“Therefore, strengthen your listless hands and your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but be healed.” Hebrews 12:12-13
This is God’s word of encouragement to us to lift up the hands of faith, and confirm the knees of prayer. Often our faith grows tired, languid, and relaxed, and our prayers lose their force and effectiveness. The figure used here is a very striking one. The idea seems to be that we become discouraged and so timid that a little obstacle depresses and frightens us, and we are tempted to walk around it, and not face it: to take the easier way.
There are many ways of walking around emergencies instead of going straight through them. How often we come up against something that appalls us, and we want to evade the issue with the excuse: “I am not quite ready for that now.” Some sacrifice is to be made, some obedience demanded, some Jericho to be taken, some soul that we have not the courage to claim and carry through, some prayer that is hanging fire, or perhaps some physical trouble that is half healed and we are walking around it.
God says, “Lift up the hands that hang down.” March straight through the flood, and lo, the waters will divide, the Red Sea will open, the Jordan will part, and the Lord will lead you through to victory. (Streams in the Desert)
I am struck by clarion chords of delight that accompany Paul’s praying. The Apostle’s vertical climb was joyfully congruent with his horizontal connections. Persistent intercession proceeds from meaningful relationship. In other words, I will never wrestle with endurance over that with which I am only casually acquainted. Relationship is critical in both directions; I pray passionately for those I care deeply about, and I pray to the Father with the degree of intensity consistent with what I believe of Him to be true.
I am not arguing for what Thomas Merton argued against: “To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.” I am effective in prayer to the degree to which I am personally invested. What seems clear to me from Scripture and personal experience is that disinterested prayer may be the most decisive descent into violence.