A few years ago I was introduced to an amazing woman named Carroll. She was a principal, a wife, a mother, and one of the strongest Christians I know. Most youth workers in the North Texas Area and Trinity-Brazos Area would tell you that. Carroll always had something to give for the church and always something to teach, whether she meant it that way or not.
I was able to have the unique opportunity to work closely with her, far more closely than most of the other students at my seminary. You see, I got to see her almost every week while I fulfilled my field education, and Carroll became one of my designated mentors at the church. She was one of the people I was supposed to go to with questions, with concerns, with life problems and with work problems.
And she was perfect for it. It was through her, however, that I met her husband, someone who was equally as faithful as she, albeit a bit quieter about his faith but louder with jokes. Chuck always had a joke, and he loved poking fun at anyone he could. What the two of them taught me together was the true meaning of love. Not just for each other, but for family, for faith, for church, and most importantly for God.
They taught me the habits of faith that so many of us take for granted. This passage begins with suffering, telling us to pray for anyone who is suffering. Carroll prayed every day. She prayed for the students at her school who were suffering, for her friends who were suffering, for her church family who was suffering. Chuck would join her in his quiet way, acknowledging someone else’s pain with a nod and silent sad smile.
Pray for those who are suffering. Who would have ever thought that the tables would turn. Last fall, Chuck was diagnosed with brain cancer. If you didn’t know, he’s on our prayer list, prayers for him and prayers for his family as they went through this trying time. It was a tumor, one they’d go in and remove as much as possible, but it was fast growing and impossible to get rid of. Chuck was going to die.
The prayers for his suffering, for his family’s suffering, were numerous. I’d see them each week on Facebook as mutual friends would comment about how they were praying for Carroll and Chuck, how they were raising their names up to God.
It’s no coincidence. Carroll and Chuck taught everyone they met about their habits of faith. They taught each person how to pray when they were down, how to cheer when they were joyous. They taught us how to be better Christians, and in turn, we showed them all the love they had given us.
These are what the habits of faith do. They bring us together as better Christians, as better people. These habits, the ones James is talking to us about, it’s not just this to-do list that you have to check off every day. They’re imbedded practices and behaviors, ones that change our lives and change the lives of everyone around us.
Pray when you are suffering. If you’re sick? Let the elder’s and the church pray with you. Are you cheerful? Sing praise! By doing this our sins, our failures, the things we have done wrong, will all be forgive because this is a pattern of behavior we have changed, a behavior that we have changed to move from evil to good, from sin to faith, from failure to success. This behavior brings us closer to God than ever.
These habits of faith are taught to us from all different places. I and many of my cohorts at seminary learned these from Carroll. I learned them from her husband. I learned them from my mother, from my Pastor Aprille in high school, from my room mate, YiDan. There are many people I can name that have taught me to have better habits.
It doesn’t mean I’m perfect. No one is, really. But it does mean that I make a conscious effort to change my every day behaviors, my every day actions, my every day thoughts about God. Who doesn’t suffer and or feel joy all with a week? Sometimes even within the same hour. But are you praising and praying to God?
Chuck died this past week. And while he is no longer sick and no longer suffering, I know his family is suffering from his loss. I know they’re celebrating that he’s no longer in pain, that he’s no longer sick, that they are praising God’s name at the same time as they are praying for their own suffering.
How do I know? Because this is a habit of Carroll’s faith, and I have no doubt that she and Chuck taught their three sons to have these same habits. I have no doubt that the church, her extended family, is rallying behind her through this time. That they’re giving her support and keeping those habits of faith alive in Carroll’s life as well as their own.
Habits of faith. Pray and praise God. Two simply commands that can change our whole lives. If we went through each moment of each day, thinking about whether or not we were going to praise God or pray to God for what was happening, I think we’d experience a miraculous change. I think people would see and recognize this change, that they would have no doubt of the effect God is having in our lives.
Making something a habit takes time. It doesn’t happen over night. I’ve read where it takes 21 days straight of doing something to form a new habit, and I’ve read where it’s really closer to 90 days. I’m thinking more on the latter. It takes a long time to change how you think, to change the how of what you believe.
We believe that God has the power to save, the God has the power to end our suffering, to heal the sick, to celebrate in our joys with us. That’s why we have praises and concerns lifted up each week. This isn’t anything new. But do our practices, do our habits, recognize that same power of belief? Would we be celebrating when the suffering ends?
The church needs to be there for those who don’t have these habits. Some of us in the church don’t have the habits fully formed yet. Some are starting, and some have been practicing these habits for decades. Our job, our mission, our ministry, is to teach these habits of faith to every one and to practice them faithfully each and every day of our lives. Just like Chuck did until the end of his.