30 December 2017

Suffering, Sorrow, Loss, Hopefulness, Faithfulness, and Prayer

This morning I came across this excerpt below in William Barclay's Daily Commentary on the Gospels.

I normally do not read this commentary.  This encounter today was by a happy accident, and a tender mercy, in a response to my own ongoing thoughts and prayers.    I wanted to share it with you because it speaks to many of us, and certainly most of those with whom I have shared conversations, especially over the past year.
Luke 2:36-40  There was a prophetess called Anna. She was the daughter of Phanuel and she belonged to the tribe of Asher. She was far advanced in years. She had lived with her husband ever since seven years after she came to womanhood; and now she was a widow of eighty-four years of age. She never left the Temple and day and night she worshipped with fastings and with prayers.

At that very time she came up and she began to give thanks to God and she kept speaking about him to all those who were waiting expectantly for the deliverance of Jerusalem. When they had completed everything which the Lord's law lays down they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew bigger and stronger and he was filled with wisdom, and God's grace was on him.

"Anna was one of the Quiet in the Land.  We know nothing about her except what these verses tell but even in this brief compass Luke has drawn us a complete character sketch.

Anna was a widow. She had known sorrow and she had not grown bitter.  Sorrow can do one of two things to us.  It can make us hard, bitter, resentful, rebellious against God.  Or it can make us kinder, softer, more sympathetic. 

It can despoil us of our faith; or it can root faith ever deeper.  It all depends how we think of God.  If we think of him as a tyrant we will resent him.  If we think of him as Father we too will be sure that:

A Father's hand will never cause
His child a needless tear.

She was eighty-four years of age. She was old and she had never ceased to hope.  Age can take away the bloom and the strength of our bodies; but age can do worse— the years can take away the life of our hearts until the hopes that once we cherished die and we become dully content and grimly resigned to things as they are. 

Again it all depends on how we think of God.  If we think of him as distant and detached we may well despair; but if we think of him as intimately connected with life, as having his hand on the helm, we too will be sure that the best is yet to be and the years will never kill our hope.

How then was Anna such as she was?

She never ceased to worship. She spent her life in God's house with God's people. God gave us his church to be our mother in the faith. We rob ourselves of a priceless treasure when we neglect to be one with his worshipping people.

She never ceased to pray. Public worship is great; but private worship is also great. As someone has truly said, "They pray best together who first pray alone." The years had left Anna without bitterness and in unshakable hope because day by day she kept her contact with Him who is the source of strength and in whose strength our weakness is made perfect."

The prophetess Anna is not much remarked or remembered.  She is 'the quiet of the land.'  I believe that there is a beautiful little church, on the slope of the Mount of Olives, the Church of Dominus Flevit, that was built on the site of an ancient Byzantine church that was dedicated to her.

Do you wish to know what God is thinking, what He is doing?  Talk to Him.  Talk also to His people, those who are yours to walk with you on the way.   And do not allow a wayward heart to make you hardened, deaf and blind.