Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Praying Beyond Organ Rehearsal

Can I just be totally raw and honest? Nothing kills my desire to pray faster than seeing a list of requests like this:
  • Aunt Sally's kidney
  • Alice's dad broke his leg
  • Jim is having heart surgery next week
  • Tommy has the flu
  • et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam (terrible pun fully intended)

I don't want to be callous toward other people's suffering. The truth is, if a close family member of mine had a serious illness, I'd certainly want people to pray for them. Even "routine" procedures suddenly become a whole lot scarier when it's you or your loved one facing the CAT scan or the anesthesia.

It's not at all wrong to want sick people to be well, to want suffering people to stop hurting. On the contrary, it would be wrong NOT to want those things--suffering and disease are effects of the Fall, not good parts of God's good creation! Jesus Himself frequently healed the sick, so clearly He cared about their plight. And Scripture teaches that we can and should pray for the sick.

Rather, my frustration is about what this prayer list lacks. For one thing, "organ rehearsals" often seem to crowd out deeper requests. Why do we avoid being real with each other? It's safe to mention Grandpa's cancer; it's not safe to mention my own struggle with anger. Why can't we pray for problems deeper than physical ailments? Why aren't we lifting up each other's souls--interceding for discouraged and depressed saints, for fragile marriages? Why aren't we begging God to heal our sin-sick hearts and fill us with love for our neighbors?

The other problem is that prayer lists like the one above routinely produce prayers that sound something like this: "Dear Lord, please relieve Aunt Sally's pain. Help Alice's dad to heal quickly. Be with Jim through his surgery and give the doctors wisdom. Help Tommy to feel better soon. Amen." Nothing wrong here, but is there anything eternally significant here? God could be glorified if these people are healed, but what if their healing is not His will? How else can He be glorified in these situations? In what ways do these things really matter forever?

Please hear me; I'm not saying we shouldn't pray for the sick. I'm not even saying we shouldn't pray for their healing. I'm saying, let's also pray for the sick in eternally significant ways. They may need relief from their pain, but don't they also need a lot of other things?

What if we asked God to use their sickness to help them and those around them to number their days aright, to sense that life is short and death is inevitable, and order their priorities accordingly? What if we asked Him to give them grace to trust Him alone, to depend fully on Him, to rejoice in Him even while they suffer...to use this trial to draw them closer to Himself...to use it to destroy their appetite for sin...to reveal to others watching that He must be real because of how He sustains His children through pain...to help the sick persevere and remain faithful to Him?

Can you see how this goes so much richer and deeper? Can you see how it not only is good for those suffering, but also edifies the souls of those interceding?

Let's be real with each other about our sick hearts and sick relationships, and pray for each other. Let's also pray for each other's sick bodies, but in ways that will bring healing to eternal souls as well as destined-to-die organs. And while you're at it, pray for me--that my seeing an organ-rehearsal prayer list would not stir me to pride or judgment, but would prompt me to talk with my Savior and seek His glory. Because while we're being raw and honest, I'd have to admit that criticizing a prayer list for its shallowness betrays a self-righteousness in my sin-sick heart that is far more appalling than simple prayers for healing the hurting.


me said...

So true,so true! What you have described is a picture of soooo many Wednesday night prayer services...I have sat many times at our prayer services listening to requests given, thinking... Why isn't anyone desiring revival in our hearts, church, a deepening dependence on God, a growing trust in His word,asking for prayer for the sins of the flesh, desiring to overcome and walk in holiness, etc. These things are what we need more than physical healing, for the outer is decaying but the inner is what we need to be renewing. When my dad was in intensive care last summer I really appreciated the faithful prayers of the church for his physical healing and I praise God for healing Him physically, but at the same time I knew that all our days are numbered, and that physical healing might not have been God's plan for Him and my hearts cry at that time (and always)was for my dad's soul, His walk with the Lord and the hearts of all those who were walking through the trial with Him, mine included, that God would use it for His eternal purposes. So I completely understand your thoughts. We need to pray with eternity in mind, not just trying to save the temporal!Seeking the sanctification of the person and the glory of God above all.

By the way, how is it going on your I Cor. 13 memory work? I pray God is using His word to change you for His glory in the area of love!


Anonymous said...

Amen! I agree with all you say here! I too don't want to be callous, but we need to think deeper. It's not that I don't want to pray for your co-worker's friend with cancer, but most of all I want to pray for YOU! The person I know, relate and interact with most of all. (Not you specifically, Amy, but you in general, although I'm not opposed to praying for you specifically:)

Zoanna said...

Oh, you've touched one of my hot buttons of self-righteousness, I'm sad to say. Organ rehearsals are also harder for me tune in to (pun intended and quite lousy) the first time, let alone remember.

I have found the best way to get other people to open up is to initiate the process. Of course, my sins are spilt on the coffee tables whilst others' are neatly tucked inside their shirts sometimes, but I have seen that starting the prayer requests with non-organ donations, if you will, helps others follow.

I definitely grow more when praying that someone else's spiritual heart change vs. their physical heart. Thanks for saying what the rest of us often think.

Amy said...

"hot button of self-righteousness"--yeah, that pretty much sums it up for me. Zo, your reminder about being the first to share is a good one (hard, but good). it reminds me of one of the many great things Tim Keller said a couple of weeks ago: that if you're the most transparent, broken, confessing, repenting, gospel-dependent person, people will be attracted to that, and it will spread.

Danielle, great additional point I hadn't touched on--I want to pray for YOU, not someone two or three times removed from you. it's like we reach so far out to find prayer requests because the more personal the request, the more uncomfortable we feel, or something...

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

To each of you that have left a comment, I commend you. I agree that we need to pray more for a persons salvation and eternal life.

Sandra Leigh said...

I would also add the shallow "thank you God for this food and bless it to our bodies" prayer to this post. We should definitely be thankful to God for our food...but are we really focused on thanking God & knowing that we are totally dependent upon Him to provide for our very needs? Or do we just go through the motions saying "thank you God" but really trusting only on ourselves by thinking we worked hard to provide that food?

And how worthy is some of the food we stuff our bodies with of saying "bless it to our bodies" anyway? Do we really mean that? Are we asking God to bless our bodies with proper nutrients even though we're eating salted pork-rinds? (well, not me, of course)

My shallow meal time prayer habit bothered me enough to do something about it. Now at our house you will see a list of people or events that we feel need to be lifted up in prayer. At meal time we have "redeemed" this prayer time to not be so trite but to really engage God in praying for others and while our attention is on Him it is a whole lot easier to practice being truly more grateful for the food He has blessed us with.

Leanne said...

I ended up here via Zo and Danielle, and was really touched by this post based on what God's been doing around me lately. Thank you!