He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted to us through the prayers of many.
II Corinthians 1:10-11
I saw it on a sign at a retreat center near our home: “Day of Prayer for Busy People – CANCELLED”. I saw the sign and wondered why a day of prayer for busy people might be cancelled. Was it because we were too busy to pray? Was it because we imagined we had better things to do? Was it because we just weren’t interested? Or all the above?
I saw the sign and thought of the warning shot Eugene Peterson fired over the heads of all who fancy ourselves too busy to pray:
Busyness is the enemy of spirituality. It is essentially laziness. It is doing the easy thing instead of the hard thing. It is filling our time with our own actions instead of paying attention to God’s actions. It is taking charge…The busy person is a lazy person because they are not doing what they are supposed to do.
But I was born and bred to be busy. I learned early to associate busyness with achievement and success in the world. My mother beamed with pride in talking about her busy sons. And I was sure that the busier I was the more God must like it. Then late I learned that busyness had become the enemy of my spirituality. Busyness had become the enemy of my praying, my loving, and my being with God. I had disguised my laziness as busyness to keep me from doing the “hard thing” God wanted me to do.
Which brings me back to prayer. Yes, prayer! I don’t think it’s accidental or inconsequential that most of us are struggling with finding or making time to pray. The enemy of our souls never attacks us at the periphery of life but always strikes at the jugular. So most of us struggle with prayer. “And Satan trembles, when he sees, the weakest saint upon his knees” (William Cowper).
In today’s Scripture text the Apostle Paul tells how the Christians at Corinth had helped him through their prayers. Paul says that he had faced a “deadly peril” and God had “rescued” him, and would continue to rescue him as the Corinthians “join in helping us by your prayers”.
Paul provides a powerful word picture illustrating what the Corinthians are doing by praying for him; he says they are “helping” through their prayers. The Greek word translated as “helping” is actually made up of three Greek words meaning “with” + “under” + “work”. The word paints a picture of workers under a heavy load who work with each other to lift the load. It reminds me of the Amish at a “barn raising”. They get under the frame, and with each other work to raise the barn. So the Corinthian Christians through their prayers work with God to “rescue” Paul from the “deadly peril”. Paul is thankful for their prayers.
Some years ago I was asked to conduct a funeral for a man in our church. In order to help me prepare for the service I asked the family if I might see the man’s Bible. In looking through his Bible I saw many scriptures underlined and notes written in the margins. Then I found the man’s daily prayer list containing names of family members, friends, missionaries, and various ministries. These he prayed for every day. Imagine how I felt when I saw my name on the man’s list! I pondered the loss of such a man of prayer to our church and community. Through prayer he had gotten under the load and worked with God to help so many.
Martin Luther, the sixteenth century reformer, also spent much time in daily prayer. But there were times when Luther would stop praying and say, “I feel people praying for me”. Luther was keenly aware of being bound together in the bundle of life, and the need to help one another through prayer.
Yet often when I could be “helping” through prayer I am busy doing other things. I sometimes think of prayer as my lost resort when it should be my first. It does make a difference in our church and world whether or not you and I pray today. I do not fully understand the ways of God or His sovereign rule, but I do know He has ordained that our prayers matter. It will make a difference in our church and world whether or not we pray. When we pray we join our hands with God to bless others and bring His kingdom.
At the Last Day, when all secrets are revealed, we will discover that we might not have believed, but someone prayed for us. We might have fallen to temptation, but someone prayed for us. We might have turned back in despair, but someone prayed for us. So when it comes to praying, to paraphrase Nike: “Just Do It!”
You can do more than pray after you have prayed; but you can never do more than pray until you have prayed.
A. J. Gordon
Grace and Peace,
photo by cindy47452