Saturday, June 9, 2018

Prayer Strengthens You and Others

Corporal Act of Mercy
Marchamchurch Church, Cornwall
(c) Alamy
I thought long and hard before I wrote this article; I even scrapped others, because I didn't know what to say. I only wanted to say something that I thought was important. I've concluded I probably should write something on prayer, because of how much it's impacted my life in South Africa. I've concluded that it not only makes the person praying strong, but, maybe more importantly, it makes the person being prayed for stronger too.

Now that I'm no longer in South Africa, I've been thinking about the most important experiences I had there. I met a young English South African, who was a Christian and struggling with his work. After counseling him for hours, I thought I should pray for him. So, he let me, and I think it helped him. He said he felt at peace.

Later, on my trip, I met a French guy around my age. After we started drinking, red wine of course, he shared what was on his heart and mind. There was so much pain, and I could see it. More importantly, I could feel it.

I sighed. What could I do about this? It's in my personality to want to fix things. (Apparently, I was like this as a kid too.) And that's why I finally studied law; I thought maybe doing so could bring justice to the brokenness of some of these cases and the lives of others. So it frustrates me when I can't fix the problem. But some times life is just rough and bad things happen and there's nothing you could to "fix" the other person's situation, except listen.

When the French guy started sharing. Not knowing really what to do, I asked, "Is it ok if I just pray for you?"

I sat next to him and prayed for him. I put my hand on his shoulder and just asked God to be with him. He said that he could feel warmth leave my hands. And later, he was smiling.

I don't know if I made all his problems go away. Actually, I'm sure I didn't. But I know that I helped ease the suffering and hurt, and maybe in doing so, made myself stronger too. I mean, isn't it strength to give of yourself?

I don't know why. But on this part of the trip, in South Africa, I probably have had more people ask for counsel and advice and prayer than during the first nine months of my sabbatical. But to be honest, I wonder if something changed about me, after I was almost killed in Colombia. There's nothing like nearly bleeding to death from a speed boat propeller slashing into your head and shoulder.

But I don't think I'll know for sure how much that changed me, until much later. After all, life is lived forward but only understood backwards.

So, back to prayer. And after praying for the French guy, I was also given an opportunity to pray for a young guy from the United States and a Dutch guy too. All of this forced me to reflect on what was going on here. Why were strangers asking me to pray for them? I'm still not one hundred percent sure.

I've, however, concluded that the younger generation is hungry for real spirituality. I believe that there's a profound brokenness in my generation and the next one. And there's a role for justice, healing, and restoration in our world. As Jesus taught, we all need to become salt and light for this to happen. The Jewish Scriptures say this too. It is written: "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8, NIV).

In South Africa, some how, people seem to have sensed that I've endured through much and maybe I have some insight to offer them. And to be honest, I'm glad I contributed to those who sought my counsel.

I mean; wouldn't the world be a better place if we all decided to give more than we take in every relationship we entered into? I'm convinced that greed and greedy people are literally destroying our physical environment, our relationships, and our lives. (Isn't that what some of us have been battling against, when we've taken on corruption in our small corner of the world, near East Los Angeles?)

So; the next time someone opens their life to you, and you have no idea what to do, you can always ask them if they need prayer. And you pray by asking the living God to meet that person wherever they're at. I'm sure it's not easy to do, but I remind myself, if someone had the courage to tell me what's going on with them, I have the courage to pray for them.

And there is a power in praying. As the Scriptures tell us: "For the Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid; instead, his Spirit fills us with power, love, and self-control." (2 Timothy 1:7).

In writing this article, I recall one of my favorite poems by the metaphysical Welsh poet, George Herbert, who wrote Prayer (I). In it, he says that Prayer is the "soul in paraphrase", a "heart in pilgrimage", "A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;" and that it's the "Church-bells beyond the stars heard". It results in "Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss".

And in performing this act of worship, there really is "something understood."

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