Tuesday, December 27, 2016

"I'm Praying for You."

“Beloved, pray for us.” –1 Thessalonians 5:25

                “I am praying for you” is a beautiful thing to say.  It is also not a difficult bluff to call.
                Certainly, we are supposed to pray for each other.  That’s biblical.  It’s mandated.  Folks might wonder what kind of Christian you thought you were if you didn’t pray for someone else—especially a friend who was suffering.
Remember this? If you do...
you're old,...
 like me.  
                There have been times when we said “I’m praying for you” and it has been the wrong thing to say.  Learn from them.  Move on, and try to do better next time.
Please don’t say “I’m praying for you” as a way to promote your own piety.  Please don’t say “I’m praying for you” if you believe the other is a heathen.  I don’t think either case proves that your heart is in the right place. 
From this point forward, please don’t say “I’m praying for you” if…
·         You use it to end a conversation.  This one shouldn’t need explanation, but since it’s here, I guess we actually need that lesson repeated.  “I’m praying for you” can be one of our go-to phrases that we use on our way out the door.  If the conversation is awkward, we can’t wait to offer the phrase and probably not the prayer.
·         You don’t actually intend to pray. Please pray.  Talk to God on behalf of someone else.  Present your requests with thanksgiving and supplication.  Say your prayers.  We need it.
·         You’re not interested in praying with the other.  In addition to the work you can and should do on your own, please also pray with someone.  “May I pray with you?” might carry more weight than “I am praying for you.”
·         You’re not willing to listen. There are at least two persons to whom you need to listen.  The first is that other person, your friend who is going through some stuff.  If you are going to pray, ask, “What are some things we can pray about together?”  Of course, if you practiced good, active listening in your conversation, then you already know what some of those things are.
The other person who needs to have your ear when you’re praying is God.  If praying is conversation with God, then we also desperately need to listen to God.  If you practice a spiritual discipline of prayerfully listening, you might hear from God some of the ways that you can be an answer to the prayer you are asking.  God could reveal to you something you can do for someone else.  You might not consider it the most heroic deed you can perform.  Chances are good that God might even ask you to do something that makes plain, common sense.  Showing up with time and the willingness to listen sounds like a pretty good prayer in itself, the invocation to preaching the gospel without necessarily using words.

                Speaking of words, the following is an excerpt from The Little War of Private Post by Charles Johnson Post.  I discovered this book with the help of a homebound member of my church.  She told me the story I’m about to share.  I got the impression at the time she might have been a little fed up with sentiment disconnected from compassion.  I’m glad I was listening, and I needed the lesson.
                The Little War of Private Post is a memoir of a soldier who served during the Spanish-American war.  Post relates a story of suffering in vivid detail.  He and many other soldiers caught Yellow Fever while fighting in Cuba.  After the war, they were quarantined in a hospital camp on an island near New York. Their conditions were not much better than what they had suffered in trenches in Cuba.  They were so close to home, but they weren’t getting better. If you’d like the details, read the book.  Here are a few paragraphs which might help illustrate my point about prayer.
One day another civilian came into the tent.  He was a thin, pale little man with silky, curling first growth whiskers and a conspicuous Bible under his arm.  He had heard us [suffering soldiers speaking candidly about their condition and what they thought about it].
“You men—oh, you men!” he was ejaculating in tones of horror.  “Such blasphemy, such taking the Name. You soldiers who have been so near to death—to use such language!  Oh you, who have been in the presence of death, who have faced your God! I am praying for you.  I am praying for you!”
We suggested, and in unrestrained secular language that less prayer and more food might help.  He turned the thought aside.  Presently he went to another tent, in utter earnestness and in complacent uselessness.  The Bible never left its place under his arm, and he never lifted a finger to help that civilian nurse who was our only attendant, and for some hundred other men too.  At any hour of the day or night, or at dawn, he would thrust himself between the tent flaps and, with rapturous eyes, launch at us his excited prayers.  For this world, for this hospital, he had not time; we were merely a peg upon which to hang his pallid egotism.  The Assistant Postmaster of New York City (my uncle) was not permitted to establish any postal service in that camp, though he made a special and official trip for that purpose.  Yet this pious, worthless nincompoop was set at large to pray upon us.

Here is Post’s account of the civilian nurse mentioned above:
It was after midnight when an elderly, kindly civilian, a volunteer nurse, of which there was one for each tent-street, brought in some food in an iron pail…  He did all he could, faithfully and steadily. If he had not, we would have had nothing; no man, from the beginning of the war to its end, has my greater respect.
Jesus concluded the parable of the Good Samaritan with a good question to ponder, “Which of these, do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
           The lawyer responded, “The one who showed him mercy.”
            Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” 
I like how Clarence Jordan translates this last verse in the Cotton Patch Gospel, “Well, then, you get going and start living like that!”
Let us pray.

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