(The second part of this week’s post, More Questions than Answers, some initial reflections on this week’s Supreme Court rulings, is posted on line and you may find it here.)
Ten days ago the church gathered for prayer. It was occasional prayer, that is, circumstance itself seemed to be calling us to prayer. Twenty-four hours earlier, Bret Lynn had been viciously assaulted and wounded at his place of business, and even as we met, Brenda Clabbers was in an operating room in Denver undergoing a long-anticipated complex and complicated surgical procedure.
For sure, the church, God’s people, had been in prayer all day with these two situations particularly weighing on our hearts. We were praying at work and at home, as we drove the Turnpike and did the dishes.
But Tuesday, June 18, called us to an occasion of prayer where it seemed as if it would be best for us to be together and pray specifically regarding these two situations that were weighing on all our hearts. Of course, each of us brought a heart full of other concerns and other joys, some having to do with members of the church family and demanding the church’s prayer. But for that evening, for that hour, we focused on Brenda and Bret. It was the right decision.
Some corporate prayer is highly liturgical, organized by a missal or bulletin, words spoken on cue and borrowed from a prayer book or a pastor’s pen. Other corporate prayer is chaotic, words coming from every direction and for every cause, some sublime and some ridiculous. Some people avoid prayer services for fear of being bored or frustrated.
Acknowledging that we aren’t very good at corporate prayer, we gathered that Tuesday evening to learn how to pray even as we prayed. Our teacher was one who knew a lot about prayer. The sweet psalmist of Israel, they called him. David our teacher prayed for us first and then we followed using his example. Movement by movement, psalm by psalm, we praised God for who God is; we acknowledged our sin and unworthiness to approach the Throne of Grace and were assured of our forgiveness and heard the invitation to draw close; we gave thanks for Bret and Brenda’s faith and God’s presence in their lives long before that week – we gave thanks for Dylan and Doris, Amy, Brian and Eva; for Rein and for others who have given witness to grace in Bret’s and Brenda’s lives; we prayed for healing from an assailant’s wound and through high tech surgery; and we asked for God to work his good purposes in and through what was happening. We prayed urgently and specifically for Bret’s assailant that he might come to know the grace and love of God in Christ Jesus.
By all accounts the evening of prayer on June 18 was humbling and powerful. Some have asked if we don’t need to avail ourselves of such occasional prayer more frequently.
That was ten days ago. Brenda and Rein come home from Denver tomorrow. Bret is at home and if not yet back to work, then certainly allowing God to work through him.
The procedure Brenda underwent removed part of her infected right lung and it accomplished all that the doctors hoped it would. After her return home, Brenda will work to increase function and capacity in that right lung and sometime this fall will return to Denver for the same procedure on her left lung. Rein will be glad to tell you more about the medical side of all that has taken place, one of those “wow, they can do that” stories. But he will also tell you that this past month and more has been a journey of faith. “Although it was very difficult, trying and uncertain, it clearly brought to light the power of prayer and the faith we need to place in our Lord, trusting his will and wisdom,” Rein writes.
Bret went home this past Monday, a week after the attack. His surgery was all repair work, the damage done by a knife thrust at him in fear and anger. If you were in worship this past Sunday (or are at all connected to the social network), you know that still in his hospital bed Bret called his Christian friends to prayer for his assailant. He hopes to be able to visit him in the county jail. Bret writes in a wonderful reply to one of my messages, “I really appreciate all the prayers and support I’m getting from my LPC family (Bret and Amy are members at our strong sister church, Bible Fellowship in Yardley). It’s funny, because I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about forgiveness and love recently, and how it looks to the world when Christians don’t forgive one another or hold grudges or judge each other. So this incident really surprised me by how easy it was for me to forgive and show love to this guy. What else can I do, right? Loving your enemies isn’t exactly suggested as one option of many, it’s pretty clearly lined out by Jesus.”
In the lives of doctors and nurses in hospitals in Denver and Philadelphia, in the lives of family members and friends, Facebook post readers and casual acquaintances, God has been at work for what the apostle calls “his good pleasure.” Bret and Brenda, Amy, Dylan, Doris, Eva, Brian, Rein and so many others have allowed those others, and us, to see what the life of faith looks like. It is God’s good pleasure for his people to share faith and offer forgiveness. As we continue to pray for healing, we also pray that God would use all that has happened for his good purpose, “that many might be saved.”
So did our prayer cause all this good to come out of this tragedy, this difficult and trying uncertainty? No, God caused it, God willing and working his good pleasure. We pray because “it is the most important part of thankfulness God requires of us.” God wills and works his sovereign purposes through our thankful prayers. In prayer God does not succumb to our wills; we learn and joyfully submit to his will – even that many might be saved.
Paul tells the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing.” We pray at home and at work, driving the Turnpike and doing the dishes. But on occasion we also gather together for specific prayer for specific situations (for instance, see Acts 12 and the church gathered for prayer following Peter’s arrest).
God calls his church, LPC most definitely included, to be a church of unceasing prayer and occasional prayer. It is the most important part of thankfulness God requires of us.
See you Sunday