Monday, May 23, 2016

Prayer and Blood Gushing Toes

Have you stopped to think how many times in the Bible that God answered prayer by sending a messenger? When Daniel couldn’t understand a vision, God sent a messenger to set him on his feet. When Abraham prayed for Lot’s protection, God sent messengers to forcibly remove him from harm’s way. When Peter was in prison, God sent a messenger to free him. When a eunuch was seeking to understand the scripture, God sent Philip. When some women were praying on the river bank, God sent Paul. With it happening so frequently, you might think that is God’s preferred method.

And you just might be right. When Jesus looked at the multitudes in Matthew 9:37-38, he said, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefor the Lord of the harvest, that he would send laborers into his harvest.” And when Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord in Isaiah 6:8, the Lord said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah responded, “Here am I; send me.”

Could it be that we have the wrong approach to prayer? I have seen many prayer lists. Name after name is listed of people who are in poor physical health, who are having financial problems, who are having family problems, who are in need of salvation, and many other things. At various times, we hear people call out prayer requests like they are announcements. Following an ordination service when we had just been stirred by a powerful sermon charging the man who had been ordained to preach the word, we heard a prayer request for someone I didn’t know and can’t remember their name, but I know they have blood gushing from their toe.

Of course, James does tell us to pray for each other. But it isn’t obvious to me that he intended for us to make lists of people with gushing bodily fluids. Some of us are real good about praying for each individual. The rest of us throw these lists in the back of our Bible to look at the next time we meet to make a list. We might pray a prayer like, “help these on the prayer list.” How different this is from the picture we get in James 5:14. Even in praying for the sick, James called for an action by the church elders. Not just pray, but “pray over him, anointing him with oil.”

One of the problems I struggle with is answer the question, “Is God answering these prayers?” I’ve often heard people talk about how prayers were answered concerning someone on the prayer list, but if we’re keeping count, there are also several on the prayer list who dropped dead. I don’t know how to pray for the person with the blood gushing toe who might have it amputated other than to ask the Lord to heal the toe. But what if it heals? What if it is amputated? What if it gets infected? Did the Lord answer?

Let me suggest that what James calls for is very different. Suppose, instead adding this blood gushing toe to the prayer list that the church elders visit this person. Is this person saved? This would be a good opportunity to find out and to share the gospel with them. I doubt anointing with oil is the right treatment for a blood gushing toe, but praying over this person may be a source of encouragement and maybe there are other things that can be done to help this person while they are in their current condition. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever discover something you can do for them if all you have is a list item on a prayer list. Do they need their dishes washed? Their yard mowed? Their bed sheets changed? You can’t anoint someone with oil without touching them.

It’s fine to pray for someone’s healing, but let’s not forget to pray, “Lord, send me.” It’s easier to see how the Lord is answering prayer when we are the ones he’s using to answer those prayers. If all we ever do is ask the Lord to heal, or to fix a broken marriage, or to help a person through financial difficulties, we’ll wonder why he didn’t answer our prayer. But what if we answer his call to go help someone replace their bandages, or to watch a couple’s children on a date night, or to provide some advice on how to save money? It’s through those things that he answers prayer and he will use us to do it.