Oh man, I used to mock people that would say, “Oh I’ll pray about it.” Until one day when I had an experience with a parishioner that I’ll never forget.
We had just been through something…not a small something…. a big something. We had to let his sister go by making the tough decision of taking her off a respirator. She had MS most of her life, her husband was angry, her brother a non believer, and her parents devout members of my congregation. But there we were, a small community gathered around life and death. As we let her go, our tears joined in chorus and our hearts ached in a silent reverence for who she was and how she would never be physical in our lives again. Praise and honor to the Christ who makes all things bright and beautiful and new again in his Kingdom. That was my language in my thoughts, but to those angry and shattered and nonbelievers, they meant nothing out loud. So my arms outstretched to him and their family and love connected us in a powerful way that transcended religious language.
Months later, this same nonChristian and I found ourselves in another troubling position. He was in the hospital battling for his life and at the begging of his parents and because of our history, I went to visit him and to offer God’s presence in a time when it was needed regardless of his belief or nonbelief. He was again on the verge of life and death. And his struggle was palpable. I walked into the room and he was relieved to see me…..we talked, we cried and as I was leaving, I prayed for him.
Over the next few days, our congregation (his parents’ church) started to fervently pray for him on his prayer list. This congregation really meant it when they said they’d pray, so we did. A few from the church went to visit him again. And about a week later, I went to see him. As I walked into the room it was somehow lighter, somehow brighter. He had color in his face where it wasn’t before and a smile where once there was a darkness. He said, “I’m glad you’re here because I’ve realized something.” I said, “OH? What’s that?” He said, “Prayer actually does something.” He went on to tell me that after my visit and others who visited and that they told him our church was praying, he had been contemplating suicide to end his own suffering. He told me, “I literally felt like I was standing on the ledge and about to jump. And knowing that people were praying for me, I could feel that comfort and I stepped back and laid myself into those arms of so many who were praying hope for me. Prayer saved my life….even if there was no God to pray to, it saved my life.” He had never come to church except on occasion to make his mama happy and when he did he never took communion. When he finally healed, he made it to church. He took communion and he whispered as he took it, “I believe.”
I no longer mock those who say, “Oh well, I’ll pray for you.” Why? Because prayer actually works. It’s not a, “I’m gonna pray for a million dollars” and then actually get a million dollars kind of works. It works because it is a blanket comforting our fears, and our brokenness, and our hopes. It works because when someone says, “I’m going to pray for you” it brings that thing of which he or she struggles into the community and arms of another human being and where two or three are gathered there Christ is in the midst of it. Prayer works because gives a hope and a compass for faith to grow and it works because in the eyes and ears of another human being there now is a responsibility to one another that requires unconditional love and grace. It works because when another human being is engaged enough in your life to take the time to receive our pain it breathes life into your life where life wasn’t before. Prayer actually does something. It changes things. It isn’t a pop quiz where God chooses how to answer it, it’s a relationship that opens the possibility that there is actually more and there is something meaningful in giving ourselves to one another and in doing so, ultimately to God.
In the front of our sanctuary is a door leaning against the wall……the panels have been replaced with chicken wire….so that in it you can place your prayers. You are invited to pray for those prayers that have been placed within it……you are invited to take the requests made by others and hold them in your heart and speak love into them and allow God’s grace to flow through you in the act of praying. And if you need prayer for anything – give it to the door….and to this community of faith. And we will lift it up and know that our prayers have the power to talk you back from the ledge. Whatever ledge upon which you stand. If you’d like your prayers to be anonymous and not looked at, write them on the white paper provided for you. If you’d like your prayer request to be seen and prayed over specifically write your prayer request on the colored paper. I will be looking at those papers and praying over them daily…….and those that are on white paper I will simply speak love into them in God’s name.
Prayer actually does something……we invite you into the door to pray…..let us wail at the wall with you and for you…..and watch how God works in your life. There is always Good News in All Things. Praise and honor to the Christ who makes all things bright and beautiful and new again in his Kingdom
Love – Rev Jill Sullins