"Since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have." - Philippians 1 (last verse)
My dad was meeting for a men's prayer breakfast once and he really wanted to open up about the struggle men face sexually. He shared that he even struggled with sexual temptations "in the past" and wanted to have more openness within the church to wrestle through this reality together.
The current pastor of that body pulled my dad aside after the meeting and said that my dad needed to be careful that he didn't insinuate that he was "currently" struggling with sin, but that he made sure that the men knew it was something from the "past". What? This only breeds the culture that you share today only what you struggled with 5 years ago in order to create the safe distance needed to have a reputable position in the church. You can't share anything that is happening in the now. That's what I love about this passage with Paul..."the struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I STILL have." Beautiful honesty.
I once was talking to my dad about all the unspoken requests that used to be given at prayer meetings growing up. The pastor would ask for a show of hands indicating that you had a prayer request that was unspeakable. I always used to find this a bit odd. I remember wondering in my boyish mind what those requests were.
I wonder if they were things like…
- The need for strength against seemingly irresistible temptation or
- The fears that haunted them from their past or
- The deteriorating marriage that was teetering on the brink of divorce or
- The brokenness they felt over a wayward child flirting with disaster or
- The perennial struggle against pride that filled them with condescending arrogance or
- The anger they felt against God for his aloofness in times of pain or
- The frustration they felt over an inability to guard their tongue or
- The ongoing fatigue of living in a wounded world separated from the living God or
- The thinning defenses losing ground to things like lust, pride and rage or
- The lack of passion and compassion for those in deepest need of God or
- The wrestling match of hypocrisy that bred feelings of condemnation and conviction or
- The weight of financial debt sapping energy and creating a prison of payments or
- The weariness of standing for what you believe in a world that thinks you’re crazy or
- The ache over daily disappointments that aren’t measuring up to the promised abundant life or
- The torture of watching someone you love continuing to turn to substance abuse or
- The emptiness and hollowness of trying to do things right but never quite arriving or
- The depression that plagues the heart over a host of little things that add up over the years or
- The effects of abuse from the past coming back to hunt down and haunt the heart or
- The angst over futility and failure that visits anyone who has a pulse on this planet or
- The disappointment of having strong desires and dreams that rarely find fulfillment or
- The huge questions that seem to go without answer in the church or
- The loneliness, lostness and lifelessness felt in the church.
I wonder if I would have found prayer to be more real and powerful if we prayed for some of this stuff. Instead, it was typically the familiar and predictable requests for jobs, wart removal and dying relatives. This is not to downplay the need for prayer over these things as well, but when the nitty gritty is rarely, if ever, addressed, you are left with a sterile and standoffish faith afraid to go there. Where, you ask? Anywhere that is fraught with dicey details and raw revelations. Anywhere that is exactly where most people are living. Anywhere that smacks of the brass tacks of reality.
As a little boy I think I needed to know that church wasn’t afraid to go where people were actually living, where I was actually living. I was struggling with lust, but obviously no one else was. I was struggling with insecurity, but apparently no one else was. I was drawn to sin, struggling with faith in the unseen, bored with the Bible, sick of rules, scared of the big bad world, and hanging by a thread in this whole religion thing, and here we were sitting in pews praying for traveling mercies and showers of blessings.
As I look back, the people who were gathered in that building were a bunch of strugglers. I know this now because many of them have been caught in unspeakable sins. Strip clubs, adulteries, drunkenness, pornography, rebellion, and apostasy…it makes me wonder whether just speaking it out would have been the best thing for some of these people. “Confess your sins one to another, that you may be healed. The effective prayers of a powerful person makes stuff happen” James 5
Unspeakable sins are bred by unspoken requests.