‘My thoughts and prayers are with you.’
How often do we hear these words, particularly in current times of drama and disaster?
‘Thoughts and prayers’ – easy to say. But do we mean it?
It’s flip and quickly said. Like offering a tissue or a bandaid for a cut or graze. One that you had in your pocket, along with your mints and loose change. Close at hand. Easy to feel good afterwards. It may or may not comfort the wounded but you have done your bit to help.
Moving on …
Is it real? Is it sincere? Who needs it most? The pray-er or the pray-ee?
Prayer should be a Christian’s natural response to another person’s need, whether that person believes or not. Praying for someone or a situation is, frankly, a labour of love and requires much, much more that a flip couple of words applied like a magic spell or a bandaid.
Praying for someone can be hard work. It is also a big responsibility. And it is an honour to be asked to pray for someone, an honour to God.
There’s been a couple of times when I have been asked by friends to pray with them even though they are not believers of any faith. ‘You know I don’t go along with that Christian stuff but you do. And it would mean a lot if you would pray for us.’
Wow! No pressure.
That’s a big responsibility that takes more than a flippant reply. I reckon there’s a few things worth considering when we offer, or when we are asked, to pray.
- Prepare. One choir director I know would say ‘prepare’ when he meant ‘breathe’. We need to take a breath, to focus, to still the mind.
- Research. Ask and listen. What is the need, what is hurting or lost?
- Remove distractions. Be fully present, both with the person and with God. Be silent if necessary.
- Give thanks for God’s goodness and give thanks for permission to pray.
- Ask God for guidance on what to pray for, rather than what you think is the solution.
- Use a liturgical prayer. Or speak spontaneously. Or sit in silence.
- Be gentle and patient, waiting on the Spirit.
- Remember how blessed we are that we can pray in our country. There are many places in the world where even meeting with another Christian, in public or in private, is punishable by death. We need to remember that.
- Give thanks. Again.
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray he gave them what we know and love as the Lord’s Prayer. (See James 1:19) As a pattern it is hard to go wrong with this one. It gives us the perfect template: Respect, scripture, thanks, asking for guidance and forgiveness, praying for others, and ‘Amen – Let it be’.
So forget the bandaids. Get out the full ‘thoughts and prayers’ first aid kit.
Sheelagh Wegman is a freelance writer and editor. She is in the community of St David’s Cathedral in Hobart and lives in the foothills of kunanyi/Mt Wellington.
Sheelagh Wegman’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sheelagh-wegman.html