Yesterday I was reading a post I wrote 2 years ago about the labor of prayer. I had written about how when things seem dark and circumstances in a loved ones life are beyond our control, prayer truly is a labor, a work we do, to somehow spiritually bring strength even though physically we can’t do much.
Not long after re-reading that I got a text message from my sister-in-law. She was 40 weeks pregnant and has had a stomach virus and her water broke. She felt weak. She wasn’t sure how she could do what she was going to be required to do. And so, the labor of prayer for her began, as her labor began.
I am not a theologian. I don’t understand how prayer works. But I know how prayer feels. I know the restlessness of spirit that won’t let me loose until an answer comes. I know the weight I feel when a friend is in need and the only way to help is pray. I know the wonder of seeing prayers answered in big and small ways.
I don’t practice prayer well. I am not one to sit for lengthy periods of time. I have much to learn about the discipline of prayer. I watch women, more gifted than me in this area, and yearn for the same intimacy they seem to have with God while at the same time slightly afraid of what it would take to get that. A deep, intimate prayer life I have observed, seems to be wrought in the fire of trial.
I gathered my boys and we prayed. We prayed for a quick labor. We prayed for strength for my sister-in-law. We prayed for a healthy baby and strong mama. We prayed for peace and wisdom for my brother as he supported his wife. We prayed that God’s presence would be clearly felt in the birthing room. As our evening progressed they weren’t far from my thoughts.
I don’t know about you, but I still get surprised when God answers prayer. I obviously have faith literally the size of a mustard seed. But four hours after receiving the initial text from my sister-in-law I saw my phone light up with my brother’s caller ID and my heart leaped! My newest nephew had arrived after about 3 hours of labor and everyone was well. My boys danced in the hallway because the boy cousins now outnumber the girl cousins. I spoke to my sister-in-law and my tears were flowing when she told me about how God had sustained her through the prayers of her friends and family. That little boy is going to be a living, daily reminder of God’s great love and answers to prayer. Faith grows when we pray and see God work.
Our church has an unusual tradition. Every Sunday we have a brief open mic time for worshipers to share praises of how God has been working in their lives. This morning the praises came fast and furious. One of our members is 10 years out from a cancer diagnosis, another family has seen growth in their daughter adopted just a few months ago, my friend celebrates two years of healing since her stroke, and another friend praised God for three years of no seizures for her little boy. Being able to labor in prayer with these friends and watch God work has taught me a lot about God and who he is. We believe He is good regardless of the outcome, but in these cases where He answered specific prayers and chose to heal and spare life are worthy of celebration and remembrance. We need these markers of reminder like the Israelite’s piles of stones in the Bible. I am quick to forget that God is here, now, working.
Our pastor reminded us this morning that the purpose of prayer is to know God, not to receive blessing. Yes, God does bless us. But the mystery of prayer is that through laboring in prayer we grow in our intimacy with God, we feel His presence. This has certainly been true for me.
This morning as we left for church there was dew sparkling in the grass and sun filtering through the early morning fog. My heart was full of joy and my eyes were open to God’s mercy, promised and new. This intimacy and joy is the gift of prayer.