The disciples had come to Jesus and told Him all that they had taught and done and Jesus says…Come away to a deserted place all by your selves and rest for a while. I need this…you need this. This is sabbath. This is a different than Sunday sabbath, but this is sabbath.
Jesus prays some 30 odd times throughout the scriptures, but this is different there are 4 direct instances where he went off alone to pray. “Continually Jesus withdrew from people, daily life activities, and the demands of his ministry to be alone with the Father and pray. Jesus’ solitude and silence are a major theme in the Gospels…The priority of Jesus’ solitude and silence is everywhere in the Gospels. It’s how he began his ministry. It’s how he made important decisions. It’s how he dealt with troubling emotions like grief. It’s how he dealt with the constant demands of his ministry and cared for his soul. It’s how he taught his disciples. It’s how he prepared for important ministry events. It’s how he prepared for his death on the cross.”
Jesus is teaching his disciples his practice. His practice of retreat. These moments of going away to a deserted place and pray are mini retreats. In this instance though the retreat actually occurs on the water, for the crowd follows them around the bank to where they are headed and are ready for them when they arrive.
But this concept of getting away to rest and pray had me thinking about how do we pray? What do we pray for? Sometimes I am cautious in my words even up here.
As a clergy I am asked for prayers. I often see people on Facebook who are asking for prayers. I may run into someone somewhere and suddenly they will mention a family member or friend who is not doing well or is on a job hunt or who has lost themselves and needs prayer.
I make a promise of prayer and I often keep it there on the spot so as I do not forget it. But a part of me always wonders just what people are hoping for, what are they expecting, when they ask for prayer?
A UCC Minister shared this experience
“In July I had dinner with a long-time friend, also a UCC minister, who retired not long ago. It was wonderful to see him; it was sad to see him. Since his retirement he has had significant health issues, some of which seem to be resisting any and all medications. His immediate future, health wise, is very uncertain. As we parted, not sure when or if we would see each other again, I told him I would hold him in my prayers. But again, what did I mean by that? What exactly will I be praying for? What do I want my prayer for him to accomplish? In fact, is accomplish even the proper word to use?”
Every week in our worship service we lift up joys and concerns during our prayer time. But when we ask for prayer for a friend suffering from illness, for a family member stricken with grief, for ourselves as we face a surgery or a situation we fear might overwhelm us, what are we asking for… what do we hope will happen?
“Ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.”
Wonderful words, comforting words, but do we believe them? What do you suppose they mean?
Do you recall Huckleberry Finn’s experience with prayer?
“Miss Watson, she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing come of it. She told me to pray everyday and whatever I asked for, I would get it. But it warn’t so. I tried it. Once I got a fish line but no hooks. It warn’t any good to me without hooks. I tried for the hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn’t make it work.”
I think of all the times I have prayed to catch that one big fish!”
He goes on to share another story a church member had shared with him
“A bar called Drummonds in Mt. Vernon, Texas, began construction on an expansion of their building, hoping to grow their business. In response, the local Baptist church started a campaign to block the bar from expanding, using everything from petitions to constant prayer. About a week before the bar’s grand re-opening, a bolt of lightning struck the bar and burned it to the ground.
Afterward, the church folk were rather smug, bragging about the “power of prayer.” And so the
angry bar owner proceeded to sue the church on grounds that the church was ultimately responsible for the destruction of his building, “through direct actions or indirect means.” Needless to say, the church quickly abandoned the “power of prayer” argument and instead insisted it had absolutely no responsibility for or connection to the destruction of the bar.
The judge read carefully through the plaintiff’s complaint and the defendant’s reply. He then
opened the hearing by saying, “I don’t know how I’m going to decide this, but it appears from the paperwork that what we have here is a bar owner who now believes in the power of prayer, and an entire congregation that does not.”
What do we believe about the power of prayer? How do we let prayer into our lives? What do we expect when we pray?
Former UCC executive minister Steve sterner once wrote;
“I think our problem with prayer is not that it works sometimes, but that sometimes it doesn’t. We truly struggle with the efficacy of prayer when it doesn’t seem to work. It is easier to believe totally that prayer does not work than it is to reconcile in our own hearts and minds why it doesn’t seem to work sometimes.”
“Ask and it will be given to you…sometimes; seek and maybe you will find?” That doesn’t
sound particularly comforting…does it?
Samuel wells speaks of three different kinds of prayer, the first kind is the resurrection prayer when you are just praying so hard for that miracle. Jesus alive from the dead, Lazarus walks out of the tomb. No matter what all the doctors have said… the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear…can I have just a little of that?
This is the prayer that comes from the deepest of despair, from the very wells of faith, that mustard seed that we have been told can move a mountain…well lord we do not have a mountain to move but if oyu could give us this one miraculous cure…
This prayer is the prayer that says God you have the power to fix it… so fix it, make changes, take action, restore health! I want to pray it, but there are so many times when it is even hard
to pray for healing, for the miracle, because healing just isn’t going to happen, at least not physical healing.
I am not saying miracles aren’t possible nor that a miracle won’t happen. Miracles all the time even now the simple fact that this bunch of cells can breathe and walk talk and think is a miracle. But when the resurrection prayer is lifted this is not what is expected nor understood.
More often than not I find myself praying what Wells calls the prayer of incarnation. “It’s a call for God to be with your friend or loved one. It’s a recognition that Jesus was broken, desolate, on the brink of death, and that this is all part of being human, part of the deal you sign onto the day you are born. Our bodies and minds are fragile, frail and sometimes feeble.
There is no guarantee that life will be easy, comfortable, fun or happy. The prayer of incarnation says, ‘God, in Jesus you shared our pain, our foolishness and our sheer bad luck. You took on our flesh with all its needs and clumsiness and weakness. Visit my friend, my loved one, and give them patience to endure what lies ahead, hope for every trying day and companions to show them your love.’”
This is the prayer that reminds us we are not alone. God is walking beside us and sometimes carrying us for through Christ, God knows deeply what it means to be human and companions with us in our journey.
Beyond this sacred companionship there is a third type of prayer that Wells describes, this is a prayer of transfiguration, of transformation. This is a prayer that asks God to give us, our friend, our loved one a vision of the reality within, beneath and beyond what we understand. Wells says that this is a prayer that, in our times of bewilderment and confusion, asks that God might reveal to us a deeper truth to life than we have ever known, reasons for living beyond what we have ever imagined and an awareness of grace and love that we have never known before.
Wells says this prayer is asking for just a glimpse into the great mystery. Help us to see, help our minds through this problem, this pain, this trial to see perhaps just a glimpse of God’s glory.
Wells says; “Maybe this is our real prayer for our friends, our loved ones, ourselves, a prayer for God to make this trial and tragedy, this problem and pain, a glimpse of God’s glory, a window into God’s world, even into God’s heart: ‘God, let me see your face, sense the mystery in all things, and walk with angels and saints. Bring me closer to you in this crisis than I ever been. Make this a moment of truth. Touch me, raise me, and make me alive like never before.”
Fred Craddock, shares an experience with prayer of transformation:
“When my sister Frieda, my only sister, was dying of cancer, I had gone back to visit and knew that the time there would be the last time I would see her. She asked me to help her prepare her funeral service, which I found extremely, extremely difficult to do. When we finished preparing the service, she asked me to pray, and this is what I did. I located myself straight in front of the throne. Before I closed my eyes, I wanted to make sure I was in front of the throne, because what I wanted was God on the throne, God the power, God the almighty. All things are possible with God.
When I had positioned myself straight in front of the throne, I bowed my head and
prayed for her relief and for her healing as intensely and sincerely as I could, and I closed with Amen. I lifted my head, opened my eyes, and there in front of me was Jesus, the bleeding lamb. Now who wants that? And she died.
There it is. God the power, God the one who identifies with us and suffers with us. You won’t find a better picture in all the bible than here.”
For Fred the prayer for a miracle became the prayer of transformation a glimpse into a deeper truth, a new reality, indeed into the very face of God. His sister died, but for Craddock, there was healing and new hope.
When Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given you,” he does not exactly say what will be given. And when he says, “Seek and you will find,” he does not exactly say what we will find.”
We live in a mystery and we seek to touch that which we cannot comprehend perhaps the hardest part of prayer is just resting in this mystery. Allowing our attempt at control to slip away,. Learning to allow and rest and be still in the spirit of God but not only in times of need and despair but also just for ourselves.
You see in the everyday life of loving community we need to pause, be alone with God so we have the spirit the energy and the wisdom to walk when called, to pray when called, to seek the mystery and allow God to be in control.
As Steve Sterner says, “Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of prayer is surrendering to the mystery of that to which we pray.” No, our prayers may not be answered in the way we wish, may not achieve the results we hoped for. And yes, there will be times when we simply are not okay with that. I’m quite sure that God is okay with those time when we are not okay with God. But, as Craddock discovered, as we are persistent in prayer, it is often we who are transformed, we who are changed, we who begin to see life and reality and God in a whole new light. And, disarmed of our demands and expectations, we just might find ourselves able to welcome the acceptance, love and other blessings that we didn’t even pray for.” No, I have no final answers for you concerning prayer and the power of prayer. But I do want to urge you to trust the process, regardless of what comes of it, because the process itself, the prayer itself, gives us life.
 Craddock, Fred B., and Mike Graves. Craddock Stories. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2001. Pg 125