The Weight of Prayer

“In one Leadership cartoon, a man at a church meeting says to himself, Oh great! Here comes Bob. I told him I’d pray for him! ‘Dear God, help Bob. Amen.’

“He reaches out his hand to Bob and enthusiastically says, ‘Hey, Bob, been prayin’ for you!’”[1]

Some folks would say, “It’s funny because it’s true.” In reality, I don’t think it’s that funny, just really, really sad, because it is so very true – for me anyway. I’m ashamed to say that I often do exactly as the cartoon illustrates.

I’m also afraid that I’m not the only one. I’m afraid that we take the idea of prayer much too lightly. We throw around the phrase, “I’ll pray for you” so easily. We say it and then we walk on and continue our day, and probably (in my case, anyway) not think of our words again until we happen to see that person again.

I don’t believe that any of us would say that we don’t pray…but in all honesty, our prayers revolve around us and ours…and all though we mean well, offering to pray for someone is just something we say, like “Have a nice day.”

It’s kind of sad, don’t you think? Because really praying for each other, sincerely praying for each other, is one of the most powerful, life changing experiences in the world. “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner. This is a happy discovery for the Christian who begins to pray for others.”[2]

It seems to me, that if we took Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s statement seriously and really practiced it, our lives, our homes, our churches, our workplaces, would be so much more peaceful, and we would lead much more conflict-free lives. Try to imagine what a blessing that would be, of the things we could accomplish!

We have a responsibility to pray for each other and not just for ourselves. As Christians we claim to follow the example of Jesus Christ, and He prayed for His friends and for us. Did you know that Jesus prayed for you and me? He did! Isn’t that amazing? Jesus looked down through history and prayed specifically for us.

In John 17, Jesus is spending His last few hours on earth with His disciples – His closest friends on earth. He’s been explaining to them what to expect to happen after His death. He finishes this time with them with a prayer. In that prayer, he first prays for Himself: “After saying all these things, Jesus looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you. ‘For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began.’” John 17:1-5

That is a powerful prayer, isn’t it? How many of us pray for ourselves as though we really believed that we are the sons and daughters of God and that God is not like Santa Claus, but the actual Creator of the Universe? Hmmmm.

Jesus goes on with His prayer by praying for His disciples who are sitting right there with Him: “I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything I have is a gift from you, for I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.

 

“My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are. During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.

“Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.” John 17:6-19

Again, how money of us pray for our friends and family like Jesus prayed for His friends? How many of us go beyond, “God please be with Susie and help her have a great day.”? How many of our friends/family could we actually say, “I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them…”?

And then, Jesus prayed for each one of us: “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!

“O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”  John 17:20-26

Read that slowly and carefully. Feel the weight of that prayer? Can you feel the way it sits on your shoulders? Jesus prayed specifically for you and me. He prayed that you and I would be so unified that anybody who meets us will know that we are His because of our love for each other and Him. Are we accepting the answer to that prayer into our lives? Are we letting people see the answer to that prayer in us?

As I was reading John 17 today, I’m not sure that we shouldn’t read this chapter regularly and often – maybe once a week, to remind us of (1) how we should pray for others, and (2) that Jesus prayed – and continues to intercede with the Father – for us!

We need to feel the weight of that prayer and the prayers of our family and friends in our lives.

Lillianne Winegardner Lopez    10.12.2018

In 2010 a group of eight people from two churches felt called to the Detroit Boulevard neighborhood of Sacramento. It was known as one of the most notorious crime-ridden neighborhoods in all of Sacramento. Each house in that neighborhood was a place of danger. Nonetheless this group of eight decided to walk through the neighborhood praying over each home and praying for the presence of Christ to reign over violence, addiction, and satanic oppression. They began walking through the neighborhood, praying over each home and rebuking the demonic strongholds of addiction and violence.

One of the eight, former Sacramento police officer and gang detective Michael Xiong, reported that “each time we prayed over the houses, we felt the weight of oppression becoming lighter.” A woman from one of the houses confronted them. When she discovered they were praying for the community, she asked for healing, and God healed her.

The group soon physically moved into the neighborhood and started what they called Detroit Life Church. A couple years later a local newspaper, the Sacramento Bee, reported that there were no homicides, robberies, or sex crimes, and only one assault in Detroit Boulevard between 2013 and 2014. Detroit Boulevard had been transformed by a small group of people who began their ministry in the neighborhood by praying around houses, streets, and parks for the power of Satan to be vanquished. Kingdom prayer in body is what it means to be faithfully present to his presence in the world.                                                                       David E. Fitch

 

Prayer is one of the most common phenomena of human life. Even deliberately nonreligious people pray at times. Studies have shown that in secularized countries, prayer continues to be practiced not only by those who have no religious preference but even by many of those who do not believe in God. One 2004 study found that nearly 30 percent of atheists admitted they prayed “sometimes,” and another found that 17 percent of nonbelievers in God pray regularly. The frequency of prayer increases with age, even among those who do not return to church or identify with any institutional faith. Italian scholar Giuseppe Giordan summarized: “In virtually all studies of the sociology of religious behavior it is clearly apparent that a very high percentage of people declare they pray every day—and many say even many times a day.”

Does this mean that everyone prays? No, it does not. Many atheists are rightly offended by the saying “There are no atheists in foxholes.” There are many people who do not pray even in times of extreme danger. Still, though prayer … is a global [reality], inhabiting all cultures and involving the overwhelming majority of people at some point in their lives. Efforts to find cultures, even very remote and isolated ones, without some form of religion and prayer have failed. There has always been some form of attempt to “communicate between human and divine realms.” There seems to be a human instinct for prayer. Swiss theologian Karl Barth calls it our “incurable God-sickness.”                                              Tim Keller

 

After watching a program about bears on Animal Channel, my six-year-old grandson, Trevor, had a scary dream.

“Mommy,” he said. “I had a bad dream. I was being chased through the woods by a big, mean bear.”

Then he had an interesting question: “Mommy, was I the predator or the prey?”

To which his mother responded, “Honey, you were the prey.”

“That’s right,” he said, “because there would be a lot of people praying for me, wouldn’t there?”                                                       Van Morris

 

  1. V. (Ed) Hill, who pastored Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, tells the story of how “Mama’s” love and prayers changed his life. During the height of the Depression, Hill’s real mother, who had five children of her own, didn’t have enough food to go around, so she sent four-year-old Ed to live with a friend in a small country town called Sweet Home. Ed just called her Mama. As he was growing up in Sweet Home, Mama displayed remarkable faith which led her to have big plans for young Ed. Against nearly insurmountable obstacles, Mama helped Ed graduate from high school (the only student to graduate that year from the country school) and even insisted that he go to college.

She took Ed to the bus station, handed him the ticket and five dollars and said, “Now, go off to Prairie View College, and Mama is going to be praying for you.” Hill claims that he didn’t know much about prayer, but he knew Mama did. When he arrived at the college with a dollar and ninety cents in his pocket, they told him he needed eighty dollars in cash in order to register. Here’s how Hill describes what happened next:

I got in line …, and the devil said to get out of line …, but I heard my Mama saying in my ear, “I’ll be praying for you.” I stood in line on Mama’s prayer. Soon there was [another new student ahead of me], and I began to get nervous, but I stayed in line …. Just about the time [the other student] got all of her stuff and turned away, Dr. Drew touched me on the shoulder, and he said, “Are you Ed Hill?” I said, “Yes.” “Are you Ed Hill from Sweet Home?” “Yes.” “Have you paid yet?” “Not quite.”

“We’ve been looking for you all this morning,” [he said].

I said, “Well, what do [you] want with me?”

“We have a four-year scholarship that will pay your room and board, your tuition, and give you thirty dollars a month to spend.”

And I heard Mama say, “I will be praying for you!”

Martha Simmons & Frank A. Thomas

 

A 2009 article in the Chicago Tribune told the story of Bettye Tucker, a Christian cook who works the night shift at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. She has been doing her job for 43 years—28 of them on the night shift. She sees a steady stream of parents in her job, many of them frightened and weary. On one particular night around the time the article was written, Miss Bettye (as she is referred to by all who know her) served food to a mother whose three-year-old fell out of a second story window that morning, another mother whose seventeen-year-old was battling a rare form of leukemia, and a third mother whose eighteen-year-old had endured seven hours of brain surgery. Their stories break the heart of Miss Bettye, and—as one coworker interviewed for the article says—”that’s why she feeds every last one of them as if they had walked right into the ‘too-small’ kitchen of [the] South Side brick bungalow [where she lives].” A member of the hospital’s housekeeping crew adds this about Miss Bettye: “You need someone to bring you life, and she brings it in the middle of the night.”

A picture of Miss Bettye that accompanied the article shows a woman with a beautiful smile. It’s hard to imagine how much that smile would mean to a suffering parent or child. She says, “When I ask, ‘How you doin’ today?’ and they say it’s not a good day, I say, ‘Don’t lose hope.’ When the nurses tell me it’s a bad night, I say, ‘I understand it’s a bad night. But guess what? I am here for you. I’m going to get you through the night.'”

Another picture shows Bettye sitting down, head bowed, over a meal. “I’m a praying lady,” she says in the article. “I pray every night, for every room and every person in the hospital. I start with the basement, and I go up, floor by floor, room by room. I pray for the children, I pray for the families, I pray for the nurses and the doctors. … I say, every night while I’m driving in on the expressway, ‘Oh, Lord, I don’t know what I’ll face tonight, but I pray you’ll guide me through.'”                                Barbara Mahany

 

From a novel, On the Road with the Archangel:

I am Raphael, one of the seven archangels who pass in and out of the presence of the Holy One, blessed be he. I bring him the prayers of all who pray and those who don’t even know that they’re praying.

Some prayers I hold out as far from me as my arm will reach, the way a woman holds a dead mouse by the tail when she removes it from the kitchen. Some, like flowers, are almost too beautiful to touch, and others so aflame that I’d be afraid of their setting me on fire if I weren’t already more like fire than I am like anything else. There are prayers of such power that you might almost say they carry me rather than the other way round—the way a bird with outstretched wings is carried higher and higher on the back of the wind. There are prayers so apologetic and shamefaced and halfhearted that they all but melt away in my grasp like sad little flakes of snow. Some prayers are very boring.                 Frederick Buechner

 

God never gives us discernment in order that we may criticize, but that we may intercede.                                                  Oswald Chambers

 

Jean Bosco Gakirage was not there when everyone he knew was murdered. It was 1994, and the Rwandan priest was returning to his home church for ordination when he received the terrible news: “Do not come home. Your parents and the whole congregation have been murdered in the sanctuary.”

Jean refused to stay away. Reaching Musha, his small village, he found that only seven children remained alive. With the bodies of his parents and friends still inside the church, Jean told the children, “We are the Resurrection.” But he felt that he died that day.

The story did not go untold or unnoticed. A continent away, Marie Michelle saw a picture of the tall Rwandan in a mission magazine. Marie is a nun, living in seclusion and near-silence in a Missouri convent. Her heart went out to the newly ordained priest who lost his parents and six siblings to genocide. She asked for permission to write Jean a letter.

When the letter arrived, Jean could hardly believe it was for him. There was no one left to write to him since the death of his family and friends. He placed the envelope on the table while he stared at it—”to let it rest,” he said, “because it had come far.”

Finally, Jean opened the envelope and read these words:

I will pray for you every day. From now on you can think of me as your sister, and I will call you not “Father Jean” but “my brother.”

Jean responded to the letter with thanks and a promise to pray for Marie as well. He also included words from Psalm 141, “The evildoers appall me…but my eyes are fixed on thee, O Lord God; thou art my refuge.”

The daily prayers continued for ten years. Jean corresponded regularly. Marie was limited to two letters per year, but other nuns in the order wrote seasonally. Then, on July 8, 2004, Jean was given the opportunity to visit the convent. The nuns usually communicate with outsiders only through notes, but on this day Jean would be able to speak to Marie through a metal grate. After the midday prayers and services were over, the curtain over the grate parted. Standing with her nine Passionist sisters, Marie peered through the bars at Jean.

“My brother,” she said. “I thought I’d have to wait for heaven to see him.”

After what will likely be their only meeting in this life, both agreed on their greatest connection.

Marie said, “The union in prayer is the deepest thing, better than letters and pictures.”                                                                    John Beukema

 

One day [childrens television’s] Mister Rogers was making a trip to California and decided to pay a visit to a teenager with cerebral palsy. “At first, the boy was made very nervous by the thought that Mister Rogers was visiting him,” [Tom] Junod writes. “He was so nervous, in fact, that when Mister Rogers did visit, he got mad at himself and began hating himself and hitting himself, and his mother had to take him to another room.” Mister Rogers waited patiently and when the boy came back, Mister Rogers said, “I would like you to do something for me. Would you do something for me?” On his computer, the boy answered yes. “I would like you to pray for me. Will you pray for me?”

Junod says that the boy was “thunderstruck” because “nobody had ever asked him for something like that, ever. The boy had always been prayed for. The boy had always been the object of prayer, and now he was being asked to pray for Mister Rogers, and although at first he didn’t know if he could do it, he said he would, he said he’d try, and ever since then he keeps Mister Rogers in his prayers and doesn’t talk about wanting to die anymore because he figures Mister Rogers is close to God, and if Mister Rogers likes him, that must mean God likes him, too.”

Tom Junod asked Mister Rogers how he knew what to say to make the boy feel better. He responded: “Oh, heavens no, Tom! I didn’t ask him for his prayers for him; I asked for me. I asked him because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his intercession.”

Wendy Murray Zoba

 

[1] Tim Liston, Leadership (1996)

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (HarperSanFrancisco, 1954), p. 86

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