When heaven is shut

There comes a time in all our lives when heaven feels shut. We’ve prayed for deliverance, but the situation never improves, or worse, if there is an answer, God says ‘no’. How do we pray in these situations? It is in these times we realise the truth contained in the Lord’s Prayer - He does understand; He does care; He’s our Father!

'I search in vain. I seek Him here, I seek Him there and cannot find Him. I seek Him in the north but cannot find Him there; nor can I find Him in the south; there, too, He hides Himself. But He knows every detail of what is happening to me; and when He has examined me, He will pronounce me completely innocent - as pure as solid gold!' (Job 23.8-10, TLB)

Jesus said, “This is how you should pray…”

In Luke 11, when Jesus had finished praying, one of His disciples came to Him and asked, “Lord, please teach us how to pray!” In answer Jesus replied, “When you pray, say, Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”

In 1972, I was arrested for taking Bibles behind the Iron Curtain and put in a communist prison: the sentence for bringing Bibles was five years, and because I was preaching the Gospel in the prison, that was another five years. I could have been there ten years! I did not want to spend ten years of my life in prison, in a foreign country! I desperately wanted to learn how to pray, because I wanted to see a miracle happen; I did not want to stay in the prison; I wanted to be free, to do the work of God.

Things were difficult in the prison in Czechoslovakia where I was, and in the first few months it seemed as if God did not answer any of my prayers. When I prayed for food, there was none; when I prayed that my wife would come, she was not allowed a visa to visit me; it seemed that every prayer I prayed, God said no. I began to despair. We had to get up at 6.00am every morning and sit for hours on a wooden stool embedded with nails. It was torture. In the first six months I wasn’t allowed out of my cell - my food and my toilet were in the cell. I lost so much weight. However, I would try to pray in those early hours before the guards brought the mouldy black bread and foul tasting, drug laced drink which was our only breakfast.

‘Our Father…’

One morning when I had been three months in that cell, I cried out in desperation that I could not pray anymore because, I said, “O God, every time I pray, You say no! When I want the food parcels my family send, or a visit from my wife, or for me to be found not guilty in the court and be set free, always the answer is no! I don’t know how to pray anymore, everything I ask for, it’s no! I sat there not knowing what to do. “O God, if You don’t hear me, I’d rather die, because life has no purpose, no meaning if You don’t answer me.” While I was still saying, “O God, I cannot pray anymore”, I remembered the words in the Bible when the disciples had asked Jesus how to pray, and He said, “When you pray say…” - and I began hesitantly to say those words, ‘Our Father’ - but as I did so, I began to argue, I cannot say ‘our’, that’s plural - I’m alone in here, no family, no friends, no believers, how can I speak in the plural? I have to say MY Father. Suddenly I knew the reality of those words, He is mine - He is my Father!

‘Who art in heaven…’

Then I came to the next part, ‘Who art in heaven’. Then I argued, Yes, You are in heaven, but I’m in a stinking filthy cell, don’t You understand? Joy, happiness, glory - that’s in heaven. But I’m down here - and then I remembered the truth - You sent Your Son - Your only Son - and You sent Him down to this earth, He was in a prison cell like me. Yes, God was willing, not only to let His Son die, death is easy, but He was beaten and tortured - why - because God loved me! He allowed His Son to suffer - for me! How could I complain? And then I realised, God is not just in heaven, He’s here, in this prison cell with me! Suddenly the glory of that revelation flooded my soul.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. (Psalm 46:1-3, KJV)