Follow Me – Biblical Practices for Faithful Living
“Pray: Pray with and for Others”
Rev. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Psalm 116:1-13; James 5:13-16
April 30, 2023
I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, I pray, save my life!’ Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. The Lord protects the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. I walk before the Lord in the land of the living. I kept my faith, even when I said, ‘I am greatly afflicted’; I said in my consternation, ‘Everyone is a liar.’
What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord,
Are any among you suffering? They should pray.
Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.
Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.
The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
As individuals, our prayers for others will fundamentally change our mindset, and our attitudes, and our relationship with those for whom we pray. As a community, our prayers for others will fundamentally shape the nature of the communities in which we live.
Prayers offered in faith make a difference, both for the one prayed for and for the one who prays.
We may not be able to quantify the effect of prayer, but countless souls have experienced its power. One of the participants in the Faith in Real Life Bible study shared how very important were the prayers and words of support she received when her husband was dying.
She shared that those prayers quite literally upheld her during those long and difficult months. Her husband did not recover from his terminal illness, but both she and her husband, upheld in prayer, nevertheless experienced some measure of wholeness, wellness of the soul.
Many years ago, I came home from the NICU in Greenville, South Carolina, the neo-natal intensive care. Our 22 month old son had been in the hospital for a few days and I had come home to shower and take care of things around the house. When I saw the light flashing on the message machine in the kitchen, I went over to push the button to listen to the messages.
Many of you will remember that little box called a message machine. That’s back when phones had a permanent cord and they were connected to the wall. I stood there in the kitchen for probably 20 minutes or more, listening to numerous messages from friends new and old, from people from various times and places in our lives.
They each left us a message about how they were praying for us, and for our son, and I was moved by their sincerity and thoughtfulness. One message I remember distinctly was from a man named Tim. Tim was the local hardware store owner in my hometown of Marietta. He was a tall, strong, quiet man who stood with a straight back. He was built like a defensive tackle and if Tim were going to be cast in a movie, he would have made an excellent choice for a fierce Scottish warrior.
Tim had watched me grow up from those early Saturday mornings when I would arrive at the hardware store with my dad. He was there when I came before the session to became a seminary student. Later, he and I served together as youth chaperones. We got to know each other better on a youth ski trip and other events. Though Tim was quiet and physically imposing, he was quick to laugh, quick to express support for other, and he was great with the youth.
Tim’s voice on the phone that day, expressing his heartfelt prayers, meant the world to me. Tim was one of those guys whom I had never heard pray for another person out loud, but he was a man who lived his prayers daily in the way that he interacted with others.
When our youth travel to Honduras this July, Tully plans to match them with prayer partners here in the congregation. You will have the opportunity to pray for and with a young person as they journey to the Agalta Valley of Honduras, where many of our congregation have served over the years.
I encourage you to sign up for to be a prayer partner, to share your prayers with the prayers of a young person who will be experiencing a developing world village for the first time. Not only will the young people be affected in a positive way by your prayers, you will be impacted by the prayers they share as well.
Not so much so in the Agalta Valley, but in a number of other developing world villages where we have served, the sick or disabled are often hidden in back rooms. In some communities, families are embarrassed, even ashamed, that their family has a sick or disabled child or teenager or even young adult.
Sometimes, a family member that we had gotten to know during the week will hesitantly approach our group leaders and ask if we might pray with their relative. We would visit a home and discover a person who had been there all along, but whom we had not seen, whom almost no one besides their family had seen for years.
In many communities, sickness of body or spirit or mind can lead to spiritual isolation. Have you noticed that sometimes people stay away from church when they need the community of the church the most, like when individuals are going through the hell of separation and divorce, or through the trials of chemotherapy, or struggling with a mental illness or addiction?
These are the times when we need each other the most. As we share our prayer concerns and our confessions, and pray for one another, the veneer that would say that everyone here has all their stuff together is quickly removed.
Everyone in this sanctuary has something for which they need prayer, and something they need to confess. Just because people may be dressed well and seem fine on the outside does not mean that they have it all together on the inside.
Why do we hide our real selves from one another?
Can we be more willing to be vulnerable with one another?
You have probably heard the old saying: The church is not a sanctuary for saints but a hospital for sinners. We are all in need of healing and wholeness, all in need of forgiveness and new life.
When the elders are summoned to pray for others, it is not necessarily because the elders are any more righteous than others. It is more often the case that the elders’ prayers are prayers of faith because they have realized their own need for prayer. They know their own need for forgiveness; they claim their dependence daily upon the grace of God.
Are any among you suffering hardship or in trouble? They should pray.
Are any of you in good spirits, they should sing songs of praise.
Are any of your delicate, fragile or ill in some way?
They should summon to themselves the elders of the church, for prayers offered in faith can make a person whole or even make them well. Luke Johnson, who wrote commentary for The New Interpreters Bible (volume 12, page 222) claims that in the Letter of James a basic question of Christian faith is posed: Will the community of faith rally and support the one who is sick and show itself to be in solidarity?
Or will it isolate those who threaten its possession of health and security? This is no trivial question. According to worldly wisdom, the logical response to a form of threat is self-defense. Only the fittest should survive. Competition exists precisely to identify the fittest. Envy pits strength against the weakness of others, and as James has shown, can lead eventually to murder.
In certain communities, in certain worldviews, when someone falls sick, that person is considered weak and should be left behind. The elimination of the sick person, they believe, will leave more resources for those who are strong.
Sharing attention and resources with those who are weak will distract a community from its own growth and will weaken its struggle for survival and supremacy. So, the logic of this tainted worldview is to isolate the sick from the healthy. The healthy organism is to recoil from what is sick and weak in order to protect itself. Sickness, then, becomes an occasion for social isolation and alienation. This is a “natural reflex” of survival, some will claim, but it becomes a form of sin when it leads to the deliberate exclusion of the sick from communities of care and support.
In the Letter of James, the sick are empowered to summon the community’s elders. This is a reversal of the logic of envy and competition. In the Christian community, the poor are to be honored rather than scorned. The Christian community is to be structured according to the principles of solidarity and mutual cooperation, not envy and competition.
James calls the early church to a way of life that is truly radical in its implications. Will the world be defined by a gift-giving God who desires solidarity and peace? Or will the world be defined by competition and scarcity, which ultimately leads to violence?
Praying with and for others, especially those who are weak or suffering, or for enemies, works against the competitive, destructive ways of the world. Christian prayers, Christian truth-telling, Christian prayers of confession build an alternative community based in solidarity and mutual cooperation, rather than envy and arrogance.
As individuals, praying with and for others will fundamentally change our mindset, our attitudes, and our relationship with those for whom we pray. As a community, praying with and for others will fundamentally shape the nature of the communities in which we live.
Prayers offered in faith make a difference, both for the one prayed for and for the one who prays. We may not be able to quantify the effect of prayer, but countless souls have experienced its power.
I encourage you to pray with and for others this week, beyond your normal habits. Take a prayer walk and when you pass a neighbor’s home, offer a prayer for them. When you are driving down the road and see a person you do not even know walking down the street, offer a prayer for them.
When someone pulls up next to you at the red light with their radio blasting, or when someone cuts you off in traffic, offer a prayer for them. When you see someone in the news with whom you vehemently disagree, pray for them.
Especially when you know that a friend or loved one is suffering in some way, go to them, walk alongside them, and pray with and for them.
The prayer of the one committed to God‘s will can have great power in its effect, both for the one prayed for and for the one who prays. Earnest, heartfelt, and specific prayer offered in faith will make a difference in this world. And as we pray with and for others, let us remember the manner in which Jesus taught us:
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Rev. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
April 30, 2023