Far far away, many many years ago in a Kindergarten classroom on the last day of school, five-year old Dominick gave me a little clay duck. Well, I’ve always called it a duck but truthfully its identity is a bit vague. You decide.
To reveal the immediate thought that ran through my head might paint a more sinister picture than was justified, so rather than dwelling on those thoughts, let’s just say I chose to believe this duck was his own possession and that the gift to me was significant.
“Don’t throw it away,” said he.
“I will keep it always,” responded I.
And here it sits.
On that day with what was quite possibly a stolen duck clinched in my fist I pledged to pray for Dominick every time I glanced at the evidence. It’s been rattling around in my makeup drawer for about a decade so I see it on those days I’m making an effort at beauty (careful there, I can hear you, you know). That young man has been covered in prayer from that day forward whether he asked for it or not, whether he then or now deserved it, and whether he is currently walking the straight and narrow. Sadly, the jaded public school servant in me leans heavily in one direction in answer to that last question.
I will, however, tell you what that little blond five-year old with unkempt hair and a rough home life did deserve was grace. Grace and patience. Grace and patience and the occasional ability on my part to run fast enough to catch him.
The sun is just about to set in the Idaho sky tonight on this Pentecost Sunday. It’s been a good day even though the sporadic thunderstorms proved challenging. We here in the western USA are grateful for every drop of rain and try to remind ourselves of that on days like this. At this time last year we were praying for it.
Even those among us who categorically dismiss the idea of prayer will often use the phrase, “praying for rain” when the drought becomes intense enough.
Prayer. It is both promoted and mocked. Seems that when it is mocked it is usually on a public platform, but of course, only God knows the true inner hearts of men, the ones turning to Him in foxholes, in sickness, in drought. Also true is that what comprises prayer can be prey to (heh) vast interpretation. I like this particular definition for Christians: spiritual communication between man and God, a two-way relationship in which man should not only talk to God but also listen to Him (courtesy of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 2004). That works for me.
Nothing could possibly be more individualized nor could it be more vital within our corporate body. My prayer life is different than yours. Yours does not reflect the habits of your neighbor’s. Furthermore it is common to doubt our ability to pray. We compare ourselves to others, often giving up for lack of eloquence. Oh friends, God does not need your fluent flow of flowery finery. (See how off-putting that just was?) He knows you. Just be you. Here’s a quote I enjoy every time it flashes across my social media:
You may be familiar with the story of Jesus healing the man’s demon-possessed son. It’s a desperately brutal scene to imagine, but we can glean much hope and instruction from it in the context of our prayer life. The translation used by our wonderful pastor in his heart-targeted sermon this morning is not one I am deeply familiar with — the New Living Translation (NLT), though it perfectly speaks to the message. Here’s what it says in Mark 9:14-29:
Jesus Heals a Demon-Possessed Boy
When they returned to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd surrounding them, and some teachers of religious law were arguing with them. When the crowd saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with awe, and they ran to greet him.
“What is all this arguing about?” Jesus asked.
One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”
Jesus said to them, “You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
So they brought the boy. But when the evil spirit saw Jesus, it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth.
“How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father.
He replied, “Since he was a little boy. The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
“What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”
The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” (bold added)
When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil spirit. “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak,” he said. “I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!”
Then the spirit screamed and threw the boy into another violent convulsion and left him. The boy appeared to be dead. A murmur ran through the crowd as people said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet, and he stood up.
Afterward, when Jesus was alone in the house with his disciples, they asked him, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?”
Jesus replied, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer.” Some manuscripts read “by prayer and fasting.“
Did you notice what I highlighted? This poor father must’ve been beside himself both with a lifetime of exhaustion dealing with his son’s predicament and his recognition that this might be the time of the healing he had been praying for. He truly believed that Jesus could heal his beloved boy but in that moment his emotions were raw. Read what one commentator has to say and then we will move on:
In this case, the man’s unbelief was not a rebellion against or a rejection of God’s promise. He did not deny God’s promise; he desired it. However, it just seemed too good to be true. Thus he said, “help my unbelief!”
Help my unbelief is something a man can only say by faith. “While men have no faith, they are unconscious of their unbelief; but, as soon as they get a little faith, then they begin to be conscious of the greatness of their unbelief.” (Spurgeon)
It is a good thing to dig into scripture, friends. It lifts us up out of our “unbelief” and restores health to our spiritual person. Alongside that idea stands prayer, the mysterious yet beautifully simple lifeline between our hearts and God’s. Prayer helps me know I’m not doing nothing even when it looks as though there’s nothing I can do. It solidifies my assurance of the help of the Holy Spirit, sent to us at Pentecost, intervening on my behalf, speaking where I cannot find the words (see Romans 8:26).
So whether you consider yourself a praying person or not, I have the idea that at some point you have reached out to God. Let me encourage you to keep it up, begin it again, start afresh . . . whatever it takes. He hears your heart whether it speaks with good cheer, sadness, deep burdens, grief, praise, or anger. If you cannot find adequate words, may I tell you where I run? Mmhmm. Romans 8:26. It just so happens that those numbers correspond to the birthdate of one of my beautiful grandchildren which helps me remember them. I speak “Romans Asher’s birthday” just every now and then when I’m going about my business, praying in communion with Him who cares and hears and heals.
And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words (Romans 8:26 NLT).
And, as for my little blonde friend, Dominick, — if you’re still out there breathing air, bud, I’m still here. Lifting you to the Father.
I’m still here.
P.S. If you’ve heard this a thousand times, please forgive. If not, maybe you’ll be delighted:
Did you know, speaking of listening to God during prayer, that the words SILENT and LISTEN contain the exact same letters? Roll that one around in your thinker for a minute.
P.S. x 2 Where would we be without a song?