Uncommon Prayer

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Last month in a Sunday homily, Father Brad recounted the story of blind Bartimaeus from the Gospel of Mark. You’ve likely heard the story—Jesus, on his way to Galilee, notices this disabled beggar and calls him over. Bartimaeus is so excited at this that he leaps to his feet and runs to Jesus, who then asks what he wants. “Master,” he replied, “I want to see.”

 

Right away, without any laying on of hands, or spit-driven mud, Christ proclaimed Bartimaeus healed by faith, and the beggar joined the crowd following Jesus into town.

Father Brad added to this story a new dimension I hadn’t considered before, that here in modern times with modern medicine we have the incredible ability to heal some causes of blindness and deafness—but, incredibly, there are some patients who experience deep emotional distress after regaining their previously lost sensory perception. The transition from darkness or silence to light or stereophony is too much for some.

To extend that example into metaphor, Father Brad connected that when we ask Jesus for any number of things—for direction, or help, or healing—we might not be prepared for God’s answer—or for what comes next.

For Bartimaeus, it was a transition from beggar to follower. He threw down his singular possession, his cloak, upon approaching Christ, and chose right then to follow the Son of David as he completed his earthly work. When Jesus asks him what he wanted, Bartimaeus was ready with a quick answer.

Well, what about you and me?

Forgive me for sharing a story that’s become a bit of a revelation for me personally.

The other night, I awoke in the middle of the night with a stomachache. Concern quickly washed over me—I was due to embark the next day upon a work trip, and there’s nothing worse than traveling while you’re ill. The longer I lay awake in bed, the more worked up I got, wondering if perhaps a coworker passed on a stomach bug, or if maybe I’d eaten something gone bad.

After more than an hour of this three-in-the-morning anxiety, I began to pray, asking God to spare me the difficulty of a stomach virus. After a few minutes of that, though, I began to feel a bit foolish. Surely there were people at that very moment praying for intercessions far more important or vital than mine. With time, it occurred to me that I rely quite frequently on the ad hoc prayer, the “Quick! Before it gets worse!” yelp for God’s mercy.

It’s convenient, easier, less messy for us to treat prayer casually—a tool that’s always nearby and ready to use when we suddenly run out of our own answers, or when our own powers or sense of control vanish. Prayer becomes a last resort.

And even if you pray regularly, daily,  it’s easy to let prayer become a too formulaic part of spiritual life. Perhaps that’s in part because we so often live in first-world comfort. We give thanks for our food, even though few of us have ever known perpetual hunger. We ask for God’s continued blessings, yet we forget that coming home to a house with a solid roof and warm heat puts us ahead of millions on this planet. And even in our most distressed moments, we might ask for God to extend our lives and save us from death—even though perpetual life through salvation is just around the corner.

So there I was, in my comfortable bed, with warm heat and a dry roof, worrying mostly about coming down with a stomach bug and freaking out about the awfulness of throwing up in an airplane lavatory. And that was what was on my mind as I gave in and prayed to God.

What was missing at that desperate moment? Prayers for direction. For courage to grow in my Christianity. Prayers for our church. For Father Brad. For the work we share as a congregation to bring God’s love to our community. Noticing a trend? I was focused on one thing—me—and nothing else.

Thinking back to that homily about Bartimaeus, perhaps it’s clear now that I could have instead prayed for the strength to hear God’s answer and respond to it.

And while it’s more than cliché, the month of Thanksgiving is upon us, and now is a good opportunity to work on what gratitude really feels like. What are we truly thankful for? Are we only grateful for things we need to live, or are we mostly thankful for all of life’s extras—the extra bedroom, the summer trip to Bordeaux, the Carolina Panthers’ winning streak?

Earlier this fall, I had the fun opportunity to hang out with basketball MVP Stephen Curry when he returned to Davidson College for a visit. At a Q&A session with students, one young woman stood up to ask a question and quickly found herself overcome by the moment. “I can’t believe I’m talking to Steph Curry!” she squealed. I saw the same reaction happen a few other times—people were genuinely star struck by being so close to Curry.

Conversely, if prayer is a sort of conversation with God, how is it that I am so at ease with the Almighty that I impulsively ask not to be burdened by nausea?

By now, you’ve likely got the point. In a moment of perceived vulnerability, I cried out a pretty silly prayer (well, I didn’t cry it out—hell hath no fury like a wife needlessly woken up) for God to spare me what ended up being the result of overindulging at the buffet at dinner. Sheesh.

But I’m grateful for the chance to learn and think about what I truly need from God and, in turn, what I could better spend my time praying over.

Prayer is easy, and prayer is hard. It’s easy to gloss over the tough stuff, easy to pray selfishly, easy to make mountains out of tiny molehills. And it’s hard to have the guts to pray for God’s will for us to be done, especially when the answer likely leads us well outside our comfort zones.

Do you have a habit of praying? Do you only pray when it suits your needs? What do you truly need from God?

I’d challenge you to think through these things, particularly as we go from All Saints through Thanksgiving and into Advent.

When we are led in the Prayers of the People on Sunday mornings, consider each name and the story behind it. Contemplate the elements of the Lord’s Prayer—glorifying God and his authority, asking for blessings, for forgiveness, for deliverance.

Pray for our church and our congregation. Pray for Father Brad as he leads us (and that’s super important—see the sidebar on the previous page for four ways we can pray for him). Pray for God to lift up the blinders we might have in our lives.

And above all, pray for the courage to not be overwhelmed when suddenly light streams in, and we see our lives anew in Christ’s love. —James D. Hogan

 

 

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This article was originally published in the November 2015 edition of Trinity Topics. Read more articles here.

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