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Prayer and core values

I heard a speaker make this observation concerning prayer and the church:  what we pray about reflects our core values.  It doesn’t matter what we might have in our mission statement, motto, or what the leaders say.  If you want to know what a congregation is about, listen to them pray. 

For most of the churches I’ve been associated with, this means that everyone staying well and living as long as they can is a dominant value, maybe the dominant value.  I realize that no one will admit to this, but think about it. On your congregation’s web page or bulletin—what occupies the majority of items under the heading “prayer requests?”  When people pray publicly—what usually occupies the greater part of their prayers?  When someone asks for prayer requests—what kind of requests are usually shared?  (This one is especially telling because peoples’ requests usually reflect the environment around them).

If your answer to all these wasn’t something having to do with sick people, then your church might be the exception rather than the rule.  However if your church is the rule, then here are some things that should be explored (and prayed about).

1.   Go through the Scripture and see what kinds of things people pray for and what they are encouraged to pray about.  You’ll be amazed at the sweep of things and you’ll see how unlike our prayers the prayers found in the Scripture are. 

2.  Maybe even more to the point, look at the prayers in the letters to the different churches.  Again, you’ll find prayers in those writings as well as instruction on the kinds of things to pray about.  And you won’t find very much about prayer for the sick.

3.  Think about the model prayer that Jesus gave His disciples.  There’s nothing about praying for the sick.  How can this be?  Didn’t Jesus care about the sick?  You know He did.  But Jesus wasn’t absorbed with it they way we are.  He understood that true life wasn’t about our biological processes—it was about a relationship with Him and pursuing His kingdom—everything else is secondary!

I don’t want to sound like the Pharisee of prayer or the Scrooge of spirituality.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pray for the sick.  I am advocating that we not pray for the sick in such a way that everyone being well and living as long as they can becomes our dominant value.  I’d also put forth that there is a radical difference in praying for the teenage girl in your church family who is going through chemotherapy and the third cousin of a person who works with you.  God loves them both but as I understand it, our responsibility to the two is not the same. 

Finally, I think it’s not just who we pray for, it’s how we pray for them.  We tend to approach prayer for the sick from a win/lose perspective.  I’m convinced in most cases this isn’t correct.  God used Lazarus’ death to His glory (John 11:4).  The same thing was true for the blind man (John 9:1-3).  Paul had a thorn in the flesh that kept him humble (2 Corinthians 12:7ff).  I fear we too often stumble in before the throne of God confident we know what’s best. In our better moments, we understand that’s not the case.  Our prayers should reflect this as Jesus’ prayers did (Matthew 6:10, 26:39,42,44). 

Then our prayers will reflect the core value that we care about people and commit them to God.  

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