By Nora O. Lozano
As we start a new year, and as I look back at the previous year, I can definitely proclaim: “Thus far the Lord has helped us (I Samuel 7:12)”! The first comment that I want to offer regarding this is related to the CLLI blog.
With the publishing of this blog, we complete two years of consecutive monthly publications. I am thankful to God for this achievement, as well as to our blog coordinator and publisher, Anyra Cano, to all the writers, and to you, our readers. In this new year, we are looking forward to continuing to offer pieces that are meaningful to you and your journey as a Christian leader.
The year 2020 was an unprecedented one in contemporary history. Globally, we experienced, and continue to experience, much suffering due to the pandemic and its consequences in loss of lives, health, jobs, dwelling, and the freedom to go out to do our daily business. To be fair, I have to mention also that the challenges that the pandemic brought, for some represented an opportunity to develop new creative things. For example, educational institutions, such as the CLLI, had to creatively adapt to offer distance education.
However, at this point I believe that the positive things that the pandemic has brought do not outweigh the suffering and chaos that it also brought to our lives. While it is too early to evaluate the pandemic’s consequences, both negative and positive, for me it has been a season when I often proclaim: “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
In I Samuel 7, the prophet calls the people of Israel to return to God with all their hearts (7:3). As a result, the Israelites experienced victory against the Philistines. However, the Philistines continued to be an ongoing threat to Israel; that is why the Israelites constantly returned to God and claimed: “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
During this season, my way of returning again and again to God has been through prayer. It seems that a call to prayer is around me constantly. When I open my social media and private chats, I see prayer requests like never before. Family members and friends asking for prayer for their loved ones who have been affected by COVID. In addition, the Christian Latina Leadership Institute has sponsored many prayer meetings among its community, and a daily call to prayer at 10:00 PM. These prayer times have sustained me during this challenging season.
Prayer has been an important element throughout my life. My early understandings of prayer were utilitarian. I prayed so that God could give me and my loved ones, whatever I/we needed or wanted.
Later, I learned that prayer is part of the spiritual disciplines that help us to nurture a relationship with God. According to WT Conner in his book Christian Doctrine, prayer is communion with God, a spiritual union with God. In this sense, Conner affirms, prayer is always answered. If what we are seeking as we pray is communion with God, then every time that we pray our prayers are answered because God is always ready to listen to us.
As my prayer life continued evolving, God led me to other understandings of prayer that have been so helpful during this pandemic. At times in my life, and especially this past year, there are occasions that I do not know how to pray, or that I do not have any more energy to pray. It is at these times when I remember that God has given us an eternal, praying community that is in our favor.
This community is eternal, Trinitarian (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit), and, furthermore, does not depend on my efforts to pray more or to pray the right prayer.
According to the Bible, Jesus is our perpetual intercessor, and his prayers, I believe, are constant, passionate prayers for us. Why? Since he was one of us, and was tempted in everything just as we are, but without sin, he identifies himself with our struggles and sufferings (Hebrews 4:15 and 7:25). He understands how it feels to be down here, and because of this, he intercedes constantly for us.
Another component of this eternal, Trinitarian praying community is the Holy Spirit’s role. As I mentioned before, at times I do not know how to pray, or even worse, sometimes, looking in retrospective, I have found that I was praying for the wrong thing.
The good news is that prayer does not depend on me. Romans 8:26-27 mentions, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses, for we do not know how to pray…, but that very spirit intercedes with groans too deep for words… because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Thus, the Holy Spirit is the one who guarantees that our prayers are the right ones. This is the way I picture this: as our prayers ascend to God, the Holy Spirit transforms them into the right prayers. So it gives me much peace as I pray, to know that the Holy Spirit is the one who transforms our prayers in the right prayers – prayers that are according to the perfect will of God.
During this pandemic, I am so thankful for this Trinitarian praying community: God the Son interceding for us, God the Holy Spirit interceding for us, too, and directing our prayers, and God the Father listening to them, and acting according to God’s will to promote our welfare.
Even though 2020 was a hard year, and 2021 is starting in a challenging way, I can claim: “Thus far the Lord has helped me/us”. We do not know what 2021 has in store for us, but we know who our God is, and that if we return to the three members of the Trinity we will receive help whatever the circumstances.
Therefore, I invite you to proclaim: “Thus far the Lord has helped us,” and because God is a faithful God, full of mercy, love, and compassion, God will continue to do so. Amen!
Dr. Nora O. Lozano is Executive Director of the Christian Latina Leadership Institute, and Professor of Theological Studies at Baptist University of the Américas in San Antonio, TX.