Vicarious Prayer Support
We are about to enter Lent. It is a time of year when we give up something in order to pray for something else. We just become more intentional about bearing one another’s burdens, one of the most profound things we do for each other.
In our story, an anonymous woman comes and anoints Jesus feet with expensive perfumed oil, a symbolic preparation for burial, just before he enters Jerusalem where he will die for trying to do the right thing. She is giving him a spiritual blessing to bear him up to do the most difficult thing he will do in his life. That is what we do for each other.
I’m always moved by the fact that we have a prayer concern or two every week for people that are in boundary situations. And we would do anything, even take that suffering on ourselves if we could. In Lent, we up that profound spiritual capacity.
When I was about 25, a friend signed me up to run a 10K race on Saturday. They were very popular at the time and I didn’t waddle back then.
When you got to the race, there were all these signs ‘remember your goal’, ‘run for your goal’ and the like. I think it was a breast cancer event.
We are walking up to the starting line and I ask the guy next to me who he is running for because he had a ribbon on his T shirt.
He said “My sister Moira”
I said, “So what is your goal?”
He said, “To break my personal best time today?”
I said, “So how is your sister doing?”
He said, “She died”
Woah, heavy emotional moment. I was quiet for a moment. We kept walking up to the starting line.
But I had just been reading an article about how the word ‘Angel’ in the New Testament didn’t just mean ‘otherworldly creature with wings and a halo’ like Romans always depicted them. It just meant ‘one who brings a Word of God’. An Angel is a messenger from God.
The point of the article was that we’ve too narrowly defined what an Angel is and where to look for them. Most of the time, the author suggested, the come in pretty ordinary clothing from fairly pedestrian people. We are all potentially Angels for each other.
And it occurs to me that I don’t know this guy. I’ll never see him again. So why not try to be a messenger for God.
So I say to him, “you know those moments when you feel your sisters presence in your life. It is like a dream, only it is not just a dream, it is more like it is real.
“Yeah” he nodded.
“And you can’t really even talk about it exactly because other people wouldn’t understand?”
He looks at me and says, “yeah”
I said, “Today is one of those days. She is beaming you a blessing and filling you with the Spirit.”
And then I remembered my football coach from High School. Before a big play, he would grab your helmet, pull you face to face. So I grabbed this guy to get his attention.
He looked at me half startled and half expectant.
I said what coach used to say to me, “You got this”. And I clapped him on the back.
He moved through the crowd to the very front of the line where the ‘runners’ were. I was back with the ‘joggers who thought they were runners’.
Bam, the starter gun fired. That guy took off like a force. That was the last I saw of him. But what a great vision, seeing him disappear into the front of the pack.
I think of Lent as a spiritual positive like that. It is a spiritual discipline that you only engage in when you have ‘big things’ to pray about, big things, immovable things. “My child has recurring thoughts that they are worthless”. Some of them break your heart. “I cannot make my husband love me.” All of them are bigger than any one of us. “My son is being consumed by opioid addiction and it is erasing the best parts of him.” A lot of the time, they are long term prayers, “My brother’s wife died suddenly and he has to raise four children by himself.”
Cancer. The alienation from years of alcoholism. These are things that you can’t just wave a wand and fix. We have to shift gears and settle in for the long haul.
And we know that they are out there waiting for us as well. We know that we will not get through this life without our share of loss, grief, frustration, illness. Ultimately, we know we will have to face our own death, not that we want to.
In Lent, we take up one of these immovable issues and we decide we will pray about it. We will make some sacrifice about it. We will use the anxious energy that we have around this one negative thing that concerns people we love, and we will deploy it to create a better habit in one small area of our life. We will change one habit.
Every time we do that, every time we successfully alter one simple habit, we know we get stronger. Psychologists say, we develop ‘self-regulation’. We become a little bit more in control of the part of our life that we can control. We feel more like we are steering our destiny rather than just being steered. We Christians would say, we become led by the Spirit- upward towards something more noble and fulfilling, outward to bless people around us and develop real community.
So in the Old Days, just before we would start on this season of discipline, we would gather all the things together we would be giving up, and have on big party “Mardis Gras”. We got the booze and the tempting foods out of the house, so we wouldn’t be tempted by them for the season of Lent. Oscar Wilde once said that the only way to get rid of temptation is to ‘yield to it’. So we had a big party.
And then we turned towards creating hungers for things spiritual that will actually sustain us in times of real crisis, when we actually have to pray about big things that will become immovable in our lives. We remember the simple power of the “Eucharist” the thanksgiving meal where, in our humanity, we acknowledge our brokenness and we gather as forgiven sinners, as needy people willing to support others in need, and we share our concerns in prayer.
We gather to partake of spiritual food that we will need for this journey. It is long. It is difficult. We will need God. We will need each other to make it. We know that.
Today, I invite you to join me around the table. We are going to make a big circle. And as you come, if you are bringing something big that you would like to pray about during this season of Lent, call it to mind right now.
Perhaps it is a person that is going through something that is seemingly immovable, call them to mind. I invite you to join us as we gather around the Table. We come to this place to feed our Spiritual hunger, the hunger we have to fix what is broken around us, the hunger to help others who are in need, the hunger we have to be real in our lives (at least with a few people) and share where we hurt, what we hope for.
Will you join me.
You are our strength and our salvation, a very present help in our seasons of trouble. We look to you to fill us with Your transcendent Spirit. Bind us together with the loved ones that we pray for, that their weakness might find renewal and redemption through Your healing presence in and amongst us. Open us that we might be conduits of Your Grace and Love.
Hear now the names of those that we lift up to You…
Surround us with Your courage as we go from this place. And grant that we might reflect the wonder and joy that you have for us in this life as we go. Amen.