When Christians gather, they inevitably pray. It’s a right and fitting thing to do. They pray to kick off small-group meetings, choir practice, chapel, Sunday worship, Sunday School, seminars on Financial Peace and board meetings. Before every head is bowed and every eye closed, someone generally asks for prayer requests and that’s when I tend to cringe.
“Pray for my Uncle Jack’s pancreas. The doctor’s think he has pancreatitis but they aren’t sure and Uncle Jack’s in a lot of pain.”
“Remember my neighbor’s back. His name is Ralph. His back hurts so badly that he can’t get out of bed and he has pain shooting down his right leg. Pray that God will heal Ralph’s back.” Now what if Ralph’s bad back was due to a tumor pressing on his spine, right at the base of his brain. Could God take away the back pain and leave the tumor, based on our prayer?
“I want to lift up our youth pastor. Pray for his ankle. Seems he sprained it real badly at the youth retreat at Pinetop last week. He was supposed to run a 5K to support the homeless and unless God touches his ankle, he won’t be able to run.”
“My older brother is going to the doctor to see if he can get disability because he has torn rotator cuffs. My brother wants us to pray that the doctors declare him unfit to work but I think we ought to pray for God to heal his shoulders.” “His name is Clem.”
If you have trafficked in church circles, you’ve heard hundreds of requests just like these and it’s made me wonder. Should we be praying for parts? More specifically, do we need to tell God what to do with ankles and backs?
Sometimes my mind gets to wandering right when someone makes a request that would make a HIPPA officer blush. “Remember Wilmar in prayer. Pray that the doctors can successfully reverse his vasectomy.” Wow. I really didn’t need to know that but was it necessary for me to know specifics to effectively intercede for Wilmar?
And what if God answered our prayer and only our prayer? We prayed for a healed back so God complied and healed the back. We didn’t, however, pray for emotional instability, financial hardship, marital breakdown or Ralph’s addictions. Nope. So, Ralph, the active addict, has a healed back but is as nuts as always, trying to scrape enough money together to file for divorce.
I heard a nationally known pastor pray for a hospitalized parishioner. He fervently prayed, “God, go to that room in Capitol City Hospital. There are the fourth floor, in room 422, in the bed by the window, bless that little lady through and through. Touch her lungs and make her whole.” I couldn’t help but wonder. Could God have messed up and by chance, blessed the woman by the door instead of the woman by the window? Better yet, could God have gone to the wrong hospital, the wrong floor or the wrong room without those specific directions in the prayer?
I have no idea when we started praying for parts and I don’t think for a moment that those making requests are anything less than sincere. I do wonder if we are limiting God and doing our friends a disservice.
Would there be value in praying for people everywhere who are suffering bodily, emotionally, or spiritually. When praying for Delford’s unemployment status, would we be better served to pray for everyone who is unemployed or underemployed, homeless or bereft of adequate food and shelter?
And perhaps, just perhaps, if prayer time didn’t mirror an oral rendition of Gray’s Anatomy, maybe we would be more inclined to pray outwardly: for a sin-sick world in which we are members, for those in places of leadership, for those who dare to govern, for those who serve the sick as well as the sick, for impoverished nations and starving people.
Here, we can learn from the longer tradition of the church when believers were often invited to pray prayers of intercession by whispering a name in the public forum. No details. No specific orders for God. Just a name, in the Name of the one who knows us in the womb. Creator God can figure out good parts from bad even when our prayers are mere groanings.
Permit me to wonder about this business of prayer. I’m really not making light of those who ask for parts-repair or restoration. I do wonder if we miss out on God’s direction as to the way we are to participate in healing ways by lending a hand, giving of our means, coming along side and simply being present for those where no answer is apparent.
By the way, when you pray, remember me. My good cholesterol is low and my bad cholesterol is high. My blood pressure is elevated and my thyroid isn’t doing whatever it is supposed to do. I need a knee replacement (right knee) and I have Heggland’s deformity in my right heel. Both of my shoulder’s need surgery but the doctors think I waited too long for the surgery to work. I have sleep apnea, suffer from insomnia and I’m terribly overweight. I’ve battled depression, anxiety and night sweats. I could stand a good healing from head to toe. When you gather with a group who prays for parts, throw in a few of mine.
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