God calls us to pray unceasingly. Seems like a tall order, doesn’t it?
Scripture also tells us to be specific when we ask for what we want. That feels a little selfish, doesn’t it?
As I shared with you in a sermon on Sunday, Nov. 9, when praying for suffering to go away – sometimes it doesn’t. We worked through a passage in James 5:13-18 also known as “The Prayer of Faith.” This passage, at first glance, would indicate that if you ask for it – it will happen. Just like in Matthew chapters 7, 18 and 21 – the sayings of Jesus could, and have given, rise to the mistaken belief that prayer might be a “blank check” and God is some kind of home shopping network.
God has given us free will to follow Jesus in discipleship; he hasn’t given us blank checks.
James contrasts faith in prayer with the reality that those who stand firm for God often suffer in the struggle. Faith does not inoculate believers from trouble. Sometimes it seems far from it. When we feel we can pray for something and it will happen – and when it doesn’t, we feel we are in the midst of trouble.
James cannot imagine a Christian community that is not inspired by prayer both for healing and for thanksgiving. James is calling us to dialogue with God in moments of prayer to strengthen the spirit and inspire the practice of freedom. James offers us this as well: Is someone sick? Pray for them! Is someone happy? Sing songs of praise with them.
However, we are still plagued with the nagging truth that some of our prayers go unanswered. Or at least not answered the way we believe they should be answered.
Remember on that Sunday, I asked you “How many of you have at least one prayer that you are offering to God that you feel God isn’t answering in a timely manner?”
The word James uses means “made whole and forgiven.” When we anoint with oil and pray for healing, we should anticipate God’s response. Prayer for healing depends on many factors, but spiritual wholeness should be our highest desire with any prayer and for all our prayers.
While God may or may not provide physical healing, he will always offer wholeness and forgiveness.
During my sermon on that Sunday in November, first, we wrote down our unanswered prayer and then on the back of the paper, we rewrote the prayer so that it was a prayer that asked for wholeness and forgiveness in the situation, event, or illness. We then placed the papers in an envelope, sealed it, addressed it to ourselves and put it in a basket to be saved for three to four months. Lastly, you were thoughtfully encouraged to let God work with your prayer for these few months.
That time is now. Your envelope (if it was addressed) will be mailed to you this week. Before you open the envelope think back to your original prayer, your rewritten prayer and to what degree that prayer has been answered. If it hasn’t, think about rewriting it and taking it to God again in prayer. If it has, offer a prayer of thankfulness! If you wish to share that prayer, please send me an email or a note with your prayer story.
(If you didn’t receive a prayer envelope in the mail this week; there were three that weren’t addressed or signed. You may go to the office and see if one of them is yours.) My rewritten prayer was answered in God’s way in February – but not the way I was “directing” God to answer it. Instead God answered it in a better way. I am so very thankful that I live in God’s grace and forgiveness.
I am honored to serve Jesus with this congregation. I offer you this prayer as you contemplate the prayer sent back to you:
“Gracious and Loving God, we are humbled by the grace offered to us in this time of struggle, doubt and fear. We are grateful for the gift of prayer. Guide us and show us the way as we continue to grow in faith and learn in prayer. Amen.”
-Pastor Deena Barwick, printed in the April 2015 issue of the Tapestry.