Lauren J. McFeaters
April 30, 2017
We are a people of prayer. We pray for every kind of reason and in every kind of circumstance. We pray when we’re in distress and when we give thanks. We sing our prayers when we have something to celebrate or lament. We pray at birth and at death. We pray alone and together. We pray while crying and while laughing.
During pre-marital counseling, I often tell couples I’m counseling that prayer is one of the most intimate acts of a marriage. I counsel families and individuals that when prayer is at the heart of life together, God meets and guides us, seeks us and attends to us.
Who teaches us to pray? Who taught you to pray?
How do you know how to pray? Do you know how to pray? Would you like to learn how to pray? For many of us the answer is probably, Yes, Lord, teach me to pray!
For the early Christians seeking to be Doers of the Word and not merely Hearers, James comes along with a letter that could be titled How to Practice Resurrection. And through it he guides the church in the way of prayer.
In the beginning of the letter, James urges the church to be quick to listen, unhurried to speak, and slow to anger. He teaches the church to let go of its hierarchy of the wealthy and poor, to act with gentleness and wisdom, to watch our language and how we speak to one another. Because, as we all know, words can hurt; words do a lot of damage.[i]
But Martin Luther called James the “Epistle of Straw” and he sought to keep it from the Bible Canon. For Luther, James is a lightweight, trifling, and insignificant offering of scripture. He believed the letter doesn’t carry the weight that revealed Christ as all that is necessary for salvation. Luther thought the letter was chaff, weedy, straw, “and it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it.”[ii]
Not so fast. Ultimately James became part of the Biblical witness and rather than straw. We find in James the building blocks of Resurrection Life: it’s not about how to get “RIGHT” with God – DO these things, DON’T do these things. God HAS made us right through Jesus Christ and now James teaches us how to live rightly with each other, bound through acts of prayer in the name of the Lord.
What does it mean to pray in the name of the Lord?
Can I tell you there are thousands of articles and books on how we can pray, but little to nothing on how to pray in the name of the Lord.
There was a time in seminary when I was working on a group project and I cut and paste every reference to prayer in scripture.
When I say cut and paste, I don’t mean with the strike of a key and the sweep of a finger. I mean with Xerox copies, scissors, and glue. I organized all the clippings on charts. What appeared before me was fascinating. It was Biblical Visual Bliss – that sounds just like a new Starbucks Frappuccino.
Of course I knew that Jesus prayed. But what I didn’t know is scripture hardly ever tell us what he prayed or how he prayed. A few sentences at most are revealed:
Father, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come.
protect and guard my people.
Shelter them as they live the life ahead of them.
I pray that they be one heart and mind,
just as you and I are one heart and mind.
As long as I have been with them,
I was the one who guarded them.
Now I am about to die,
so I’m saying these things in the world’s hearing
so my people can experience
my joy completed in them.[iii]
And we know from Paul: Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us.
As we stand on this side of Easter, when Jesus rides into Jerusalem, walks to Gethsemane, staggers to Calgary, and then strides straight out of the tomb — we have a Word from the Lord: Pray, people of God. Pray with and for others.
It is our Lord’s way of loving us, so in turn prayer can be our way of loving others.
When we pray to God on others’ behalf, we are shifting our center of gravity from our own needs to the needs of others. Prayer becomes a loving balm, a courageous act, a generous anointing.
When I asked earlier who taught you to pray, I had someone in mind. You may have heard me talk about how my mother-in-law taught me to pray. May Lou Brothers did not believe in dilly-dallying about prayer or quietly, privately lingering around the edges of prayer.
She believed in praying for specifics. She’d say God wants our specifics, our particulars, so there’s no use in being wimpy about prayer: be bold, courageous, and daring.
If she knew someone was struggling with cancer, she didn’t ask God to gently hold that person and soothe their cares; she prayed that God would take those pockets of Stage 3 cancer in the lower left lung and annihilate it, eradicate it, and wipe it out.
If a child was injured in the car accident she wouldn’t pray for peace, she’d pray for a subsuming chaos so that no one would rest until physicians knew exactly, positively, unerringly, what to do so that the child would wake up, get up, and walk.
If a marriage was falling apart, she’d pray for God to intervene so powerfully that the two people wouldn’t know what hit them, that they’d be knocked over by grace, and look so deeply into their hearts that nothing could defeat their love.
I wish you could have known her. Mary Lou Brothers was a modest, humble wisp of a woman. She was petite, but she prayed like an Amazon. She was elfin, but her intercessions were ginormous. She was unobtrusive but she intervened like the prayer warrior she was, like she was ten feet tall and could fly to the moon.
And that’s exactly what James has in mind for the people of God, what Jesus, our Pastor, has in mind as the practice of Resurrection:
- To pray as if we can be set free on the wings of hope. And so we are.
- The gift of prayer is that we are loved by a Lord who enfolds our confessions with forgiveness;
- Whose very is essence is sufficient for our healing;
- Who prays for each one of us — in specifics.
- And who makes it our sacred responsibility and blessed privilege to pray in his name for others.
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Hear the good news!
Who is in a position to condemn us?
Only our Lord Jesus Christ.
And Christ died for us, Christ rose for us,
Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us.
[i] Rick Morley. “On Doing and Being – A Reflection on James 5:13-20.” September 20, 2012, www.rickmorley.com.
[ii] LW 35:362
[iii] John 17
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