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Prayers Without Words

C Logan, Botswana

The famous composer, Felix Mendelssohn, wrote a number of pieces for piano solo which he called "Songs Without Words". He defended this unusual title by explaining that it did not mean that the feelings he expressed through the music were vague and indefinite, but, on the contrary, they were so sharply defined and intense that words were inadequate to express them.

This reminds us of those times in our lives when, in the midst of a severe trial, words seem to fail us. Let us be assured that the Lord knows and understands. He hears the unspoken prayers and sympathises with our innermost feelings and the deep longings of our hearts, even when expressed by a sigh, a groan, a tear, a look or a look.

The sigh

On two occasions we read of the Lord sighing. The first of these took place when He was confronted by the plight of a deaf and dumb man, "And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha; that is, Be opened" (Mk 7.34). We can only guess the reason for His sigh but it is likely that He identified with the burden that the afflicted man had borne for many years.

A more intense word is used a little later (Mk 8.12): the Lord "sighed deeply in his spirit" when the Pharisees challenged Him to provide a sign from heaven. His response revealed His sadness at their persistent unbelief. He knew that their motives were insincere and that they were seeking only to provoke Him.

Our own sighs may reflect a wide range of emotions including regret, disappointment, and sometimes even a feeling of helplessness or hopelessness. The Lord does not forsake us in the trials of life but promises to be with us and carry us through, even when our faith is small. He is able to still the storm and bring peace to our troubled minds and hearts.

The groan

The story of the death of Lazarus is charged with emotion. The Lord Jesus could see the end from the beginning and yet He acted with love, patience and sensitivity through it all. He groaned in His spirit and was troubled when He saw Mary and the Jews that were with her all weeping (Jn 11.33). Mary had revealed something of her frustration at His apparent delay: "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died" (v.32). But did the others harbour feelings of resentment? This is suggested by their statement, notably sharper than Mary’s: "Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?" (v.37). Their words caused the Lord to groan again as He drew near to the tomb (v.38). He was grieved that they misunderstood Him.

There is an interesting verse in the book of Romans (8.26) which shows that there are times when, because of our inherent weakness, we do not know how to pray as we ought. In these circumstances the Holy Spirit comes to our aid and He prays for us, interpreting our inexpressible groanings before the throne of God. This truth encourages and comforts us.

The tear

At the grave of Lazarus there was a moment when the Saviour wept silently (Jn 11.35). This was noticed by the onlookers and rightly judged to be evidence of His deep love for the one who had departed. Indeed, the Lord loved the whole family (Mary and Martha as well as Lazarus) and was grateful for their kindness and hospitality when they had welcomed Him into their home. He shared their sense of loss at the separation death brings, and His silent tears were the result of heartfelt sorrow.

After the crucifixion Mary Magdalene went to visit the tomb but she became distraught when she found it to be empty. She thought that the body of her Lord had been taken away. Standing outside the tomb she began to weep, but not for long (Jn 20.11). She turned back to see a man nearby. In the early morning light she thought it was the gardener, but when He spoke her name she realized that it was her Lord! The knowledge of His presence in a time of anguish and distress can dry our tears too.

The look

When the Lord entered the Temple and looked around He saw everything and missed nothing (Mk 11.11). On the surface the place seemed to be a hive of religious activity and zeal; it concealed, however, a level of hypocrisy and greed that left the Saviour feeling uncomfortable and unwelcome. Without saying a word, He turned and left the Temple and the city to spend the night in Bethany.

Another silent look that said it all was when Peter had denied Him for the third time: "And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly" (Lk 22.61-62). That single, searching look melted Peter’s heart.

There were others who looked to Him in their need and He answered them all. John the Baptist urged needy sinners to behold Him as the Lamb of God who would bare away their sins. Many of us have taken that look and been eternally blessed.

The touch

On a number of occasions the Lord healed with a touch. Even the lepers, used to being ostracised by others, were not excluded (Mk 1.40-41). It is likely that some of them had not experienced a human touch for a long time: the caress of a spouse, the hug of a child, and the handshake of a friend were all distant memories – until He came! He did not recoil from them like the rest of society but rather He reached out and restored them to perfect health. For ourselves, as we come into contact with those who are sick and suffering, even if we cannot change the course of their illness, a gentle touch where appropriate can transmit love and sympathy.

We also read of one sick woman who was determined to touch Him, or at least the hem of His garment. Her chronic bleeding condition had left her permanently weak and exhausted. Added to that was her disappointment at the inability of the physicians to help her, and their medical fees had left her virtually penniless. Christ was her last hope. Perhaps she was too shy and embarrassed to confront the Saviour directly, but her touch denoted a desperate cry for help. That cry did not go unheeded so that immediately she was completely cured by His almighty power (Mt 9.20-22).

The sigh, the groan, and the tear do not go unnoticed; the yearning look and the pleading touch are not ignored – Christ has experienced them all. They speak volumes to Him and He responds with love and compassion. The words of the young eighteenth-century Scottish poet, Michael Bruce, fittingly summarize our brief study: "In every pang that rends the heart the Man of Sorrows has a part".



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