“Are any among you suffering? They should pray … The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up … The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective…”
—The Epistle of James
Life can sometimes make us feel as if we’ve suddenly been caught in an avalanche or a collapsed mineshaft.
We’re buried miles away from our former happiness.
Nearly suffocating in the darkness.
Unable to reach the light of day.
But we are not helpless.
Nor are we abandoned and alone.
Prayer is the tool we can use to dig our way out.
All of our spoken and silent words of prayer can tunnel through the layers of darkness that cover us just as if we’d literally been trapped in an avalanche or a mineshaft that had given way.
“The Lord is my shepherd…”
And we penetrate a little further toward the light.
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”
And we dig ourselves a bit closer to the fresh air that we were breathing only yesterday.
“I will fear no evil…”
And now the Holy Spirit can feel us praying.
“Because you are with me…”
God knows where we are and what has happened, and why would we ever think that God doesn’t pray? And Jesus too.
Digging down toward our words of faith.
So we must keep praying so they can reach us.
Praying and believing that they will.
It is too easy for some people to dismiss prayer as merely a ritual. True prayer can be far more than that.
The words in the Epistle are powerful reminders of the true power of real prayer—the prayer, as James tells us, “of faith.”
James is speaking to us as a compelling firsthand witness of what the early church experienced through faith-filled prayer after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
There is no avalanche too heavy.
James knew this.
And no mineshaft too deep.
Do we understand everything about prayer and how it works? No, not at all. We never shall.
But that is what makes the prayer of faith so powerful. It is all about the faith. Faith that taps into the deepest recesses of our soul and connects us to the power of God’s love and grace.
When that happens, God is surely digging with us, too.
God has joined us in the tunneling.
And the heart of Christ is beating for us all.
“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.”
—The Epistle of James
If only we could control the weather.
Were we able to do so, Hurricane Florence never would have reached the East Coast. We would have squelched it into a gentle breeze in the mid-Atlantic.
If we could control the weather, no hurricane by any name would ever blow, nor any tornado twist.
There would be no floods.
There would be no droughts.
And not a blizzard in sight.
The weather would be perfect. The temperature ideal.
We would save so many lives and free everyone from all weather-related anxiety. No home would be destroyed. No property damaged.
We’d allow just the right amount of rain to fall, and at just the right time for crops and wells. A few picturesque snowflakes might be nice on Christmas Eve, but not enough to spoil anyone’s plans.
But, the world’s weather is far beyond our control and we watched the huge swirling mass of Florence drawing closer and closer, a monstrous nightmare we could do nothing about.
The feeling of helplessness was overwhelming.
But not all of the world’s weather is beyond our ability to shape and change.
Other storms are very much within our power to prevent or control:
The hurricanes inside us.
The tornadoes we twist into the lives of others.
The floods of anger.
And droughts of love.
Our emotions can truly wound or certainly heal.
We are instruments of small, personal wars or catalysts of family and community peace.
Our words can be swords or plowshares.
And that choice is always ours. We, alone, decide.
By recognizing the gathering clouds of our own “bad weather,” we can discern that, Hey, I might respond angrily here, or selfishly; I might throw down a lightning bolt if I’m not careful.
Yes, we can stop our own storms before they thunder.
And we can make certain there is never a Hurricane Me by opening our souls to the love of God and letting the Lord’s “weather” fill our hearts before we speak or act.
As the apostle James goes on to say in his epistle, following his warning about the source of human conflicts and disputes:
“…The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”
There are no mandatory evacuation notices when we forecast God’s love.
And no states of emergency.
“They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then he looked up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, and his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”
—The Gospel of Mark
There are times—too many, I’m afraid—when I am just like the deaf man in this story. I cannot hear the voice of God telling me that I am loved.
Honestly, I think many, if not all of us, experience this deafness from time to time in our lives.
The world has deafened us to the small, quiet voice within us. We can no longer hear it. Our head and heart and our soul are filled with the world’s shouting about anything and everything but God’s love. And we don’t even know it.
We believe that we are still listening to God’s voice of love. We haven’t stopped praying. We haven’t stopped reading scripture. We haven’t stopped our meditation and contemplation. We’re still going to church. We believe we’re just as tuned in to God’s frequency as ever.
But we are not.
The world has become too loud. Sometimes, I think, I mistake something that the world is saying as being the words of God.
But God doesn’t talk to me like that. God never says those sorts of things about me. Words that may make me feel good about myself but don’t bring me peace. Words that might feed my ego and my need for affirmation but are the equivalent of drinking Diet Love or Love-Lite.
I should know better.
There is a distinct difference between the way God assures me that I am beloved and the way the world says, ‘I love you’ one minute then withholds affection in the very next heartbeat, telling me that I am not good enough.
When I am deafened to God’s voice of love, something else happens, too. Just like the deaf man in the Gospel of Mark, I develop an impediment in my speech.
My voice begins to sound more like it has been taught to speak by the world. I am too prone to mimic the world, rather than articulate the true speech of love that God tries so desperately to teach us by assuring us we are loved. That all of us are.
Truly loved by true love. A love that never demeans or seeks to diminish or lure down false pathways. That never says, ‘I love you’ one minute and then throws you into the recycling bin.
When I recognize the sound of the world speaking in my own voice, I understand that it has happened again—I have become deaf to God’s voice of love. I have closed myself off to that voice of love and begun listening only to the world, and without even realizing it.
And so I cry out to that love and for that love as the world seems to gather its breath so that it can blow all of that love away. Even the tree limbs begin to sway in the gathering breeze.
It is then that I can suddenly discern that I am no longer hearing the wind in the leaves but, instead, the sound of Jesus sighing beside me. And then he leads me away from the gathering storm.
“Be opened,” he tells me, when we are alone. “Be opened and receive God’s love. Be opened and speak plainly of God’s love. Do not let the world close you up and away from me.”
And so I am here. With you. Speaking of love as plainly as I can. And listening. Listening with all of my heart.