Praying Man
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  — Philippians 4:6-7, NIV

It was Christmas Eve 1938. The family of a local synagogue prayer leader, or cantor, as they are known, apprehensively entered the cramped passenger compartment of a train that would take them out of Berlin into Holland where they hoped to find safe passage to America. It had only been a few weeks since Nazi paramilitary forces and German civilians stormed the Jewish ghettos ransacking and burning businesses and synagogues as they pulled Jews off the streets beating, or taking them away never to be seen again. For two days, the terrifying sounds of broken glass and unspeakable fear pierced the air earning this reprehensible moment in history the name, “Kristallnacht,” or “Night of Broken Glass.”

Even though the cantor suspected the elderly couple occupying the cabin with them that dark, cold night might be Nazi sympathizers, he could barely suppress his desire to light the Hanukkah candles as his people had done for millennia. Never before had his orthodox family failed to commemorate the Festival of Lights. Afraid such an act would give them away, however, the wife quietly begged her husband to forego the celebration. “Please don’t!” she pleaded. “God will forgive us. He understands our circumstances!” You see; she was more afraid of what man might do to them than what God could do for them.

Some time later, the train was unexpectedly diverted to a sidetrack that led to a German customs platform where officials hurriedly boarded the train to check passenger papers. As the cantor’s family tried to quell their fears, the power on the train and platform suddenly went out plunging everything and everyone into utter darkness. The passengers poured out onto the platform unsure of what to do. For some reason, the Jewish family chose to remain seated in their cabin. Without saying a word, the cantor glanced knowingly at his wife and children before solemnly unwrapping nine small candles hidden in his coat pocket. After warming the bottom of each, he carefully stood them up on the narrow windowsill and lit them one-by-one softly singing the appropriate prayer for each. Despite the frightening circumstances, the family felt a sense of peace wash over them as they silently gave themselves over to God’s care.

Within seconds, a stern-looking Gestapo filled the cabin doorway. The cantor held his breath as he glanced up to see what the Nazi would do. Looking first at the candles then at the Jew, the man said quite uncharacteristically, “It was good of you to bring your travel candles.” For the next half hour, the official used the cabin and the light provided by the small candles to process all the passengers’ travel papers. At the exact moment the candles seemed about to flicker for the last time, power to the train and platform was restored, and the train went on its way without further incident. The cantor’s act of faith in the face of overwhelming adversity had provided just enough light to point the way to freedom. The events of that night were nothing short of miraculous, but it took the devout Jew’s willingness to trust in God to bring them about.

While most of us may never face the unimaginable terror many endured during World War II, we are victimized by fear and stress from sources that are no less destructive. Frequent separations due to military deployments, financial burdens or illness, drugs, rebellious children, marital infidelity and the invasion of pornography into our relationships and homes make us believe we are helpless and hopeless. Deep down we know that if God is for us, no one can stand against us. Yet, we struggle to place all our hope and trust in the Lord.

I recently read an anecdote related by a pastor about a family who put their grandmother on her first airplane flight. It was clear she was a reluctant, if not fearful passenger. When she returned from her trip, a relative jokingly asked, “Well, did the plane hold you up okay?” “Yes,” she answered. “But I never did put my full weight down on it!”

Like this Grandma, you may be afraid to put your full weight on God. Consequently, fear and anxiety haunt you, and if not dealt with, may ultimately render you helpless. Dr. Billy Graham doesn’t sugarcoat his diagnosis of this malady running rampant among believers and non-believers alike. “Anxiety is the natural result when our hopes are centered in anything short of God and His will for us.” Remember the cantor’s wife who believed that if her family could somehow conceal its true identity they would be safe? She mistakenly put all her hope in her husband’s ability to protect them. The tide turned only when he courageously put his “full weight down” on God.

As impossible as it may seem to you during this moment in your own crisis, you, too, can experience your own miracle of faith. God is more than capable of governing the details of your life in a way that will restore harmony, but you must let Him do so. In fact, He alone is able to cause all things to work together for your good and His glory (Romans 8:28). He alone holds the keys to your future. Take note of the words of the ancient psalmist who boldly declares that even if he has to walk through the darkest valley of his life, he will refuse to live in fear because he knows God will be with him and will comfort him (Psalm 23:4). No matter how inadequate you may feel at the moment, His power is made perfect in your weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9; Proverbs 18:24). He will never leave you, nor will He forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). Christ promises that if you will trust Him, as the cantor did on the train, He will give you the courage and strength to take the next step, and the next, and the one after that until you find the freedom and peace you so desperately crave.

We began this post with a quote taken from a letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi during his second missionary journey. It is clear from his writings that his desire was to encourage the people he loved by reminding them they could do all things through Christ who stood ready to strengthen them (Philippians 4:13). He reminded them not to be anxious about anything (vs 6). Notice that rather than offer empty platitudes, he gave them concrete steps for achieving perfect peace and trust. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (Philippians 6:4-7, NLT). He knew, perhaps better than most, that these were the prerequisites for achieving the kind of peace that defies the odds and transcends all human understanding.

What was true for the early Christians is just as valid for you today. Christ waits to do exceedingly abundantly more for you than you could ever ask or think. Don’t give up! Put your “full weight down” on the only One who can bring order out of chaos and victory out of defeat.  Our lay counselors and intercessory prayer team members are available to help you navigate whatever storm you are going through. You needn’t walk alone.

-Francine Thomas

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