When your only option is to humble yourself and pray

Culturally, and personally, one of the primary personal attributes that many of us admire is self-reliance. I read a story recently about Colonel Sanders, the founder of the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. He spent the majority of his life failing at nearly everything he tried, then retired at age 65 and didn't know what he was going to do with himself. He actually wished he was dead, but instead, decided to go door-to-door selling fried chicken he had cooked using his special recipe. Between age 65 and age 88, he became a huge business success and a multi-millionaire.

It's nice to hear that his story ended well, but what do you do when you're still living through the messy parts of your journey? Sometimes it isn't as simple as picking yourself up and trying something new. Sometimes you get to the spot where you run out of options. What should you do when you hit that wall? How should you respond when you can't pick yourself up, change your circumstances, or escape your problems?

When those seasons come, (and they come for us all), we really only have one primary option. Our best option is to humble ourselves and pray. Instead of relying on our own wisdom and strength to fix our issues, we can seek the Lord's direct intervention on our behalf and trust Him to do miraculous things for us, or change our attitude toward what we're going through.

In Joel 1:13-20, the people of Judah were facing a moment when all they could do was humbly pray.

I. Invite others to cry out to God together with you

Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests; wail, O ministers of the altar. Go in, pass the night in sackcloth, O ministers of my God! Because grain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God.

Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.
— Joel 1:13-14, ESV

In the culture of Judah and ancient Israel, the priests played a pivotal role of influence. The Lord raised them up, and established their lineage, with the goal that they minister to the people and represent them before Him. They were also given many opportunities to help keep the hearts of the people in the right place through facilitating the sacrificial system, religious feasts, and special days of worship.

Imagine serving in their role during the time of calamity that Judah was currently experiencing. Locusts had destroyed their crops. Their economy was ruined. Their animals were dying. Their families were suffering. Now, as a byproduct of all that was going on, the people would no longer have the basic items needed to make sacrifices and offerings in the temple. They didn't have grain. They didn't have drink. And they were quickly running out of animals as well. So in addition to their physical, financial, and social problems, they also had a very obvious spiritual problem.

What's left to do in a moment like that? Does their calamity remind you of a similar season in your own life? What did the Lord do for you once He stripped away all the things you used to trust and treasure more than Him? Sometimes it takes a season of desperation to remind us of our need to cry out to the Lord.

God knows everything we need even before we make our requests. So why do you suppose He still invites us to pray to Him. R.A. Torrey once helpfully pointed out some of the reasons we're given in Scripture.

  • Because there is a devil, and prayer is a God-appointed way to resist Him (Eph. 6:12-13, 18).

  • Because prayer is God’s way for us to obtain what we need from Him (Lk. 11:3-13; Jas. 4:2).

  • Because prayer is the means God has appointed for us to find “grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

  • Because prayer with thanksgiving is God’s way for us to obtain freedom from anxiety and to receive “the peace of God” (Phil. 4:6-7). -Our Daily Bread, November 25, 1998

Joel's counsel to the spiritual leadership in Judah was to call a fast, assemble the people at the temple, and cry out to the Lord together. This was a moment for them to collectively humble themselves and pray because their issues were too big to be handled through earthly means or temporary solutions.

There have been multiple seasons in my life when the Lord has humbled me, freed me from my self-reliance, and assured me that the most effective thing I could do was seek His help in prayer. It's an amazing relief, even in the midst of great pain, to come to that special place.

II. Admit that God's patience doesn't mean He was sleeping

Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes. Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God?

The seed shrivels under the clods; the storehouses are desolate; the granaries are torn down because the grain has dried up. How the beasts groan! The herds of cattle are perplexed because there is no pasture for them; even the flocks of sheep suffer.
— Joel 1:15-18, ESV

The concept of "the day of the Lord" is something that appears multiple times in Joel's prophetic book, and the catastrophic events taking place in Judah were a foretaste of what that day was ultimately going to look like.

Joel speaks of the day of the Lord as being near. He says in these verses that there will be destruction on that day, food would be cut off, joy and gladness would seem fleeting, and both crops and livestock would suffer. That doesn't sound very pretty, but that prophecy is consistent with a message that the Lord has been proclaiming through His prophets throughout history.

Scripture tells us that there will be a time when this world will be held accountable for its rebellion against God, and every single day brings us one day closer to that prophesy being fulfilled. But you see, there are many people who don't believe that's even going to take place. Because God has been patient with us, giving us time to repent, there are those who assume His patience means He's either sleeping, not paying attention, or maybe doesn't even exist. But it would be a big mistake for us to confuse God's patience with slumber.

  • "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." (2 Peter 3:9, ESV)

  • "For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night." (1 Thessalonians 5:2, ESV)

  • "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be." (Matthew 24:21, ESV)

The day is coming when the wrath of God is going to be unleashed upon sin and unbelief. And if the story ended there, that would be utterly tragic for us. Thankfully, we're also assured that Jesus took the righteous wrath of the Father upon Himself so we can be forgiven of sin and declared righteous in His sight. When we trust in Christ, the wrath of God is removed from upon us.

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36, ESV)
— John 3:36, ESV

The day of the Lord is coming, but those who have received new life in Christ are not under the wrath of God. In Christ, we are forgiven. In Christ, we are cleansed of our unrighteousness. In Christ, we have hope, and in Christ we have confident access to God the Father - knowing that He delights to welcome those who are part of His family into His presence.

III. Recognize that the Lord is the solution

To you, O Lord, I call. For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and flame has burned all the trees of the field. Even the beasts of the field pant for you because the water brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness.
— Joel 1:19-20, ESV

My father-in-law spent his career as a food chemist. In his retirement, there are multiple companies that continue to hire him as a consultant. One of those companies called him in a panic not long ago. They were producing peanut butter, but couldn't get the safety seals to adhere to the jars. They tried all night to get it to work, but finally called my father-in-law at 5:00am, hoping he would forgive them if they woke him up. It turned out it was a problem he had seen many times and he was able to offer them the solution, to their great relief. I'm pretty sure he will remain on their payroll the rest of his life.

Look at the problem the people of Judah were facing. The fire of the sun had devoured their pastures. Their trees were leafless and burned up. The water brooks were dry, and the animals were panting in thirst. The situation had essentially become as dire as it could get. No farmer, priest, or politician could solve this problem, so Joel called out to the Lord. The Lord alone could solve this problem. He was the only solution.

“I took my troubles to the Lord; I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer.”
— Psalm 120:1, NLT

How often in life do we become convinced that something or someone less than the Lord Jesus Christ can solve the deepest needs that are present in our lives. Consider the deepest longings and greatest needs we experience during the course of a typical lifetime. We long for sustenance. We long for companionship. We long for purpose. We long for forgiveness. We long for mercy. The only permanent solution for these longings is Jesus, and until we become convinced that He is the solution, we will chase after one disappointment after another. Chasing after disappointment isn't my idea of a great life, but finding joy, satisfaction, and peace in Jesus most certainly is.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
— John 16:33, ESV

I don't know what kind of season you're in the midst of right now, but if you've been trying every solution you can think of, but you aren't able to resolve your problems in your own strength, maybe it's time to admit that your only real option is to humble yourself and pray. Joel reminded the people of Judah of this need, and I believe it's a blessing for us to be reminded of this as well.

In the midst of whatever we're facing, our hearts can find lasting peace when our trust is in Christ. He is the solution. He is the source of our help. He is the reliever of our burdens. And the longer we walk with Him, the less time it takes us to realize that He's not only our last option when we've run out of ideas, but our first and best option in the midst of any season.

© John Stange, 2019