Faith In Real Life Blog: “Pray With and For others”
Rev. Vernon Gramling
Decatur Presbyterian CHurch
April 26, 2023
13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up, and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
When we are beyond our means, we seek help. We ask for prayer and we are frequently asked to pray for others. There are intercessory prayers, prayer lists, prayer chains and prayer vigils. But what do we expect when we pray for others? Will cancer be healed? Will an accident victim survive? Will we finally get pregnant? Will we get the job we seek? We rely upon and are comforted by the words: ‘ God is our refuge and strength, a present help in time of trouble.” But how does that work? Is God most like a loving parent whose job is to watch over and protect us—and more specifically, a God who will respond to our particular needs.
The answer to that question is yes but unfortunately that yes is not on our terms. We all know that from experience—most people die of cancer, many women can not get pregnant, accidents often kill or disable. So what do God’s promises mean? Most know that God’s care is not measured by the number of yeses we get when we ask. Nor does it rely on the number of people praying. God’s promise is that we will be seen, we will be heard, we will be loved no matter what happens in life. In real life we want more—just as the Jews were disappointed when Jesus did not free them from oppression—we get disappointed when we are not freed from suffering. We have a terrible time viscerally realizing the way God is present and the way God loves.
In FIRL Linda LeBron spoke to these concerns saying: “I believe prayer generates an energy I don’t understand. I don’t think prayer manipulates God—-it changes the person you pray for and it changes me—when Archie was dying I lived on the prayers and emails I received from my community.” Today, I want to examine some ordinary ways we might understand that generative, transforming energy.
Human beings fare better in communities. As introverted as some of us are, we still need connection. From the beginnings of humankind, division of labor and shared responsibilities allowed us to gather food and take care of our children. We are small mammals that had to hunt in packs to survive. Our young require much more care for longer periods of time than other mammals. There is a reason exile, banishment, solitary confinement and excommunication are used as punishments. Lone wolves do not survive long. Our up by our bootstraps, individualistic mentality denies this fundamental interdependency and our technology allows us to claim self sufficiency when, in real life, we are dependent upon hundreds of people to cultivate, ship and deliver the food we have in our refrigerators. We just don’t think about them very often, much less thank them..
One of the ways prayer works is that when we pray for others, we intentionally bring that person and their needs to the forefront. We see and hear them and by bringing them to God in prayer, we live in the faith that God sees and hears them. If you are the recipient of such prayer, we listen to someone call us by name, present us to God and desire our well being. It is humbling and intimate. It builds connections to each other and with God. It transforms.
Several years ago, I created a guide to such prayer. It is simple and certainly not original. (There are hundreds of books on the subject.) I share it again because we need to be reminded and taught this discipline. Begin with sharing and listening. We need to find ourselves in the relationship and we need to listen to the other. We can do this face to face or we can do it privately. It takes more courage to do it face to face—and sometimes it is too much to ask. One of our FIRL members told us that she and her husband decided to pray for one another face to face but discovered it was too hard. They could pray privately but not face to face. Do not let what you cannot do prevent you from doing what you can.
When you share your concerns, Take a moment. Center yourself. Notice what occupies your mind. Examine your heart. Present yourself as honestly as you can. Try not to decide what is important enough to pray about. Try not to worry about being articulate or complete. Your job is to be ‘I AM’ and to risk trusting your ‘I Am’ with another. (This is an unfolding process but it builds connection incrementally.)
When you listen, Your job is to be present, not additive. That is God’s job. He is the potter, you are the clay. No comments, No opinions, No assurances, No advice
You may only ask clarifying questions—-‘What do you mean by….?’ ‘Can you tell me a little more about….?’
1. Address God
2. Present the name and the concerns of the other.
3. Present what is it like to have these concerns.
4. Ask God’s presence and care
5. Leave the rest to God. Let it be so. Amen
These suggestions are deceptively simple and deceptively powerful. An image I have been toying with is the biological process of growing receptors that allow us to feel and process the world. An infant begins life unable to separate herself from her mother. Only later does the child begin to realize she is a separate individual. This experience is necessary for growth but it is also frightening. It is hard to be so small and be separate. It is equally hard as we grow older— to feel small in the face of an overwhelming world. But each of us must find a way. Each awareness of the other adds to our ability to see and experience differences. Biologically, we add the receptors that allow for community and empathy. Praying with and for others helps us grow these receptors.
One of the major tasks of couple’s counseling is to help people see that the way they see the world is not THE way to see the world. True respect for our partners (and others) cannot occur until that lesson is learned. Only then can we be honestly curious about the validity of other people’s lives. When I was a teenager, our pastor told a story about his first year of marriage. After breakfast, his wife would place a package, wrapped in string next to the back door. Several days went by and without warning, his wife angrily asked why he would not take out the garbage. It turns out that the wrapped package was the garbage. But he had no clue. Sharing and listening had not occurred. Assumptions were made and indignation followed. Neither had the faintest idea that their partner’s knowledge and experience was actually quite different than their own. Such is the ordinary process of growing the receptors that allow us to experience one another.
When I say I believe in prayer, this is what I mean. Praying for and with one another helps build a net of connections which can sustain us through anything. It is a primary means by which we experience God’s presence. That is God’s promise. If you have ever had someone sit with you when you were in despair, you know that presence and connection sustain and heal. My wife taught me this lesson when she told me she didn’t need my well intended advice and certainly did not need my unsolicited problem solving. She told me she just needed me to grunt in the appropriate places. She needed me to listen and be present.
You know the relief that comes with shared suffering. That is the promise of the cross. It is God reaching toward us and willingly sharing our hardest struggles. Jesus faced rejection, betrayal, great pain and finally death. He demonstarted that none of us are immune from such pain. Suffering, even unjust suffering is part of life. God did not offer a way to escape life. He offered a way to live it. He calls us to do likewise. Each time we pray with or for someone, we affirm that faith. Each time we receive such prayers we are sustained and empowered. That is an answer to prayer that we do not expect, and truth be told it is not an answer we like—when we want what we want on our terms.
Ron Johnson shared a hymn that says this well. Its title is: “He Gives Us Grace”. Listen to it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?
He gives us more grace as our burdens go greater, He sends us more strength as our labors increase. To added affliction, He adds great mercy. To multiplied trials, he multiples peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance, when our strength has failed ere the day is done, When we reach the end of our hoarded resources, our Father’s full giving has only begun.
Fear not that your need shall exceed his provision, Our God ever yearns His resources to share. Lean hard on the arm everlasting availing, the Fatheer will bear up both you and your care.
His love has no limits, His grace has no measure, his power has no boundary known onto man. For out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He blesses , and blesses and blesses again
When we pray with and for one another we discover a peace beyond understanding. Sometime it is melancholy. Sometimes it is joyous. But it is grace filled peace.
Grow the receptors which allow you to be aware of and connect with God and others. They will sustain you in hardest times. They will give you life. They will give you means to accept grace beyond measure. Pray With and For Others.
Let it be so.