It’s just one of those phrases that makes me cringe:
“I’ll be praying for you!”
Ok, let me explain: I believe in the power of prayer, and how it deepens our relationship with God, I really do. But there’s a part of me – cynical, it may be – that just doesn’t believe that when people say they’re praying for me, that it happens. I’m sure it does…but then I think about my own prayer life, I have to admit: it simply doesn’t always happen. Sure, I might remember someone briefly, and even say their name quietly to myself at any given moment – but I don’t really sit down intentionally, and really pray.
To be honest, I think my prayer life is lacking because so often – and maybe it’s this way for you too – life just gets in the way. My life, your life….they’re busy, and our time is spent on important things: our jobs, our families, our friendships, things we do for others.
And I think my prayer life is lacking – and again, maybe it’s this way for you too – because it’s just hard to know always what to pray FOR. We pray for peace in the world; we pray for our loved ones to heal from illness and injury; we pray for God to help us with our own struggles and the struggles of others. But the thing is, those prayers….I don’t know if they always get answered. I know God is good, and things happen according to God’s Will…..I don’t know about you, but I feel like my prayers are nothing more than dead words. I’ll pray for peace in the world, but it seems like our world is just as violent as ever. I’ll pray for God to heal someone’s heart, change it, and they just carry on the same path as they always do.
And because of this, there’s that part of me that doesn’t want to be prayed FOR….What I want is to be in prayer WITH – to pray with another.
Let me share a few verses before the Romans text we read today: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
So often I think that’s how it is – our lives are filled with “groanings” just as the apostle Paul writes: hardship, distress, persecution, famine, exploitation, peril, war & violence. Things that happen far away – the other side of the world, our nation; and things that hit closer to home – local communities, loved ones, ourselves.
And we know we ought to pray for those things, those groanings. But I think so often, we don’t know how, and we don’t always make time to pray….and sometimes, even when we do try to pray, we feel so isolated, so empty.
What we long for, perhaps, is to be in prayer WITH – and know we are not alone.
I had a breakthrough of sorts a week ago….and I blame it on the Southern Baptist chaplains I spent time with during my Navy Chaplaincy training.
The other day, I called up a good friend of mine in Minnesota. We call each other back and forth regularly, just to check in on each other and talk about our families, and our jobs. So we talked about all these things….and when we got to talk about his job, his struggles with that came out. He’s just feeling a lack of passion for a job he once had a lot of passion for….and honestly, he’s not sure how to fix that.
And out of the blue, surprising myself in the process – again, I blame the Southern Baptists for this, because they do it all time – I said to my friend, “Can I pray with you over the phone?” And to my surprise he said “absolutely.” And so, that’s exactly what we did…we prayed with each other.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs – with groans too deep for words.” (Note: NRSV translates the Greek to “sighs,” but the root word translated “groaning” is the same here as in the rest of the chapter.)
Recall Jesus’ words to the disciples, “Where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” We pray WITH each other….because in praying for things, we don’t always know what we ought to be asking for, and there’s so many people to be praying for. We pray WITH each other, two or more gathered, so that in our collective groans for our world, our community, for ourselves, and for others – we might know that God is WITH US, and that we do not face these things alone, in isolation. Praying WITH each other invokes the very presence of the Holy Spirit who intercedes as the very presence of God among us.
And because of that, part of me’s thinking….rather than challenge you to find time to pray with someone this week, what’s stopping us from doing that right now? I mean, perhaps we all came here today, because its been one of those weeks – a week of groaning as we watch and read the news or perhaps in one of those things a bit closer to the heart.
So I’m gonna wrap this sermon up, we’ll sing that sermon song, say the Apostle’s Creed….but rather than just read the regular prayers – prayers FOR PEOPLE, let’s pray WITH each other. Get in a group of two or three, and each person respond to this question, “What’s 1 or 2 things from this past week, or the week to come, where God’s presence is needed?” I’ll trust that depending on your comfort level with your groups, you’ll take care in what you share and how you react to others’ responses. Once you’ve shared, go ahead and pray WITH EACH OTHER….lift those things up to God, together.
Let’s pray together, and the Holy Spirit of God intercedes with words of promise that “re-member” us to the Body of Christ: “It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us….For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We did exactly just that during our normal time where the “Prayers of the People” happens. As usual, I’m not sure how people reacted to it….stay tuned!