Pray I Do

James 5:13-20 – The 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for September 30, 2012

“The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective…” (James 5:16:)

Allrighty class . . . please sit down, find your pen or pencil. Remember, no talking!

1) Circle answer most closely describing your belief:

T or F – Prayer usually works for me.

T or F – Prayer rarely works for me.

T or F – God answers all prayers, but not always in ways I want.

T or F – Prayers are nice, but actions of faith matter more.

2) Please mark an “X” by the statement(s) below most similar to your understanding:

___ If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.  Meister Eckhart
___ Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.  Soren Kierkegaard
___ In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.  Mahatma Gandhi
___ Basically, I’m for anything that gets you through the night – be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniels.  Frank Sinatra
___ The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.James 5:163)

3) Use one of the words below to complete each sentence. (A word can only be used once).

  • Arrogant
  • Blessed
  • Essential
  • Foolish
  • Help
  • Humble
  • Hypocritical
  • Nothing
  • Thank-you

3a) Whenever asked to pray out loud in public I feel  ______.

3b) A prayer that always matters to me is when I say ______ to God.

3c) Speaking to or with God is _____ and people that are _____ spend any time in prayer.

Double-check your answers! Make any final corrections or additions you deem necessary. When you are satisfied with your answers, please leave your test with the instructor.

Thank you for your participation.

(And oh, by the way, you’ve already received an A+. Pretty swell, huh? Almost as if getting that “A+” is an answer to your ______.)

* * *

What can I say to you about prayer? Will anything matter? Just for amusement, I searched to discover how many books were available on the subject of “How To Pray.” Just because I’m in a testy mood, how many title choices do you think Amazon listed (as of mid-September, 2012):

  1. 20,000-30,000 titles or…
  2. 40,000-50,000 titles or…
  3. Over 100,000 titles

The actual number in my crude, inaccurate, unscientific quest was forty-five thousand, three hundred and forty-five titles. More than you thought? Less than you thought?

I wonder about prayer this week because of reading the final words in the New Testament book of James. From start to finish, James may have more advice in it than any other book in the Bible outside of Proverbs. Do this. Do that. Believe. Confess. Teach. Listen. Pray.

Ah, prayer.

The writer of James enthused, “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”

Really, James? Always?

I love prayer. Every day I pray. Every day, sometimes intentionally and sometimes spontaneously, I offer God my hopes, fears, longings, failings, truths and lies. I offer me. Honest me. Stupid me. Humble me. Awful me.

And yet I hate prayer.

I’ve heard fellow Christians pray for terrible things that revealed more of their bigotry than any sense of a Holy desires. How could anyone pray for a hurricane to move toward or away from a city as a sign of God’s judgment/blessing? I weep whenever that happens.

I’ve eavesdropped on fellow Christians—kind, caring people—pray as if speaking to God were a negotiation . . . I’ll be a good kid if I get a bike for Christmas . . . I’ll never do anything wrong again if You take away the cancer my spouse has. Amen?

I’ve witnessed fellow clergy pray the Lord’s Prayer with as much enthusiasm as reading all of the Smiths and Jones listed in a phone book.

Too many pray with a heart of hate, asking to punish those they decided were sinners.

Too many pray as if God’s an auctioneer, seeking to make a deal that’s usually to “my” advantage.

Too many pray empty words from a weary soul, and complacency trudges toward ennui.

I can’t tell you anything new about prayer. Any of those 45,345 books on “how to pray” will likely do a better job of explanation or instruction than I ever could. I’ve heard Anne Lamott has a new book arriving in November 2012 (the 45,346th title?): Help, Thanks, Wow-The Three Essential Prayers. Read Lamott for some darn good answers! I’m about to finish Ira Byock’s The Four Things That Matter, a reflection on the importance of these simple words (and, if you will, prayers): I forgive you…please forgive me…thank you…I love you.

I wish I could teach you magical prayers of healing. I can’t, though I suspect—even without knowing you—you hold a list of people within your heart that you long to heal with a few simple Holy phrases. Sorry, I’m no help.

I wish I could share with you the perfect prayer to mend your heart, to strengthen your soul, to give you gumption to say the right thing at the right time to the right person. Sorry, I’m no help.

All I barely know is that, for me, prayer matters. Casting words before God, even with my hypocrisy and cynicism, matters. I don’t have the confidence of James’ author . . . righteous prayer doesn’t always seem to be “effective.” Often enough, I pray, grateful God is present. And once in a while I pray, anxious that God seems absent. Or is it me?

But pray I do. Pray I must.

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