stand in a place that represented the spiritual heart, the gateway to all of India. And there we had the freedom to take a stand in prayer for the conquering of darkness and evil in India. And in my mind’s eye I had an image of all those believers we had met with, and new lights popping up all over the place. God showed up in an awesome way with His great plan.
A Greater Plan . . .
Years removed from these events, I was just beginning a season of serving in a new church. A guest speaker stood up, and said, “Greetings from India.” This was a missionary the church had sponsored for years.
He said, “I have news to report. India for years has been recognized as the most unreached country on the planet. I am pleased to announce that we have been displaced from that spot and we are now moved to second on the list.”
Statistics now indicate that about 90% of the people groups of India remain unreached. A number of other countries fare much worse, with seven nations having more unreached people groups than India.
God wants to display His glory, and He does this as we pray, as we pray beyond our own small needs and situations, no matter how dire they might be. All of our prayers are to see His “kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”
People are being reached around the world because men and women have been praying, crying out that the nations would see the glory of God. Jesus wept. He wept because He yearned that people would see His glory.
Will you have the same groaning and yearning in your prayers for others as you have had for your own needs and desires? As much as you have fervent faith for God to take you out of deep weeds, will you begin to pray with zeal for the people who are in great darkness?
Will we be people who move beyond praying “Get me out of this”? Will we pray that God will show His glory so that the nations and the ends of the earth might see the salvation of our God (Ps. 98:3)?