James 5: 13-20
Even though I grew up in the church, I never really learned how to pray or how to pray on a regular basis. I was never someone who could be found praying before meals, and when I started seminary and told people I wanted to be a minister, I’ll honestly say that I hated going to family or friendly gatherings because I was ALWAYS asked to pray.
I found so much wrong with the image. Every Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter meal, “Aerii, why don’t you pray for our meal? You’re going to be a minister!” This frustrated me to no end. Yes, I was studying to become a minister, but that doesn’t mean I can suddenly take over one of the essentials of communicating with God for you. You still need to know how to pray.
Of course I never said that to anyone, and I grudgingly prayed until the kids were old enough to be able to do it. Adults and teenagers have such a fear over praying, praying by themselves and in front of people. Mostly in front of people, I think. Especially with my generation, and it seems to me with my mom’s generation.
Don’t get me wrong, I know a lot of fastidiously praying people, but I know far more who don’t even know how to start a prayer or when to pray. It’s not the majority of people’s gut reaction when something is wrong outside of themselves.
When I was in college, I came home for Thanksgiving and I had brought my friend Yidan with me. Yidan was from China and studying abroad, and my family sort of adopted her. So she was home with me and we were up on my roof hanging the Christmas lights before all the snow hit.
My cell phone rang, and I stared at it puzzled, wondering why work would be calling me when they knew I was gone. You see, I worked security for my college, as a dispatcher and a field officer. We had to have someone in the office 24/7/365. So when I was getting a phone call the day after Thanksgiving, I wasn’t surprised someone was there, more that they were calling me.
I glanced at Yidan, opened my phone, and answered. It was my coworker Kelsey. “Hey, you in town?” she asked.
She took a deep breath, and my gut twisted. I knew something was wrong. The tone of her voice, the shakiness of it. But it was Thanksgiving. Students being on campus was sparse, and it’s not like I was there help out in any way.
“There was a shooting,” she said. My heart clenched, my fingers and palms were sweating, and I went pale. Yidan looked at me, her eyes questioning what was being said. I shook my head at her, and Kelsey continued, “Four officers were shot at the Forza coffee shop just down the road from school. We’re on a complete lockdown and need everyone who can come in to come in. They’re using the school as a base to find the shooter.”
I didn’t know what to say. I was speechless. I blinked back tears, and I honestly can’t tell you what the rest of the conversation was. I didn’t have names, but because I worked security, I knew a lot of the officers, so the likelihood that I knew one or more of the deceased was high, especially being that close to campus.
After hanging up, I turned to Yidan and filled her in. I was at a loss, had no idea what to say or do. Yidan grabbed my hands as she sat next to me on my damp roof with Christmas lights surrounding us on all sides and looked at me with imploring eyes. “Want to pray?” she asked. I nodded, and the words flowed from her lips.
That day I learned a powerful lesson that no church I had ever gone to in all the years of my life had been able to teach me. “Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.”
How have we forgotten to teach each other how to pray? Jesus taught his disciples how to pray. We know those words, but it’s so much more than that. There is no “wrong way” to pray unless our hearts and souls aren’t into it, only then it’s not praying.
There is no wrong way to pray except NOT to pray. Prayer has disappeared from our churches. Rarely do I walk into a service for Disciples of Christ and find community prayers. If I do find one, it’s usually just the Lord’s Prayer. By community prayers, I mean ones we all say together, ones we recite together as one people.
The prayers I do find are given by one person for the whole of the community. They don’t know the difference between a corporate prayer or an individual prayer. We don’t have people volunteering to stand up and pray those prayers anymore. They’re scared to write them because they don’t know how. It’s a lost art, one that we need to learn how to take back and teach ourselves so we can teach everyone around us.
We should teach others to pray, starting with when. Suffering? Cheerful? Sick? Those are three really good times to pray that encompasses most of what we’re feeling at any given point in time. We should always pray, and not just by ourselves. Verse fourteen says, “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.”
So it’s not just me as the minister praying for you. It’s congregants praying for congregants, with congregants. It’s us together as a community praying together as a community. It’s a group effort. Praying in joy, suffering and sickness together makes us a stronger community, and one who is a leader in the church, an elder, then teaches those around them how to pray.
“The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.” What does prayer do? It’s more than just communication with God. It’s more than just us talking at God. It’s healing, it raises us up, it forgives our sins.
I can’t tell you how calm and peaceful I felt after Yidan prayed with me. Yeah, we weren’t in a church building, I wasn’t with a minister. I was a scared kid on the roof of my mom’s house in the middle of a crisis. I had tears streaming down my cheeks at the loss of life when I didn’t even know who had died. But I was at peace.
We prayed for those who were lost. Those who were left without an important family member. We prayed for the officers who were dealing with the situation, those who were on the hunt for this man who had committed such a crime. And most importantly, we prayed for the man who had pulled the trigger and taken so many lives. We didn’t pray for him to be found by police officers; we prayed for him to find God.
“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.” That says it all right there. Together, for each other, we will all be healed because prayer, prayer, that thing we so often forget to do, that we’ve forgotten to teach in our churches to participate in, will heal us all. It is powerful. It is effective. It is faithful.
Pray together. Pray when we are suffering, when we are cheerful and when we are sick. Pray as a family of God for a people of God, and pray for those who have been lost in the shadows of day. Pray because it connects us to our creator and to each other. Pray because we are faithful.