– Isaiah 61:1b-4
"This power of prayer can be illustrated by a story that goes back to the fourth century. The Asian monk [Telemachus] living in a little remote village, spending most of his time in prayer or tending the garden from which he obtained his sustenance.... And then one day, he thought he heard the voice of God telling him to go to Rome. And believing that he had heard, he set out. And weeks and weeks later, he arrived there, having traveled most of the way on foot.
"And it was at a time of a festival in Rome. They were celebrating a triumph over the Goths. And he followed a crowd into the Colosseum, and then there in the midst of this great crowd, he saw the gladiators come forth, stand before the Emperor, and say, 'We who are about to die salute you.' And he realized they were going to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowds. And he cried out, 'In the name of Christ, stop!' And his voice was lost in the tumult there in the great Colosseum.
"And as the games began, he made his way down through the crowd and climbed over the wall and dropped to the floor of the arena. Suddenly the crowds saw this scrawny little figure making his way out to the gladiators and saying, over and over again, 'In the name of Christ, stop.' And they thought it was part of the entertainment, and at first they were amused. But then, when they realized it wasn't, they grew belligerent and angry. And as he was pleading with the gladiators, 'In the name of Christ, stop,' one of them plunged his sword into his body. And as he fell to the sand of the arena in death, his last words were, 'In the name of Christ, stop.'
"And suddenly, a strange thing happened. The gladiators stood looking at this tiny form lying in the sand. A silence fell over the Colosseum. And then, someplace up in the upper tiers, an individual made his way to an exit and left, and others began to follow. And in the dead silence, everyone left the Colosseum. That was the last battle to the death between gladiators in the Roman Colosseum. Never again did anyone kill or did men kill each other for the entertainment of the crowd.
"One tiny voice that could hardly be heard above the tumult. 'In the name of Christ, stop!'"
- Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast [excerpts], February 2, 1984 - From ReaganLibrary.gov
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There are varying accounts of the precise events of that day, which history suggests was January 1 of A.D. 391. Some have it that the gladiators skewered Telemachus at the command of a Roman official. Others recount that it was the crowd themselves who stoned him to death (unlikely though it may seem that they would find a supply of stones for that purpose within the Colosseum). But the end result of his actions is a matter of recorded fact. Touched to the heart by Telemachus' courage and martyrdom, Emperor Honorius issued the edict that banned gladiatorial combat within the empire for all time.
In this concluding installment of our study of Isaiah 61, the "Messianic Playbook," we could perhaps review the chapter's main elements, ponder our Lord's marvelous and compassionate plan of redemption, or reiterate our duty to spread His message as long as we have breath left in us to do so. But more to the point, let's take this opportunity to address a more practical angle: "What is the likelihood that, thirty days from now, I will even remember what I've learned from Isaiah 61 ... much less be putting it into practice?"
"Anyone who listens to the Word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like." (James 1:23-24, NIV)
But why is it that we so often listen to the Word being taught, or preached on a Sunday morning, and then have absolutely no recollection thirty days later of what our Lord was saying to us through that teaching or sermon? Why is that we can read a profound Christian book, or even a chapter of the Bible and hear His voice almost audibly saying, "This is your life purpose. Listen up! Repent and seek God! Obey!" and never take the slightest action in response to that call?
Our Savior's patience is never-ending (Hallelujah!), and He is not One to condemn, but to train, encourage, and draw us to Himself as a loving father. And, as we survey the magnitude of the human Problem—for which He has called us to be part of the solution—He knows that we are "but flesh," that we naturally grow faint and discouraged at our own inadequacy.
And yet, Christian, if you have felt Him tug at your heart through this Isaiah 61 study ... if there was ever a time to respond, it is now, in light of the glorious message of the chapter that describes how He intends to use His corps of Blessed Mourners to be salt and light, to turn an upside-down world right side up. This is our purpose. This is why we haven't been raptured or otherwise swept into eternity with Him. Because this is the work we have yet to do. And there's never a job He would call us to without also providing the courage and the power to do it! As Jesus said—His last words of commission to His disciples in Matthew 28—"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
So, what is the root cause of our paralysis when it comes to matters such as these? Surely it's a simple one: where to start! What could I do in my lifetime that would move the needle on world peace? World hunger? World revival? What could I possibly do to stop seven thousand runaway trains in our nation today, all heading toward the precipice of disaster and divine judgment? And that, in fact, is the right question to ask.
Remember when the prophet Elijah, toward the end of his life, poured out his discouraged heart to God saying, "I'm the only one left who serves You?" And God's loving reply was, "There are seven thousand others who are faithful. You are not the only one!" ... as He sent Elijah on his way to meet up with a few of those seven thousand and partner with them for the task at hand. (I Kings 19:14-16)
See, it's 100% true that we are incapable, alone and in ourselves, of stopping seven thousand runaway trains. But if each of us seven thousand faithful ones that God has reserved and called to be His Blessed Mourners ... if each of us sets his or her hand to a single track switch, and if we all act in obedience to throw that switch—be it ever so long and tedious a task—we will, in the end, succeed in redirecting those seven thousand trains off the track that leads to perdition, saving the helpless souls aboard who were deceived and doomed by the enemy's lies.
Think of Telemachus, who could not have imagined how successful he would be at throwing a switch that day, bringing the train of gladiatorial deaths to a halt. He just acted in obedience on what he felt called to do. And God did the rest.
We can think of many others who tackled a single task, whether great or small, and God did the rest: Mother Theresa, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., William Wilberforce, George Washington Carver, Harriet Beecher Stowe ... the list is endless. Put them all together, and the aggregate result is, to use President Ronald Reagan's words, "megatonnage!"
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In conclusion of this devotional—and of the entire Isaiah 61 study—here is a short piece I posted in 2012 on the National Minute of Prayer website (MinuteofPrayer.org):
GOD'S HEART IS TOO BIG
Since the The Big Ben Minute [book] was released this spring, a number of media folks have asked me about the Minute of Prayer movement. What's the bottom line ... what's the angle? Is this about praying to end abortion? Our loss of freedoms? The upcoming election? The war on terror?
The answer is YES. And a thousand thousand other things we Christians should be caring about and fervently praying for.
But, how do we cover all that ground in 60 seconds? Why, it would be absurd to think we could effectively do such a thing. Think about it....
Just as our Father God keeps countless worlds in motion, while His eye is on the fallen sparrow, likewise, His heart swells with compassion for each of the seven billion humans on this planet—including the three hundred million of us who live in the United States of America.
- Each time a young person is cut down in the prime of life by a bullet or a bomb on the battlefield, He is right there, feeling the pain that mankind's sin has brought on our world.
- Each time a tender baby is savagely poisoned or torn limb from limb by an abortion procedure, God is there feeling the agony and bearing the infant away in His everlasting arms.
- Each time a young lady sits alone, cutting her body with razors to express the pang of loneliness in her soul, or a young man pumps destructive chemicals into his veins in an attempt to soothe the misery of his existence for just an hour ...
- When the hopeless newborn gasps for air in a dumpster ...
- Or the carefree girl is dragged into an alley at gunpoint ...
- Or the young couple loads that last cardboard box into the car and drives away from their home in despair, because the bank has taken possession ...
- Or doctor calls, and yes, it's malignant ...
Our Father God's heart weeps for the pain of all who are oppressed by the devil, and He desires to saturate us with His compassion so we may intercede for their release. But His heart is too big. If He were to saddle any one of us, even for a moment, with the sorrow He feels for lost humanity, it would crush us!
What, then? There's an old hymn that opens with the words:
Lord, lay some soul upon my heart
And love that soul through me ...
You see, God will take one splinter of that massive cross of mankind's suffering, and He'll lay it on you or me. And, we always know what splinter He's placed in our heart, because it pinches deeply each time we think about it! Your splinter might be the vacuum of godly leadership in our nation. Mine might be the 3000+ babies cruelly slaughtered each day in the U.S. alone—or maybe it's the countless young ladies who can never seem to wash their hands of the guilt over ending a child's life. Another's splinter might be the homeless young families sheltering in the old condemned post office building down the street.
So, when my alarm buzzes at 9:00 p.m., calling me to join my voice with the invisible throng across our nation who are praying at this same moment, I hold up my splinter to the One who gave it. And, as each of us holds up his or her splinter, the cross of God's compassion takes shape in our corporate prayer. That's when Heaven and Earth touch, and the infinite heart of our loving Father connects with His people's supplication. And that's when He can start to move across America, an every broken heart, and broken home, and broken church, and broken state, to bring hope and deliverance.
What, then, is the "bottom line"? What's the purpose of our Minute of Prayer? It's to pray for whatever splinter of burden God has laid on each of us. That, ultimately, He may forgive our sin and heal our land.
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Why not pray ...
As I stood these thirty days before the mirror that is Isaiah 61, I studied my own face and said, 'Could I possibly be one of the Blessed Mourners my Lord is referring to? Could I possibly make a difference?' Now I must needs step away from that mirror. But please ... burn the image into my soul. Don't stop working on me, drawing me, changing me, refining me like silver in Your furnace every single day, until you purify and draw out a precious nugget that reflects Your image ... Your heart for the lost.
In Jesus' name. Amen."
Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 6/25/2023.
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