Saturday, February 27, 2010

Healing powers of prayer. . . or the healing power of God?

So this past week I've been seeing an elderly member of my congregation in the hospital every day. Her heart wasn't beating properly. She is in her early 80s, and from last Saturday through Tuesday, it looked like she was going to basically have to need open heart surgery - a high risk surgery for her (she has bad kidney's too - but is otherwise normally vigorous). There were many prayers with her and many for her. Then, on Tuesday afternoon, her heart jumped back into a right and normal rhythm - she passed her next exam and procedure with flying colors - and by Wednesday afternoon all the doctors were in complete agreement that she wouldn't (and shouldn't) have the surgery. Even the surgeon.

Thus, seeing her that Thursday morning was really good - her strength was returning (it had been all week, but it was really kicking up), starting to pick back up - a good conversation with a hale and hearty 81 year old is great fun. And I closed with prayer - thanksgiving for what has come, requesting continued healing, asking blessing upon the hospital staff - the standard fare.

And as I turn to walk out. . . the baptist chaplain had been standing there (a self proclaimed "Holy Roller Baptist" no less), and he complimented the prayer. And then, he told a story about how he prayed with a Muslim at the hotel where he is also a chaplain (cause in reality we all have one God - the same God gets worshiped at all the churches in Enid. . . which may be accurate, I think we are all Trinitarian here) and how the fella had a kidney stone and how he had asked the fella what the name of his god was and the fella had said that Muhammad was the name of his god (??? what kind of Muslim is this???) but then the chaplain prayed to the God of Abraham and Issac and Jacob and asked God to use His Heavenly knife to heal this fella so that he wouldn't have to have a procedure done and what do you know. . . the next day the pain was gone. Doctors couldn't find anything - what a mighty prayer. . . and of course, I had a good prayer too.

I ended up pondering this for a while - for it was clearly a self-aggrandizing story. Alright - look at who I healed with this prayer. Of course, I also thought, "Um, maybe he passed the kidney stone - that would make the pain stop." I was just sort of going through the various thoughts that come up when one hears of the miraculous and the benefit is placed upon a person -- be it the holy roller or be it the "I saw vision of St. ______ and then I was healed."

But then I had another thought. The guy was rambling about a kidney stone, and here my own member was going to need open heart surgery, open freaking heart surgery - then the next day - nope, um, things look better. Shoot, I could have not only matched him, I could have raised the fella - I see your kidney and raise you a heart. . . dang right I pray well!

But the thing is. . . that's not how we as Lutherans tend to think. Soli Deo Gloria. At no point in the 28+ plus hours that I had known that this woman was doing better had I though that it had anything to do with me. . . it is what God does. Was it my prayer, someone else's prayer. . . who cares? To God alone be the glory. Simply raise prayers of thanks and continued blessing - the same sort of prayers we do every day.

This almost makes me sad - it seems as though so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ think of prayer as exceptional -- in the sense that it is the exception to the rule, it is what is done when you want merely an exception to happen. . . "Lord, I know I probably need to go to the doctor for this kidney, but if you could find it in Your heart to get me out of this. . ." But it is - prayer is normal. . . it is the shape of our life. God gives use the wondrous all the time - sometimes it might stand out in glowing colors, sometimes is it much more subtle. Either way, it's just a matter of we who are His workmanship wandering in the ways He has set out for us -- and our prayers remain the same - thanks for the blessings of past, mercy for our sins, strength and endurance for what is to come. The immediacy of the problems of the day might bring one of those into focus - but really, our prayers are basically the same every day, every week - even with the same words (Our Father. . . .)

Sometimes I think we can be jealous of the charismatic and the "extraordinary". That is a shame, for when we do so, we simply forget how ordinary God's care for us actually is. It's all daily bread -- sometimes we just see that there is gravy on what our Lord provides. We do not live in a world where God's care is random, fleeting demonstrations of extreme power - it is constant. We do not need mighty words or mighty saints to intercede for us (although they do) - because Christ Jesus is our great High Priest who always does so.

SDG has great wisdom. To God alone be the glory. Maybe if we thought this way more, we would simply see more and more all the things He does for us. Just some thoughts this Saturday morning.


Robyn said...

It sounds as if the other chaplain may be unconsciously thinking of prayer as a sort of magical incantation. If you figure out just the right words, and you say them with just the right fervor, then pouf! you will induce God to do what you want.

This God sounds rather like a toddler. I have to ask my 2yo with just the right words said with just the right fervor to get him to do what I want. I have to say I'm pretty good at it because I know him so well.

I'm good at manipulating toddlers. I've found I'm not so good at manipulating God.

When I pray to God to ask for something, I pretty much just ask for the things God would do anyway—asking because I know he wants us to ask, to come to him as children come to their father (not as a mom comes to her moody toddler). If I'm ill, I ask him to help me have as much strength as I need to serve him. If that means healing, great; but I also know that God may choose to send people to help me, or to give me virtues like fortitude and patience and hope so I can do what I need to do.

Not bragging here. Pfft. Just what I've learned to do because asking for what I think is best never works; yet things nevertheless always work out one way or another.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Which is exactly why our Lord taught us to pray "Thy will be done."