I love jigsaw puzzles. Apart from the challenge of figuring which piece goes where, there is the joy of seeing a beautiful picture coming together under your fingers. Sometimes, distinctive colours or patterns give you clues to which pieces belong together. Most times, however, the pieces just don’t make sense if you’re looking at what’s printed on them in isolation. So there you are, fitting a piece with a black smudge on it into the surrounding pieces and, voila!, you’ve added the eye to a face that is now looking straight at you.
A bit of a metaphor for our lives, wot, these jigsaw puzzles. As the pieces fall into place, the picture gets progressively clearer. Some of us are blessed with 100-piece-jigsaw-puzzle lives. Some challenge there, but the picture can be completed with not too much effort. Others of us lead 2,000-piece-jigsaw-puzzle lives. We know there’s a beautiful big picture to look forward to, but getting there is going to take some doing. I’m probably more of a 3,000-piece job—work in progress and major challenges in some places!
What’s brought this rumination on? God’s been reminding me about the critical role of prayer recently. And today, He reminded me twice. Whoa! I’m a bit of a mule most of the time, but even mules know that they’d better listen to the Big Man when He nudges them so often. Anyway, I derive so much comfort from praying to Papa that this shouldn’t be an issue. (I’m praying even now as I’m writing this.) But He’s calling for a different kind of prayer; a community-changing, course-altering kind of prayer. The kind that needs perseverance and complete trust in a covenantal God. It’s a waiting-and-watching kind of prayer. As Eugene Peterson puts it:
The psalmist’s and the Christian’s waiting and watching—that is, hoping—is based on the conviction that God is actively involved in his creation and vigorously at work in redemption. (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000, 144.)
At the societal, church and personal levels, there is much to pray about. Singapore is even more of a pressure cooker now than when I was growing up. And there are issues of polity, religion and morality that are coming to a rolling boil. On our local church front, the new year has begun with many potentially exciting initiatives in the pipeline, including the real possibility of a more legit and permanent home. But we also grapple with issues such as leadership renewal, ministry focus and, ironically, the need to be more prayerful. On the home front, long-term caring for someone with Parkinson’s Disease (and the accompanying dementia) is taking its toll and I really need to draw from God’s deep well.
Sometimes, just sometimes, everything threatens to overwhelm you and you wonder if your prayers are even heard. The jigsaw puzzle pieces don’t seem to fit or even make sense. I’m so grateful for God’s inspired Word that reminds me again and again that my waiting and watching will never be in vain. If Noah (Genesis 6:5-22), at the age of 500, could get fresh marching orders and spend the next century or so building an ark that no one could see any need for, what am I griping about? I’m not even going to live as long as it took him to build the ark! There is nothing in the Bible to show that Noah had even one moment of doubt throughout all that time of hewing, sawing, tarring, and bearing with other people’s jeering and laughing. That was complete trust and obedience for you! But he could do it because he knew the character of his God, one who is faithful and keeps His covenants.
[v.] 22. Noah did. These few words underscore that Noah lived by faith (Heb. 11:7) but blank the tremendous effort and investment involved. It must have taken Noah years of work to cut down the multitude of needed trees, convey them to his building site, and fit and join the huge planks. Moreover, he must have spent a fortune to build a boat of such a prodigious size and to provision it with a sufficient and varied food supply for so many animals. The Mesopotamian stories focus on the flood hero’s actions; Genesis, on God’s activity and Noah’s obedience. (Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001, 137.)
Oh, that I can be more like Noah…perhaps, that we can all be more like Noah. Our waiting-and-watching prayers would then be less burdensome and we would trust that a God who has been faithful throughout the ages will continue to be faithful in the here and now. And even if our prayers do not receive immediate answers, we can take heart in the knowledge God will answer, in His good time and according to His purposes. The Bible tells me so.
As my beloved has been saying quite often in recent weeks, God’s people had no political power whatsoever in the first 300 years of the church’s existence, and yet they grew in number and influence, and the church is still in existence today, while the Roman authorities who were all-powerful at that time have faded into oblivion. The reason is, the early Christians, instead of wielding placards and stridently demanding rights, “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42 NIV) They showed the rest of society a model of a transformed humanity that could make a difference. Should we not do likewise?
When I embark on a new jigsaw puzzle, I have the full picture in hand and I know what I can look forward to. When I embark on waiting-and-watching prayer, God has the full picture in hand and I know I also have an answer that I can look forward to.