To the brokenness of our world we often offer our “thoughts and prayers.” At times, that may seem a lame and anemic response to the horror and heartache that surround us.
But my wife and I know the power of intercessory prayer. Our son lay hospitalized gravely ill with malaria contracted from a mission trip to Africa. For nine agonizing days, we were buoyed by earnest prayers from friends and strangers across the nation. We credit talented doctors, coupled with fervent prayer, for his recovery.
Yet I have also walked away from gravesides where the prayers had been just as numerous and just as intense. I do not anticipate that I will ever comprehend the mysteries. Yet, by faith, we walk on.
The Apostle Paul told us to pray unceasingly (1 Th. 5:17), and Christ said we were always to pray, and not faint (Lk. 18:1). Yet, my mind drifted to several examples in Scripture where God told His people not to pray:
Fleeing Egypt, Moses told the people to halt at the Red Sea and to witness what God would do (Ex 14). However, Jehovah said, “March!” Timidity or uncertainty causes us at times to say, “Whoa, let’s pray about this.” God says, “Go!”
After a shocking defeat by an underdog, God’s people fall to the ground and pray and throw dust in the air. Jehovah told them to hush the racket and to purge their camp of greediness and disobedience (Josh. 7). Demonstrative prayer is no substitute for a yielded heart.
Healing broken relationships trumps worship and prayer (Mt. 5:21-24). This shocking teaching of the Master would grind many of our worship services to a halt!
If I “cherish” my sin in my heart, God does not listen (Ps. 66:18). A “cherished” sin is one that I nurture, baby, justify, and protect.
Even if I am saying the right words when I pray, yet my motives are self-serving or shady, my prayer has no potency (James 4:23).
If I am mistreating/disrespecting my wife, no matter how flamboyant a Christian man I might project myself to be, God says my prayers are thwarted (1 Pe. 3:17).
The broken man, Saul of Tarsus, was fasting and praying after his experience on the road to Damascus, but the preacher told him to get off of his knees and to be baptized (Acts 22:16).
King Solomon told his people that they were to be activists. They were to be the voice for the voiceless and powerless - the ones on whom society preys. He didn’t tell them to pray for the prey, but to stand up for the prey (Pro. 31:7-8)
I know of one man who will mow the lawn of the bereft without being asked. Another older gentleman humbly washes vehicles before the funeral or shines shoes, without feeling the need to post photos of his service on social media.
Soapy hands, grass-stained clothes, shoe shine rags - those can be the emblems of a life of faith. Ardent intercessory prayer, coupled with the heart and hands of a servant, will testify to the broken who we really are and what we really believe.