About three years ago, after being unemployed for almost a year and a half at that time, I reached a point where it was hard to know how to pray about my situation anymore. It was also apparent to me that something bigger than the issue of my unemployment was going on, but it was like trying to piece together a puzzle when some of the pieces were missing.
The first year to year and a half that I was unemployed I had a bunch of interviews and a couple of times I was almost certain I had the job, but something would always happen after the initial and very successful interview that stopped me dead at that point. That point, of course, was when they contacted my references. I trusted my references and had known them for years and did very good work for all of them. Of course, since I was terminated from my job in Houston, I had no idea what they (the folks in Houston) were saying, although some of the universities I interviewed with had no problem with the fact that I had been terminated there since I had twenty years of stellar work experience in my field before I landed in that job (which lasted under seven months). It was also a “for-profit” institute that fired me, and my previous years of experience were all in nonprofit colleges and universities. I figured that the reason I was never hired after successfully interviewing had something to do with the institute in Houston where I was fired, or one of my references. And that is still a big missing piece of this whole puzzle.
By the summer of 2010 bits and pieces of information were coming my way, but I didn’t have enough to go on to put the puzzle together. In one of my weekly phone conversations with my stepmother in August or September of that year (she lived in Iowa and I’m in Florida), she made a statement to me that I have never forgotten, even though the meaning at the time was unclear to me. She told me, in the course of our conversation when I mentioned to her that I had no idea at that point in time what was keeping me from being hired, that there were many people rooting for me (that’s a somewhat shortened version of the conversation but I wasn’t sure what she meant by “many” as our family is very small). While the issue didn’t arise again in later conversations as we always talked about a number of things during our phone calls, I never had a chance to ask her what she meant by “many” as she died very unexpectedly in April 2011 after complications from surgery at the age of 86.
Long term unemployment is a blight on the life of anyone who has to endure it. The ups and downs–not to mention the severe financial ramifications that come from it–are only the tip of the iceberg of what it’s like to live with the stigma of being unemployed for a long period of time in America. Friends call less often and former work colleagues drop off the radar screen after a year or so. Conversations with others aware of the situation tend to avoid the whole issue altogether–like the proverbial 800-pound elephant sitting in the living room that nobody ever talks about–or treat it tritely, which is actually worse. Actual offers of genuine help are pretty much nonexistent. Most folks, if they acknowledge it at all, say something like, “I’m praying for you,” or “I’m sure something will come along soon,” or “I wish you luck in finding something” (some even add “soon” to that last phrase, too). Or, they give an example of that proverbial “someone else” they know who is also long term unemployed as if that is supposed to help the situation; however, it is never “them” who is unemployed. Of course, at that point, the conversations usually end and they walk away. Talk is cheap and way too easy.
In the summer of 2010 I had no idea that this already long time of unemployment back then would still be going on three years later. A very long term trial can and will push all the trite phrases right out the door that church-goers (for those who attend church) and other mostly “employed” persons like to say to the unemployed (and they speak from the sidelines, too). Walk a mile in my shoes before giving me another trite phrase, please. All of the surface stuff we strive for to make our lives better becomes absolutely meaningless, but most people don’t understand that until tragedy hits them square in the face.
It was also in late 2010 that I realized I simply had no idea how to pray for my situation anymore. The words flowed but nothing seemed to changed. The Lord did provide for my needs in miraculous ways but not in the way I was expecting (e.g., employment). And for the first time in my life I understood the real difference between wants and needs. What I found is that mostly what we ask for are “wants” and not needs. And what I have found is that our needs are far, far fewer than most of us want to believe. We live in a prosperous society (even if we aren’t particularly prosperous individually) where the dividing line between wants and needs has disappeared. And when tragedy strikes, that line becomes very, very visible again.
It was back in 2010 that I remembered how Jesus taught us to pray in His Sermon on the Mount. It’s a prayer I memorized as a child when the only version available was the King James Version. And he gave us a warning before giving us that prayer that states:
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:5-8, NIV).
And then He offered this prayer (quoted in KJV that I memorized as a child and because it includes the last sentence that other versions leave off):
“Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen” (Matthew 6:9-13).
I began praying that prayer on a daily basis and sometimes it was all that I prayed on some days. I replaced the old English to make it more personal (replacing which art with Who is and Thy and Thine with Your and Yours in reference to God) and I meant every word with a sincerity I had not known before when praying that prayer. The Lord’s Prayer, as it is known universally, is so much more than just words on paper, or a prayer to be recited in public or other formal gatherings.
That simple prayer, over the past three years, has revolutionized my life and brought a focus regarding what this life is really all about like nothing else has in my entire life. And while this prayer is not the only prayer I pray, I begin all of my prayers with it.
“Thy kingdom come . . . Thy will be done . . .”
These past three years have opened up a world to me that I was not even aware of until the daily routine activities of life had been stripped away when I lost my job. And it took a while to understand that there is much, much more to this life than what we see on the surface and regarding what we think we “need” in this life. I thought I needed a job and an income as soon as possible after losing my job in April 2009. However, these past four plus years of unemployment have taught me not to “second-guess” what God is doing in my life and in this world of ours, and He has provided for my needs all along the way.
“Thy kingdom come . . . Thy will be done . . .”
During Jesus’ three-year ministry on earth His greatest adversaries were the very people who should have understood who He was from the beginning, and they were the Jewish leaders and teachers of the law–the Pharisees–and the religious establishment and their followers who hounded His every step. And at the end of His public ministry, He was betrayed by one of his own disciples, Judas, for money, and was arrested and sent before the High Priest for questioning. From there He was sent to the palace of the Roman governor, Pilate, right before He was handed over to the Jewish religious establishment to be crucified (see John 18-19). In Pilate’s questioning of Jesus, he asked Him:
“Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him” (John 18:33-38).
While Pilate did not find the truth that day, even though the Truth stood before him, he told the Jewish leaders that he found no basis for a charge against Jesus. However, the Jewish leaders came back at Pilate by insisting:
“We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God”
When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:7-12).
The Jewish leaders manipulated Pilate using fear to get what they wanted, and, as a result, Pilate handed Jesus over to them to be crucified (John 19:16). Of course, Jesus’ response to Pilate after Pilate said to Him, “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” clearly stated Who was in control, and it wasn’t Pilate or even the Jewish leaders. Jesus answered Pilate by saying, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:10-11). God was in control, and the entire course of events from the time of Jesus’ arrest to His crucifixion and resurrection can be read in John 18-21.
Jesus’ mission while on earth is clearly stated in John 3:16-18: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” And that hasn’t changed in over 2000 years.
Jesus clearly stated to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world . . . my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36). It is His kingdom and not one of our own that we should be seeking. The daily grind of life has a way of blinding us to the reality of the truth of what this life is really all about. Add to that all of the excesses available in a society like ours and we can easily lose our way and not even realize it. The kingdom we seek is not found in this world. It is found only in Jesus . . . .
“Thy kingdom come . . . Thy will be done . . .”
And His kingdom is coming soon . . . .
YouTube Video: “Let Your Kingdom Come,” a Praise and Worship song: