Sitting on my couch, I looked at the name of a woman written on a piece of paper. We will call her Beautiful. It was a reminder to pray for her healing because her cancer had returned. I thought of all the people who were praying for Beautiful. Probably a hundred or so.
As I was about to re-request her healing, I reflected on what another woman, Katherine, recently taught about faith. A storm was fully disrupting an outdoor wedding, not unlike the wedding in Galilee where Jesus replenished the wine miraculously. Katherine prayed multiple times with no effect. The show could not go on. Finally, she went into her bedroom, closed the door, and insisted that her Father, that is, God, move in this situation. She didn’t demand as one might attempt to force someone to change their will. She simply insisted adamantly that her Father express his “good, perfect, and acceptable” will. Everything changed. Wind stopped, clouds dispersed, and the wedding proceeded. The situation was resolved—it could have been coincidence—but it was a situation that no human could have changed.
It wasn’t the bedroom or the closed door, or even the words, but the attitude that made a difference. According to Katherine, a new level of desperation, of focus, now spoke through her. She went from mouthing prayers to relying on God to do what Jesus said would happen: “Whatever things you desire, when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them.”
If you’ve been around teachings on the healing that Christ provides, you are well aware of the difference between mouthing and nagging, on one hand, and insisting, on the other. Obviously just knowing the difference doesn’t make all the difference in the world: many continue to be ill and often die. But throughout the scriptures, First and Second Testaments, the message is clear: one’s whole heart must be involved in genuine requests for God to change things. Many people run to doctors for help and only walk to their prayer closet, as if the medical world possesses more healing power than the one who called himself the Resurrection and the Life.
Pray with one’s whole trusting heart—that’s the thing!
Back to my couch and to Beautiful. As words began to form in my mind for my re-request, they seemed pretty casual…glib even. I thought, “Prayer is not like ordering pizza.” And that led to a new way of thinking about prayer, but not what I expected. What I expected was that prayer is much more serious and reverential than normal communication. I’ll return to that expectation, but first, the pizza.
Let’s say you order pizza to be delivered to your door. You make the call, they take the credit card number, you have them read back the order, the number, and your address—all good! What do you do next? Not much except wait. You do not call a dozen friends and ask them to order the same pizza for you—in case your call somehow isn’t sufficient. Nor, to extend the analogy, do you also call Lulu’s BBQ and order a meal just in case your pizza never arrives. Nor, to finalize the analogy, do you do any or all of the above, hang up the phone, and begin to worry that you’ll not be eating that evening. Putting aside those readers who have had bad pizzeria experiences, in the main, you make the call, do something else, and in a while, perhaps longer than you wished, the delivery comes. Done.
So I sat corrected on my couch. True prayer is like ordering pizza because it begins and ends with trust, not doubt.
Prayer is much more serious than ordering pizza, yes, because it involves matters of life and death, but by the same measure, it should be more trusting, not less. Prayer is more reverential, yes, because we are addressing a being who is more capable than anyone on earth to intervene. If we truly revere (instead of groveling or begging), we leave the matter in his hands instead of anxiously taking them back into our own hands.
At this point, and perhaps I feel the divine heart here, the atheist who refuses to mouth prayers is closer to God than the “believer” who mouths but doesn’t trust. Like many things touching faith, the lukewarm expression simply dilutes belief.
So what does truly trusting prayer look like? Here’s an example from the master himself:
Jesus . . . came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
That scene makes ordering pizza look like what it is (trivial) and much prayer look like what it is (anxious begging).
Concerning Beautiful, what she needs is a few people of faith to agree with her. A million prayers without faith is a million misses. Keep the circle small and trusting.
It is emotionally very hard for the sick person to trust, because the sensations of something being wrong are often overwhelming. The sheer duration of illness, with all the broken hopes, sends the person a loud message that “Nothing, really, will help you.” Like the quadriplegic lowered through the roof by his friends, let a small circle bear your burden. They lowered him through the roof and Jesus first forgave his sins. That of course upset the religious people who knew only God can forgive sins. To finish helping the paraplegic, Jesus told him to get up and walk home. The man did just that.*
Instead of re-requesting, let’s make a clear-cut request and follow that with all the gratitude we have, assuming that we’ve been heard the first time.
A few final notes:
- Even the best of us in terms of faith are flawed and are prone to doubt. That’s a fact we must live with, not in misery but in hope that life, the real life intended by our Father, is better than it seems. The best is yet to come…in this life and the life to come.
- If you read the Gospel, you will see that praying for healing isn’t the be-all and end-all. Sometimes someone asks for healing. A blind man did. Usually, however, Jesus and the apostles simply command the illness to leave. The crippled man begging for silver and gold at the temple asked Peter and John for a donation, but instead Peter commanded him to rise up and walk. Peter lent a hand and the man got up, walked, and then danced. The place where he was healed, by the way, was called the Gate Beautiful.
- Pray, yes. Command, more often. Thank always. Mix faith with an action. Do something that only healing would allow you to do. This can be a matter of simply relaxing, singing, standing, running—the list is long and creative.
* “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” (Luke 5:24-26)