Tag: prayer

Good News But Not Good Enough

Let’s get right to it: the needle biopsy of a lymph node under my arm showed no cancer. Normally that would be good news, but the doctors were skeptical that it would show anything from the beginning.

That means on Monday I should have a surgical biopsy where they take a whole lymph gland. Unfortunately the “brightest” one is near my aorta, but there are others that are more accessible.

I also had another plasma pheresis treatment today. They seem to be helping as I have regained some leg strength. Still need a walker and PT is coming to work with me tomorrow.

Other than that we’ll be hanging out by the pool soaking up some rays this weekend. Not. Anyway my goal is to preach Easter Sunday. Please pray that I’ll be able to do that. We have so many dear friends both near and in other places. We appreciate your cards, visits, prayers, and thoughts. As Paul said, “I thank God for you….”

Some Improvement

This morning as the doctors made rounds and checked me, my right leg showed some improvement. I am now able to lift my right leg and bend my knee. Two days ago I could not do this. So it seems like the plasma pheresis treatment is working.

I slept well last night. The doctors also disconnected me from the heart, oxygen, blood pressure monitors and moved me to a new room, 4101. I got to shower this morning and put on sweatpants and a T-shirt, rather than the revealing hospital gowns.

The biopsy results will hopefully be ready on Friday. One of my doctors told me I would be here at least five more days. However, if the biopsy did not yield enough tissue for an accurate diagnosis then they will surgically remove a complete lymph node to biopsy.

This is not a journey we chose, but we can feel your prayers sustaining us along the way. We’re not worried or fearful and we are in the hands of the God who made all things. I can’t think of a better place to be.

Busy, Tiring Day

Today was a busy day. Just as I  was about to eat my oatmeal, the nurse came and took it away because my biopsy was scheduled for sometime today. A bevy of doctors examined and talked with me throughout the day. Physical and occupational therapy put me through the paces.

In the afternoon I had another plasma pheresis treatment. While that was going on for over two hours, additional doctors came in. Then, because I mentioned some chest pain, the EKG cart showed up. All the people in my room reminded me of that old Groucho Marx movie where people keep coming into his hotel room until they all tumble out the door!

Finally at 4 PM, they came to get me for my biopsy. The team decided that a lymph node under my right arm was the most accessible. After considerable probing they finally got a large enough sample to test. Lab work will take 2 days, so by Friday we should know if I have lymphoma.

Thank you for all the cards, prayers, visits, emails and all the other expressions of help and concern. We love each of you and we’re still trusting the God of the Angel Armies (as Eugene Peterson says) for His healing power.

Bad News Today

Today the PET scan showed several suspect lymph nodes in my neck, chest, and abdomen. According to the doctor, these were “lit up more than they should be.”

Tomorrow the hematology physicians meet with me. The plan is to figure out which lymph node to biopsy for suspected lymphoma. Of course there are many types of lymphoma, and there is also the possibility that an infection caused the lymph nodes to light up.

So, as Jesus said (my paraphrase) “Don’t worry about tomorrow…” We’re trying not to get ahead of ourselves but wanted each of you to pray with knowledge of this development. We know God is with us on this journey where ever it leads.

First Day at Duke

I had an uneventful move to Duke University Hospital last night. and I slept most of the night for the second night in a row, so that was very good. This morning I met my medical team as they made rounds. On Saturdays not much in the way of testing takes place, but of course they did draw more blood several times today.

The next step is a nerve test called an EMG I think. Also they are still waiting on blood panels (a series of blood tests related to one aspect) to come back from a California lab, so hope too have those early next week.

I did walk about 25 feet and back today using my new walker, so that was good. Pain management is improving but we need to find something other than morphine as it has obvious drawbacks including rebound pain if used too long. My right leg is noticeably weaker when the doctor tested me this morning, and I noticed it when walking this afternoon. Some additional muscle problems have developed in my lower bowel. Without being too graphic, this is not a good problem to have.

Please continue to pray. Our confidence is in God who does all things well.

When You Pray: The Lord’s Prayer (Part 1)

Here’s the first message in a seven-part series on The Lord’s Prayer.  We’re using The Lord’s Prayer to form us spiritually during Lent this year.  Join us in these days of preparation by praying The Lord’s Prayer each day.

When You Pray:  The Lord’s Prayer

Matthew 6:5-15

5 “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 men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 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. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

Continue reading “When You Pray: The Lord’s Prayer (Part 1)”

Sermon: The Only Prayer We Can Pray

Jesus reminds us that there is one prayer we can and must pray.  It is a prayer that reflects our understanding of who we are in our relationship to God and others.

The Only Prayer We Can Pray

Luke 18:9-14

9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

One of the things I like about scripture, particularly passages like this, is they tell us exactly what to look for.  By this time in his ministry, Jesus has become somewhat famous for telling parables.  The word parable comes from the Greek word parabole’ which means to “throw alongside.”  Parables were stories tossed to the hearers to make a point.

But sometimes the parables were enigmatic and mysterious.  In Mark’s Gospel Jesus has to explain some of his parables to the disciples, who seem as mystified as the crowds about the point Jesus is trying to make.

But here, in this parable, Luke tells us several things. First, Luke tells us about whom Jesus was speaking —

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable…

Now that’s pretty clear.  There is no doubt to whom Jesus is speaking and what problem he’s addressing.  So, this parable is going to be one of the easy ones, one of those that is blatantly apparent when it gets told.

And, it is.  Jesus then tells the story of two men who went up to the Temple to pray.  So, this is not just an ordinary day, or an ordinary time of prayer.  Going up to the Temple to pray usually involved some special occasion, a feast day, or some event in the life of the worshipper that brought them to the Temple.  Going to the Temple wasn’t like our going to church on Sundays.  A Temple visit was a special occasion which required ritual preparation, the exchange of Roman coinage for Temple currency, and the purchase of a sacrifice if one was going to be offered.

The righteous Jewish man would make his way up through the winding streets of Jerusalem, assiduously avoiding anything that might make him ceremonially unfit for Temple worship.  As he ascended the Temple entrance, he entered the Court of the Gentiles.

This large portico, the outer court of the Temple, most of which was out in the open except for the colonnades, was the place for God-fearers to gather to pay homage to the one true God, the God of Israel.  This was the court from which Jesus ran the money-changers.  His words were, “My father’s house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.”  What sometimes gets lost in the account of the cleansing of the Temple was that when Jesus said, “My father’s house is a house of prayer” everyone who heard him would have filled in the rest of the scripture, which read, “…a house of prayer for all nations.”

In other words, the moneychangers and the merchants were taking up space allotted for non-Jews.  The Gentiles couldn’t go any further into the Temple upon penalty of death, so disregarding the purpose of the Court of the Gentiles in order to exchange money and sell sacrificial animals deprived the non-Jews of their place in God’s house.

Okay, enough of that, but I wanted you to get the picture.  But back to our two Jewish friends, two men going up to pray.  So, they pass through the Court of the Gentiles, and then bypass the Court of the Women.  Remember that this is a paternalistic society, and Jewish women could come past the Court of the Gentiles, but no further than the next courtyard, the Court of the Women.  The Court of the Women was an enclosed area, unlike the Court of the Gentiles which was an enormous open space.

I’m not sure why our church has two front doors, but many old churches have two front doors because the women entered in one door, and the men entered the other, and they sat separately during worship.  The Old German Baptist Brethren still practice this to some extent.  Men sit on one side of the church, women on the other, but they do have families seated together in the middle.

Once they are past the Court of the Women, our two friends enter the Court of Israel.  This is where Jewish men can gather, offer prayers, give their sacrifice to the priest, and worship God.

So, it is in this part of the Temple, most likely, that this parable takes place.  Perhaps it is a high holy day, or a day of festival.  Or perhaps one of our worshippers has experienced the blessing of God in an extraordinary way.  We don’t know what brings our two friends to the Temple, but we do know who they are.

One is a Pharisee, the other a tax collector.  Which is very much like Jesus saying, “Have you heard the one about the Pharisee and the tax collector?”  By putting these two types of men in the same sentence, Jesus has already crossed the line of propriety.  You literally didn’t mention “Pharisee” and “tax collector” in the same breath.

So, immediately Jesus has the attention of everyone standing around, some of whom are — you guessed it — Pharisees.  Oh, and there’s at least one tax collector, or former tax collector named Matthew in the crowd, too.  Not sure where Zacchaeus is on this particular day, but Jesus already had the reputation of eating with “tax collectors and sinners.”  The phrase itself was redundant in first century Jewish society.

Let me tell you about the tax collector first.  Tax collectors were a hated bunch of guys in Jesus’ day.  They were hated because, first, they collected taxes and for thousands of years people of every cultural stripe have hated paying taxes.  And, Roman taxes were high, and systematically collected.  You remember that Mary and Joseph had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus to be counted, and the counting was so that the Roman government could know from whom to collect its taxes.  Unlike my grandfather who told my grandmother that the IRS didn’t know he existed.  He found out differently.

But, if that weren’t enough, tax collectors could also collect whatever amount they wanted to.  You might have owed the Roman governor 15 denarii, or fifteen days wages, but the tax collector could tell you that your bill was 20 denarii, or 25, or 50, depending on how much money he wanted to make, and his ability to enforce his demands.

Not only was the Roman system of taxation spread widely, but it also dug deeply into the coin purses of every household.  And paying through tax collectors was the only way to get your taxes paid, and your name duly checked off.  So, you paid extra because that was the way the system worked.

But you didn’t have to like it.  And you didn’t have to be kind to the tax man, or speak nicely to him, or befriend him, or even act in a civil manner.  You could show your complete disdain for him and his dirty business.  Tax collectors, needless to say, were never invited to the best parties, or asked to lead civic events, or held up as model citizens.  They were Jews stealing from their fellows Jews, and so in this way, they were worse than the Romans.

But, let’s turn to the Pharisee.  Everything the tax collector was, the Pharisee was his exact opposite.  Pharisees have a bad reputation today because we know they were always on the wrong side of whatever it was that Jesus was doing, until finally they orchestrated Jesus’ arrest, trial and execution.

But, if we lived in Jesus’ day, we’d like the Pharisees.  The Pharisees were the keepers of the Law, the defenders of the Torah.  In our 21st century language, Pharisees loved Scripture, studied it endlessly, memorized it faithfully, and practiced it publicly.

Pharisees were conservative in their views of religious life.  They weren’t for changing things.  They had made an uneasy peace with the Roman government, and as long as the Romans let them worship and practice their faith, the Pharisees were fine with Rome.

The Pharisees were also good men. I say “men” because a woman might be married to a Pharisee, but women were not called Pharisees as such.  But Pharisees were good men.  They gave generously and sometimes flambuoyantly of their income.  In the Temple were great receptacles for monetary offerings shaped like the open end of a trumpet.  A Pharisee could make a great show of rolling coins around the horn of the offering trumpets, making sure all around both heard and saw his generosity.

Pharisees observed the dietary laws, the sabbath laws, the laws of ceremonial cleanliness, and on and on.  They were the good, solid citizens of Jewish society, and they even believed in the resurrection of the righteous, which their counterparts the Sadducees, did not.

If our church were situated in the first century, instead of being called Chatham Baptist Church, I am sure we would be called Chatham Church of the Pharisees, and we would be proud of it!  To call someone a Pharisee in Jesus’ day was to pay them respect and honor them for their faithfulness to God.  Or so everyone thought.

And this is where Jesus really gets under their skin.  He says, “A Pharisee and a tax collector go up to the Temple to pray.”

But then he goes on, “And the Pharisee prays about himself.”  Actually, this could also be translated, “The Pharisee prays to himself.”  That’s right, either way, Jesus is letting his hearers know that the Pharisee is either praying about himself and not God, or to himself and not God.

And here’s what he says:  “There but for the grace of God, go I.”  Actually, that’s not exactly what he says, but it means the same thing.  “I thank you, God, that I am not like other men — murderers, thieves, adulterers, even this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

We’re glad today, 2,000 years later, that we are not like murderers, thieves, and adulterers, or even dishonest tax collectors.  I mean, none of us wants to labeled among the vilest of society, like people who break the Ten Commandments two at a time.

If we were in this story that Jesus tells, we’d all be Pharisees.  And I think that was kind of the point.  But I’ll get to that in a minute.

But now look at the tax collector.  Jesus says, “He doesn’t even lift his head.”  That doesn’t seem strange to us, because we bow our heads when we pray, but the practice of prayer in the Temple was to look up, hold out your arms, bellow your prayers so that others could hear.  (Which is why Jesus said in Matthew’s Gospel, “Don’t pray like the Pharisees, standing on the street corner, saying a lot of pious sounding words.”)

All the tax collector says is, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Okay, you get to pick.  Which one of these guys gets a gold star today?  Is it the upstanding, well-mannered, scripture-quoting, tithing, fasting, praying Pharisee?  Or is it snivelling, dishonest, disgraced, traitorous tax collector?  I’ll give you minute to think it over.

Okay, time is up.  Of course, you know this story so you know that Jesus says of the tax collector, “I tell you this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”

Bang!  the Pharisees get hit right between the eyes.  “How could this happen?” I am sure they asked.  “How could a tax collector be justified before God over a devout Pharisee?”

Now, remember, Jesus doesn’t say, “A former tax collector.”  Or, “an ex-tax collector.”  Or even, “a repentant tax collector.”  No, this is a real, honest-to-goodness, tax collector who is still collecting taxes, still cheating people because that’s how he makes his money.  But, and here’s the important point, something is stirring in our tax collector’s heart.

This tax collector knows he’s a sinner.  He knows his life is not pleasing to God, and is not helping his community.  This tax collector has taken the first step toward God.  He hasn’t repented yet, but he has recognized his sin.  He now knows that he is a thief, a liar, a cheat, a betrayer of his own people.  He sees himself for what he is.  He sees himself as others see him.  He sees himself as God sees him.  And he is cut to the heart, stricken by what he sees.  Heartbroken by his own sin.

And so his only prayer is a prayer for mercy.  What else can he say?  “Lord, this is the only job I could find.”  Or, “Lord, somebody has to do it, and there are worse people than me.”?  No, he says, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Sin as a word and an idea has really fallen out of favor in our society.  About the only place we talk about sin is in church, so we get the impression that sin isn’t a real problem in society anymore.  Several years ago, the psychiatrist, Karl Menninger wrote a popular book titled, “Whatever Became of Sin?”  Well, sin isn’t fashionable anymore.  But it’s still around.  And the tax collector knew he had committed sins, and that made him a sinner.

But back to our friend the Pharisee.  What’s wrong with the Pharisee?  Luke sums it up for us:  they were confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.

Why is that such a problem.  The Pharisee was a better man than the tax collector by all outward appearances.  He tithed, the tax collector did not.  He fasted, the tax collector probably feasted.  He kept all the holy days at the Temple, but this was probably the first time the tax collector had been in the Temple in a long time.  The Pharisee was by anybody’s account the better man.

Except the Pharisee didn’t think he was a sinner.  He knew the tax collector was, he knew the murderer was, he knew the thief was, and he knew the adulterer was because those people broke commandments, and violated the Law of God.  But not him.  He was righteous.  Upstanding.  A good citizen.  A model religious leader.

But he was also arrogant.  Self-righteous.  Self-centered.  Self-satisfied.  He needed nothing.  Except, of course, for others to know that he was not like the tax collector.

Because the Pharisee’s arrogance doesn’t end there.  Arrogance leads to separating yourself from others.  Arrogance leads to believing that you’re right and everyone else is wrong.  Arrogance leads to thinking that everyone should be like you.  That if everyone in the world were like you, wouldn’t the world be a better place?

Arrogance also damages the community.  Here were two Jews — not a Jew and a Samaritan, not a Jew and a Gentile — but two Jews.  Brothers by ancestry, adherents to the worship of the one true God, the God of Israel. Two men who were both outstanding in their own ways, one famous perhaps, the other infamous no doubt.  But arrogance has separated them.

And not only has arrogance separated them, it has cut off the tax collector and his family and his children from the warm traditions of their faith, and cast them out of the closed society of Judaism to which they rightfully belonged.  Some wonder how the tax collector even got into the Temple, much less was given time to pray.

Normally, we talk about how we shouldn’t look down on others, or think more of ourselves than we ought to think, or we draw other similar lessons from this parable.  Jesus helps us by saying the exalted shall be humbled, and the humble shall be exalted.  So that’s the lesson.  But this story has more than just personal application.

When we put ourselves above others, think of ourselves as different from our fellow human beings, bad and terrible things result.  In our own country, clergymen preached from prestigious pulpits of both the North and South that the Bible affirmed the inferiority of the negro slave, and therefore, the white man had the right, and the duty, to tame the savage and command from him good, honest work.  The fact that slavery served both the economic interests of North and South, of course, was never mentioned.

In Hitler’s rise to power, the Jews were seen as the problem.  They were different, an inferior race, a mischievous group who not only reject Jesus Christ, but who killed him.  They and their nefarious schemes were to blame for the economic woes of pre-war Germany, according to Nazi propaganda.  So, Hitler’s appeal to Germans as the superior race, better than others like Jews, or Gypsies, or homosexuals, led directly to the “final solution” — the extermination of those inferior peoples.  Six million Jews were killed, not to mention hundreds of thousands of Romany (Gypsies), and others who did not fit the Third Reich’s portrait of a superior people.

Religion often contributes to this “I’m glad I’m not like him” syndrome, but not always.  I was gratified to read that an evangelical group, known for its opposition to gays, had suspended a nationwide anti-gay high school program after the suicides of several young gay students, students who took their own lives because they were bullied for being gay.  Cancelling that program was a good thing to do, and showed that some realize that when we position ourselves as superior to others — morally, spiritually, ethically, genetically, or in any other way — the consequences can be deadly.

I have titled this sermon, The Only Prayer We Can Pray.  Perhaps that’s a bit of an overstatement.  But the prayer of the tax collector is certainly the first prayer we must pray.  It is the only prayer we can pray in relationship to others.  And when we recognize that we are sinners, despite our appearance of respectability, and that our only real option is to beg for God’s mercy, then we begin to live our lives truthfully before God and each other.

The tax collector’s prayer is the only prayer we can pray if we are honest with ourselves.  It is the only prayer we can pray if we see ourselves as God sees us.  It is the only prayer we can pray if we are interested in reconciling humanity to God, and bringing the shalom of God to earth.  “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Amen.

 

Old traditions of a living faith

Typical dress among Old German Baptist Brethren I stepped back in time 200-years today. No, I did not go to a museum. I went to a funeral. A friend’s father died after an extended illness, and Debbie and I attended the funeral today. Our friend’s father was of the Old German Baptist Brethren, and the funeral moved me profoundly.

We got lost on our hour-and-a-half drive to find the Old German Baptist meetinghouse, and pulled into the churchyard just as the funeral was beginning. As we walked up to the church door, I heard the sounds of singing. In unison and without accompaniment, as one great strong voice, the congregation was singing as we entered the meetinghouse. A bearded minister stood at the front of the large meeting room, “lining” the hymn — he spoke the verse, which the congregation then sang. The sound reminded me of vespers at a monastery retreat I took several years ago. Almost a chant, the melody soared and fell in a slow, deliberate cadence that was solemn, but not sad.

Debbie and I sat down, only to realize upon looking around that we were seated on the left section filled with men only. The center section contained families — husbands, wives, children — and the right section of pews seated only women. All the pews faced the front of the room, which could probably seat about 400. One group of pews on the left faced toward the ministers. Deacons occupied those pews, I was later told.

The meetinghouse was well-constructed, but plain — a wood floor, newly polished; white unadorned walls; flat ceiling about 14-feet high; and plain pews with no hymn racks. The rectangular room was lined with pews in three sections, all facing the wall opposite the door. The two entrance doors were on the south wall, the pews faced the north wall, both were the longest walls, so that the congregation was broader than it was deep.

As I looked at the front of the room, there was no platform and no pulpit. The ministers, who are elected by the congregation and are unpaid, sat on two rows of pews facing the congregation. In front of those pews, between the ministers and congregation, was a long wooden table. I had read that the earliest Baptist meetinghouses had a central table around which the congregation was seated. I was witness to that 300-year old arrangement at the Old German Baptist Brethren church today.

After the hymn singing ended — each person carried their own small hymnal with words but no music — a minister stood to speak. Although he used no microphone, his words resounded off the floor and walls with crisp clarity. “This is what a service must have been like 200-years’ ago,” I thought to myself, although the room did have plain electric lights hanging from the ceiling.

The men wore beards, but no moustaches. Their suits were dark without collars, jackets buttoned at the top button only. Plain white shirts without ties worn under a dark vest completed their attire. Women wore dark dresses, with a cape-like design that covered their upper torsos. Dark bonnets nestled in their husband’s black hats, either hung on hooks or suspended in an ingenuous wire hat rack that ran overhead from the front of the room to the back.

The service included two speakers, two or three hymns, two prayers during which the entire congregation — men, women, and children —  knelt on the hard wooden floor, and the Lord’s Prayer followed each prayer. From 10 AM to 12 noon we sang, prayed, knelt, and listened as this funeral “meeting” offered words of comfort, and a community of support.

After the funeral, we drove the short distance to the church-owned cemetery. As we stood by the graveside, brief words were spoken. Then cemetery workmen lowered the casket into the vault, secured the top of the vault, and lowered both into the grave. As they did so, two of the Brethren came alongside with long tamping poles. As the vault was lowered, they inserted the poles down each side, guiding the vault away from the sides of the grave into the center. What followed was remarkable.

The gathered congregation began to sing. As they sang, bearded men in black suits picked up shovels and began to shovel dirt into the grave. These hands were not strangers to work, and as they shoveled, other men holding the tamping rods tamped the dirt vigorously as the grave filled. One song gave way to another as one by one, bearded men and family members shoveled dirt into the grave, and tamped it lovingly into place. Some tears were shed, but most wore pleasant expressions of seeing an old friend off on a long journey. As the grave filled, other men brought rolls of sod, covering the smoothed dirt with green grass.

The hymns ended. A minister spoke of the journey of their brother, a journey that had taken him safely home. A prayer was offered and then another minister thanked everyone for their loving kindness to the family.

As Debbie and I stood among these gentle people dressed in clothes belonging to another place and time, I marveled at how they had gathered to take care of their brother even to the duty of laying his body in the ground. This was a community of faith. A community carrying out centuries-old traditions, but not without meaning. This community gathered from all over the country, as automobile tags carried the designations of many states. They gathered, greeting each other with hugs and holy kisses, to do what communities do — to cry, to pray, to help, to support, to do the work that one friend does for another.

Most of those Old German Baptists were old. Gray beards and gray-bonneted hair were in the majority. I felt we were witnessing the passing of an era. An era when people believed together, worshipped together, mourned together, and rejoiced together. An era when life was simple, families were close, and faith was real.

Five reasons I always offer to pray for people on-the-spot

I’ve added a new category to this blog — Pastoral Care.  In small churches, pastoral care becomes a primary and expected ministry of the pastor.  Here’s the first post.

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I ran across this definition of pastoral care recently —

pastoral care
noun
1. Help, advice and moral guidance offered by a clergyman or other spiritual advisor to a group, such as the children in a school, members of the armed forces, a church congregation, etc.

If you’re a pastor, that’s the primary business you’re in — offering help, advice, or moral guidance to folks in need.  But I would like to add one more item to the definition of what pastors offer people in need, and that is prayer

I always offer to pray on-the-spot with people in need and here’s why:

  1. I represent God.  The people who have come to me may have gotten help, advice, or guidance from a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer, a social worker, a friend, a family member, a neighbor, or a counselor.  But I represent God to them and for them.  None of the other helping professions shows up in the name of God to help people.  I do.  And I offer to pray to that God right then on their behalf. 
  2. I can pray, but I may not be able to do anything else.  People in need are always hearing others ask “What can I do to help?” You may not be able to change the circumstances, heal their child, write them a check, or solve their problem.  But you can pray and you can do it right now in their presence. 
  3. I may not have another opportunity to pray with them.  At the moment you are standing in the hospital room, or sitting in their den, or holding their hand, or sharing their grief, you can pray for them.  Circumstances change, people die, hearts get hard, the moment passes.  Offer to pray for them while you are with them.  It may be your only opportunity.
  4. Prayer invites God into their world.  Wherever you have met these people in need — the hospital, the jail, the funeral home, or the church office — prayer invites God into their world.  No one else will do that, and you can. 
  5. Most people want you to pray for them and appreciate your offer of prayer.  In all my years in the pastorate, I have only had one person decline when I asked, “Could I have a prayer with you right now?” 

One word of caution — before you pray be aware and sensitive to the situation.  Years ago, I was standing in the ICU room of a young woman who was brain-dead from a car accident.  Her parents were standing with me as they faced the decision of turning off her respirator.  Another pastor from the community came rushing in and offered to pray.  With great enthusiasm, he prayed that God would heal their daughter, and then he turned and rushed back out of the room.  I was left to comfort parents who knew the end was near.  The last decision they would make for their daughter while she was alive would end her life.  Praying for healing at that point was an insensitive and hurtful act. 

But pastoral prayer isn’t just for crisis situations.  Recently after visiting a couple who had visited our church, I offered to pray for God’s blessing on their new home.  The couple both broke into big smiles,  and said, “Thank you.  We’ve visited a lot of churches in the area, and most of those pastors have visited us, but you’re the first to offer to pray.”   

I always offer to pray.  I represent God.  If I don’t pray, who will?

Faithful Prayer for Justice

Faithful Prayer for Justice (mp3)

Text: Luke 18:1-8

The Parable of the Persistent Widow

1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

Continue reading “Faithful Prayer for Justice”