I am guilty. If you are a Christian, have spent any time in a church, or have even just had a friend go through a rough patch in life, you are probably guilty too. It flows off the tongue so easily, but then taking action is so difficult. When someone is in the midst of deep pain, we are looking for a way to comfort and console him. We often feel awkward and without an answer to the problem of evil and suffering, so instead of simply listening and grieving with him, we throw out the empty phrase,
“I’ll be praying for you.”
We said it. We sound spiritual, we feel as though we have offered a bit of comfort and have given ourselves a graceful exit from the conversation or situation. We walk away, relieved to no longer be in the presence of the unanswerable and even though we feel badly for the person it slips out of our thoughts while we go on with our busy lives.
I was in college. I had a friend who was going through a hard time, and I told her I would be praying for her. I walked away and her heartache did not cross my mind again until I saw her a few days later. When I saw her face I instantly remembered our conversation and I wanted so badly to ask her about any progress and to affirm that I had indeed been praying for her, but the reality was that she and her problem had not crossed my mind. Even keeping a prayer journal with a list of “prayer requests” had not drawn me to prayer; none more deep than “God help so-and-so”. I decided then and there that I no longer will make that empty promise. Instead, when the pleasantry sought to roll off my tongue, I would snatch it up and say, “May I pray for you right now?”
Six years later I moved overseas. I knew – academically – the importance of prayer, I had heard sermons, read testimonies and seen God radically changing and healing people, but prayer was not my default. I spent a year in language school and I became friends with a couple who was about two months ahead of me in the program. They are from England and they have a faith the likes of which I have rarely seen. Finding solace in speaking English, we would get together fairly regularly just to be able to speak without having to utilize every mental faculty and enjoy the company of close-culture friends. The first time they came to my house, we sat and talked, laughed and had a great evening reflecting on the things that we had been learning and experiencing. Suddenly, in the middle of dinner, and in response to a small topic – one that was not a pressing need but just light conversation – they said, “Let’s pray”.
That felt weird.
Why? Because prayer, to me, was when I woke up, before meals, during my quiet time, before bed, and at prayer meetings and church. And, of course, on the occasion that I ran into someone who was going through a tough time and I had vowed to pray for them on the spot so as to not lie to them with the empty comfort that I would pray for them when in fact I would not.
But then we proceeded to have a lighthearted time of prayer where we laughed – mid prayer – and also lifted up these people amongst whom we lived and with whom we could not communicate. It was inexplicably refreshing.
I was inspired. I wanted to be like them. Nearly every time we hung out that type of random, unplanned and encouraging prayer happened. Never by my initiation, however. They have a spirituality in which they turn to God – not just in their time of need and distress, but when they are happy, encouraged, thankful, hungry, tired, excited – anything! They want to interact with God in all things. And they know that God wants to interact with them in all things. He is not just a cosmic problem solver. He is a loving father.
“Pray without ceasing.”
– 1 Thess 5.17
Praying without ceasing necessarily means you are not asking all of the time. It is reflecting on and enjoying God for who He is. It is thanking Him for His provisions, for His faithfulness, for salvation, etc. It is confessing sin to Him. It is remembering and interacting with Him as a real and vibrant being. Children are dependent. They need their parents to survive, and they ask (sometimes aggravatingly) for what they want and think that they need. But they also play, cuddle, learn from and are disciplined by their parents. Do you ever play with God? Enjoy His company?
“…in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
– 1 Thess 5.18
God hears our prayers. He loves us as His children. So let us turn to Him.
I love the Lord, because He hears
My voice and my supplications. Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live.
– Ps 116.1-2
And when we encounter a friend, a fellow Christian, a stranger who is in their time of need, let us remember that we are to:
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
– Rom 12.15
If someone is hurting, take a moment and pray right there. Stop lying to people. And if you truly do pray for someone when they are not around, send them an email or give them a call to check in on them and let them know that you are praying for them. We feel isolated, alone and uncared for most when we are hurting. Bringing someone before God is the ultimate blessing to bestow upon someone, and letting him know it has been done or doing it in his presence is dynamic and encouraging. You do not have to have the reason or an answer to their suffering. Most people are not looking for an answer. Just do as God instructs us: cry with those who cry. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Pray in all things. Love and enjoy God, and help others to do the same.