I wish I could take credit for this title because I find it so profoundly accurate to the story I am about to share in this post. Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message Bible, developed this paraphrase from a passage about surrendering our burdens to Christ whose grace never ceases, but flows continually into our lives. Rather than simply create a word picture, I have included several photos of waves I recently watched and played in off the coast of the Dominican Republic. The time spent at the beach was as enjoyable as one can imagine!I really love waves. They remind me of clouds passing across the sky-an ever-changing panorama. I am in awe of surfers who navigate these fluid highways with stunning accuracy, and I thoroughly enjoy those jaw-dropping videos of waves rolling over surfers or crashing over reefs and onto shoreline rocks. Nature in motion. Breathtaking beauty. The visual and audible rhythm is soothing. At the same time waves can be extremely dangerous, especially the undertow and hidden objects below their momentous surfaces. Nevertheless, waves are awesome to behold and I count it a privilege whenever I can be near them (on or next to land, that is).While on the coast of sunny Punta Cana I was reminded of the words a friend spoke to me a few weeks ago. Tom lives in Florida and spends time lapping up the soft wave action of the panhandle. He often sits in the shallow water as the waves gently roll into him…repeatedly without end. He loves that. Tom discovered he has a very serious form of lymphoma cancer which devastated his body in short order. The good news is that his type of cancer is curable. However, the treatments last five months with week-long infusions, then rest and more infusions. Tom is away from his home during these treatments. His body suffered serious bone deterioration in joints and along his spine. Surgeries were necessary. It has been rough sailing for him and his wife.You’re probably wondering why I’m talking about Tom in the same context as waves. I’ll tell you. Before our vacation, I met with Tom for lunch and he explained the whole ordeal with cancer, treatments, etc. No pity-party, just facts. I’ll never forget the part where he talked about this journey and how his faith played a part in him keeping a positive attitude despite the circumstances. As he sat in his wheelchair, he kept motioning with his arms; he would extend them outward and then draw them inward in unison, like he was rowing a boat. He told me that God’s grace flowed into him just like the waves gently rolled into his chest as he sat in the shallow water of the ocean. Back and forth his arms moved. Then he said, ” I’m blessed, you know. I’ve been given so much and don’t deserve it all “.
I have been the glad recipient of manifold prayers for my health over the course of years. And, most recently, an intensification of such intercession during the past month. To what degree these prayers have assisted me, I honestly cannot say with any certainty. However, by faith, I believe each one to be effective and fruitful.
In our American culture, it is a common occurrence for a person or group of persons to state that they are (or will be) praying for another when an obvious need arises. We hear it in sports talk when analysts comment that they will pray for an athlete’s recovery after sustaining a serious injury or because of a personal tragedy. We hear the common place, “We’ll be praying for you”, when a friend, family member or acquaintance is in a serious trial of some sort. The words can seem trite, regardless of the sincerity behind them, because they are spoken so often.
There may even be feelings of hypocrisy about such prayers when our judgment of the person(s) doing the promising is not real high on our moral list; perception of others can taint our objectivity. In essence, we may at times, feel that the out pouring of promises to be prayed for may be nice gestures, but nothing more. How many of the kind folk who actually offer their prayers, actually pray? To know the answer to that question would require a gathering of all such prayers as evidence. Obviously, that would be absurd. Prayers aren’t like mathematics wherein numbers can be quantified. Prayers come in all different shapes and sizes, metaphorically speaking. However, it is an interesting thought to actually ascertain if every person who promised to pray actually did!
The question begs asking, “Does prayer work?” Scripture has abundant examples regarding the power of prayer. Over the years, including today, many an individual will argue to prayers’ effectiveness based on their personal results from it. Regardless of the spiritual diversity within our society, there still seems to be an underlying belief that a prayer spoken in someone’s behalf is effective-or has the possibility of being effective. To what degree of certainty or hope is probably as varied as the types of prayers spoken, as well as in the manner they are uttered. James, one of the original twelve Apostles, wrote that we should pray for one another, and that the prayer of a righteous person has great power. Jesus even gave us several models, guides so-to-speak, to assist us in our efforts to pray correctly. So, purely from a Christian perspective, using the Bible as our source, prayer is of paramount importance and is valued because of its ability to produce powerful results.
What if the one praying is not a Christian? How do we determine one’s righteousness? The answer to the latter question is, “We don’t!” God does. The first question is much more difficult to answer. In the context of Judeo-Christian belief, prayers are effective when spoken by those who have accepted the Lordship of Christ and seek to emulate Him. The Bible speaks about the prayers of the unsaved. When spoken out of harmony with the principals of the Old and New Testaments, said prayers are ineffective and often wrong (prayers to idols for example). However, I don’t believe I have ever read a clear scripture or interpretation concerning the sincere and earnest prayers of the non-Christian in behalf of others; much less the effectiveness of these prayers. My ignorance is showing which fuels all the more reason to continue to study and learn.
So, what am I to think about the well meaning and sincere prayers (from all sources) that have been uttered for me concerning my chronic lower back pain, spinal fusion surgery, and continuing recovery? They are wonderful, that’s what! I believe them to be sincere and effective regardless of the person’s belief system. It is scriptural that God holds the prayers of saints to be of particular importance, but He does not dismiss the prayers of the unsaved as mere sport. Every human being has been created in the image of God-not a physical image, but a soul-saturated (spiritual?) image. Prayer is an integral part of mankind’s relationship with his Creator. Sure, many are messed-up in their theology when they pray to idols or persons or false gods, but when they pray with sincerity to a God (even if He is not their Christian God, per se) who exemplifies the concept of a supreme being, Jehovah God hears their prayers.
I just watched (again) the riveting conclusion to the movie, Apollo 13, where the failed attempt to land on the moon almost ended in death for the three brave astronauts on board the space craft. The year was 1970, the technology was 1960s, the damage to the space craft and the ensuing problems where overwhelming. The odds for those three men to successfully return to earth, alive, were 1000 to one, if not worse. From parts of the craft blown away, oxygen depletion then CO2 buildup, equipment failures, illness, a variety of electrical and mechanical failures to computer malfunctions-basically you name it and it went wrong- these men and their flying machine made it back safely. The manually performed, strategic burn of thrusters to adjust the guide path of the space craft so it would not ricochet off the earth’s atmosphere or burn up was a miracle in itself. One of many. This movie was well put together because it seamlessly pieced actual film footage and actual reporting with the movie, especially near the end.
It was reported during the most critical period for the returning astronauts, and replayed in the movie, that this was the first time in recorded history where peoples of all races, creeds and color-across the entire globe- prayed in unison-in this case, for the safe return of these men and their space craft. There were Christians, and Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, Native Americans and, perhaps, agnostics praying. The actual commentary and film footage was inspiring. Did prayer play a part, perhaps a major role, in the successful return of these men? They made it back against insurmountable odds. You decide. If you say, “Yes, prayer made a difference”, was it only because of Christian prayers? Is it possible that God heard the prayers of all His children, irrespective of religion, and acted graciously? You decide that, as well. To me, the abundance and depth of sincerity of the prayers poured out in behalf of the Apollo 13 crew was monumental in their safe and miraculous return. Man did his part, as God has equipped and expects him to do, but ultimately God heard and responded favorably.
In my case, God has equipped man in the form of adequately trained and skilled doctors, amazing medicines, high-tech equipment, and state-of-the-art facilities-all which allowed me to have a successful operation and recovery thus far. Have the prayers for me made a difference? I believe so, and not merely because my operation was a success. I have at least six months of recovery to accurately determine the depth of my healing and reduction in back pain. To be rid of all pain and to walk again without serious side effects would be totally awesome. But, if I receive only a partial healing, this will be better than my condition prior to the surgery. The level of healing does not make the matter of prayer more or less important. The effectiveness of these prayers, made sacrificially by so many wonderful people, does not determine my faith level or God’s power.
Intercessory prayer blesses the ones whom pray and the object of their prayers. For the person who prays, a part of their heart is cast upon the alter of a loving and holy God. These prayers are like gifts, and as we know, to give is often better than receiving and then we are blessed. Prayers which we can gauge success by healing or miraculous escape from something harmful are faith builders, to be sure. And, when a person receives healing of deliverance from some terrible disease, addiction, or circumstance, can become life-altering experiences. As for me, I believe God has heard and responded to each sincere prayer made in my behalf. How God chooses to answer these supplications for healing is totally up to Him. I am truly humbled and eternally thankful for each person and each prayer. The best way to put it is that I am blessed. In turn, I pray His choicest blessings upon those who have interceded for me. May all of us keep on praying, and let the blessings flow!