Prayers Beyond the Sick List

We have little visitor’s cards in the backs of our pews at church just like every other church that has pews.  They aren’t anything special – just a place for us to help collect some contact info from folks who visit so that we can follow up with them.  On the back side of these visitor’s cards is a side where people can write a prayer request, drop the card in the offering plate, and have the elders pray for what is written later that week.  People write on these cards what is on their hearts.  Little children ask for prayer for a sick teacher or sibling.  Someone has a major surgery coming up.  Someone else is recovering surgery.  Someone has a loved one who is fighting cancer or battling some kind of intractable pain.  There are lots of hurting people out there, and their hurts and pains and struggles show up on these cards.  But recently I’ve been getting a congregation member who is asking for prayer for a different kind of battle.  And it has upset my prayers in the best possible way.  Here is this saint’s three most recent prayer requests (shared with permission):

Prayer requests

What a humbling thing to have a congregation member asking for focused prayer that gives thanks for the fact that “the grave and death are conquered“, prayer for “those who feel without hope” and “those lost in substance abuse“, and prayer “for the fulfillment of His promises.”  What a privilege to be joining with this dear woman at the throne of grace for such things.

Yes, of course, we should always be praying for these things.  But how many times does our “should” and “do” look very different?  Someone once told me that we often speak of “making something a priority”, but at the end of the day, a priority is what we actually do.  So the content of the prayers we actually pray reveal what we have prioritized.  It reveals what we deem important.  If I lose my job, you can bet I’ll be fervent in prayer for the Lord to provide a new one.  If I lose my health, God is going to be hearing from me about restoring me to health.  Health, provision, safety, good relationships… these are important to us, so that’s where we camp out in our prayers.

But every once in a while, something rises to the surface that causes us to lift our heads and see the broader world that holy scripture lays before us to be used as content in our prayers.  For me, that something happens when this dear congregation member writes a prayer request card.  And if there’s at least one saint at Pilgrim Presbyterian Church in the small town of Martinsburg, West Virginia praying this way, how many other saints are out there in your churches, casting these cares upon the throne of grace? How many other saints are out there asking for others to join with them in giving thanks for the resurrection of Jesus?  How many fervent petitioners are laying siege to the gates of hell that the captives to depair and addiction might be released?  How many other Christians in our churches are pleading with the Father to fulfill His promise to cause the earth to be “…filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2.14)”?

How many of you when reading this feel like me when I get one of those prayer request cards?  Kind of makes you want to get in on this kind of praying, doesn’t it?

Liturgics for Tragedy

I wrote the post “Mass Shootings and Bad Disciples” back in Feb 2018 after a mass shooting, and its words feel like exactly what this patient needs in the wake of the tragedies at Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton.  But if I believe that worship is the center of life… if I believe the Triune God draws closest to his redeemed people in the gathered worship on the Lord’s Day, what can we do in that context to help shape our lives outside of that?  I’m still asking myself that question.  But I thought starting imperfectly is better than not starting until the perfect way reveals itself.  So here is our congregation’s confession of sin and call for God to act that we will be using this coming Sunday.  May it drive us all to both prayer and action.

Confession of Sin and Plea for God’s Action[1]

Leader: O God of battles, we see the seeds of hate and malice that are native to our own hearts.

People: O LORD of hosts have mercy on us.  Forgive us for the murder in our hearts and protect us from our desire for revenge, when vengeance belongs to You.

Leader: We see how evil suspicions and hateful speech pour out from our mouths, our computers, and our phones.

People: O LORD of hosts have mercy on us.  Forgive us for harming the name of our neighbor, using our words in hurtful and untimely ways, and calling it “speaking the truth”.

Leader: We are grieved by our indifference toward injustice, oppression, and lack of concern for our neighbor’s good.

People: O LORD of hosts have mercy on us.  Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil, to make no peace with oppression, and to use our freedoms in the maintenance of justice among men and nations.

Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted.

Leader: Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

People: But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands;

Leader: to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless.

People: Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.

[1] Sources used – 1) A New Directory for the Public Worship of God (Free Church of Scotland, 1898); 2) Westminster Larger Catechism #145; 3) Book of Common Prayer (Oxford Univ Press, New York: 1928); 4) Psalm 10.12-15 (ESV).