Saturday, November 22, 2008

My Family's Prayer Board: The big difference in Christianity and Jesus

Don't you just love it when you hear a snippet from someone - or read a new thought in a book - or a passage in the Bible you've read 100's of times - and God opens the eyes of your heart to instantaneously understand a deeper truth about Him? It is just like Balaam and that old dumb donkey - the angel that Balaam couldn't see was always there. The angel was reality. But until God opened Balaam's eyes - he was unable to see the reality, the obvious. God opens that door. Balaam saw. We see.

That happened to me last month - and something has been percolating inside me since.

We had a weekend visitor from another state - and another faith - who spent time with us a few weeks ago. Using a cursory glance, one would not think there was much in common with the way we each understand God. However, he made a simple observation and shared it with us over morning coffee - that has really changed my way of seeing my purpose with others - both believers and unbelievers. Like Balaam's angel - this purpose has always been here - but I am now seeing (and understanding) it in a much deeper way.

He simply said, "We Christians pray for one another. But how long has it been since you prayed with someone - involving yourself very intimately in their lives and their needs?"

My family has a simple white marker board in our living room covered in prayer requests. It includes family members, neighbors, friends all over the world and their needs of health, safety, direction, and faith. It is a constant reminder of all our needs - based on our human fraility - and our complete dependence on our Father. It is especially meaningful to me when we have company - and after they leave we see they have added their own names and needs to the board. What an honor to be asked to be included in their lives!

I realize that we could get into a very serious discussion about the purpose of prayer with an understanding to our serving a God who knows "the end from the beginning" and knows our needs before we ask them. But putting that aside - I wonder about the purpose of our praying for others? And how does our understanding line up with Jesus'involvement in with the people He encountered?

The way I see it "done" most (and the way I generally pray myself) is very safe. I realize a need someone has - and I ask God to take care of it for them. It's the same way for those involved in religious meetings - they pray a prayer about a person. Typically that person is not present - because they are sick or away dealing with the problem. If they are present - they are sitting in their pew (or chair) and we are in ours. When we ask God to help help them in a prayer this way - we are staying protected - both physically and emotionally. And the person in need is protected from the intimacy of our closer involvement, as well.

While that has always seemed the "right" way to handle prayer for others - I am beginning to see it differently. Now, this does get wrapped in WHY we pray in the first place - but bear with me - even if we might not agree on that. God already knows their needs. In fact, God knew they would have that need before it ever reared its ugly head. God may have very specific reasons for bringing that need into his/her life. How do they (or I) know that? Will my prayer change any of that? I would hope not. None of us is like Moses - God shared His plan with Moses. The Israelites simply were to follow. We are the Israelites - learning to follow and trust day by day.

So why pray at all? And how should I view my praying for others? I just don't think communication with the Living God should be such a safe, nearly scripted activity. I believe it is a huge, REAL, life altering experience. It seems to have become (especially in religious settings, before meals and before sleep) so usual and regular that prayers are even kept to the same number in a service - in an order stuck between songs and sermons - rather than REAL moments of communication between people in constant need for the adored Father. What if someone feels a need to share the prayers of their brothers and sisters between verses 3 and 4 of the 2nd song? How would everyone react? But I digress. Back to why do I pray? Especially for others?

My weekend guest helped me to see - prayer is for the person needing the prayer and for me. It is not for God. That being said - for me to simply say a prayer FOR someone or even write them on my board to keep them in my daily thoughts - is not the purpose. I believe we need to be more like Jesus and be so involved in the lives of others - their needs and happiness - that we are WITH them through the struggles. Our prayers should be WITH them - not about them. How long has it been since you've held someone's hand and prayed with them?

Every person Jesus was with had His total attention. He knew their lives, their marrage situations, their needs, their struggles, their strengths - and he related to each person THROUGH those. He did not have people mail in prayer requests, he didn't say "I will pray for you" nor did he have his followers collect requests so they could be prayed over during the "prayer service." He stopped what He was doing - and that person became his attention until the need was met.

We can't bring back sight, forgive sins or know hearts - but we can follow Jesus' example and be with the folks God has placed in our paths. Not just knowing about the problem, praying about the problem, sharing wisdom about the problem. We need to get our hands dirty - like Jesus did - not worrying about what others think. Jesus didn't care when he was harangued for hanging out with sinners. We do keep our robes clean - we don't join in the sin - but we do physically snatch the sufferer from the fire - which entails very personal involvement. We can't snatch from the fire when we are sitting on the sidelines. Yelling between your hands "I'm praying for you!" can't be heard above the roaring flames - and do nothing for the person who is burning. We have to get up - walk over - risk getting singed ourselves - but grab her out. That's what Jesus did. That's what I know now I am to do. No more safe prayers for me.

This picture exemplifies what I'm saying. It was painted following a dream that the founder of the Salvation Army (William Booth) had. Which type of believer, living in safety, are you? As you notice - most are just going about their lives - eating, drinking, being safe. The guy painting is probably painting a very spiritual piece. The singer might be singing a song to God. But most aren't even noticing the drowning. Some notice - and are offering help - if they drowner will come to them. Only one couple is out in the churning water (the fire) - grabbing drowners and pulling them to safety.

If you would like information on ordering this moving print - let me know. I have it hanging it our study. What a meaningful reminder of why God has "stationed" us here. It's not to eat and drink in safety. It is not all about us. We are here for others. We are here to do what God created us for - and that is simply to live so others see God. Who in this painting is living that way? Am I? Are you?

AJTX ~ 11.08

PS - here is a link to Booth's explanation of his dream: