talking in the dark 13

Our church journeyed through January with a focus on prayer. Our preaching series was “Questions of Prayer,” which aimed to be honest about questions we share about prayer and give us orientation points for our praying. An optional step past Sunday morning is working through Steve Harper’s book, Talking in the Dark: Praying When Life Doesn’t Make Sense.

In chapter 6, “Praying When Life Suddenly Changes,” Steve Harper shares the story of a woman from a church he served as pastor. Her cancer returned about a year after he arrived and he and the church journeyed with she and her husband through her final battle with the disease. God used her deep faith and seasoned prayer life to infuse this difficult journey with grace and wisdom. Toward the end of her life, she and her husband elected to try a last-ditch measure to be cured. As she was being placed on the airplane, Steve felt the need to offer some words, getting out, “Joy, it’s going to be okay.” “And that’s when it happened,” Steve writes. “From a depth of reality only Joy was experiencing, she spoke back to me: ‘Steve, it is okay.’ We all knew what she meant.” (p. 78)

Joy’s example clearly offers a witness concerning praying when life suddenly changes. Here are four insights from Steve’s journey with her through her illness as her pastor.

We Pray in Relation to Stored-Up Resources

Living in the grace of God over the long haul definitely made it easier to continue drawing on God’s grace for this difficult struggle. Steve exhorts the reader: “If I could offer you one piece of advice about praying when life suddenly changes, I would say, ‘Don’t wait for the change to occur.’” (p. 79) Start digging the well now. Start the habit now. Start the maturing process now. Several times I have imagined that one benefit of becoming a contemplative and mystic now would be preparation if I become incapacitated one day. Steve notes, “Jesus did not use prayer like a rip cord on a parachute; rather, he practiced it regularly for spiritual nourishment” (p. 80).

Welcome Fresh Waves of Grace into the New Reality of Life

They reached a point when Joy would often reject his offers of prayer during a visit, observing that enough prayer has already been offered. Was she dejected and dismissing the power of prayer? No, she was aware of God’s presence through the whole visit. “She was living out the reality of the Twenty-Third Psalm, ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” Knowing the presence of Christ in deeper ways does not require words.

Understanding God’s Comfort Enables Discovery of Blessings along the Way

Steve names what we may have noticed in our experiences: “Something happens when life changes suddenly. … Values change; conversations change; perspectives shift. We use our time differently. People become much more precious to us than possessions” (p. 84). The blessing of adjusted perspective is held together by prayer—prayers of gratitude, prayers to make the most of our time. “Prayer becomes a spiritual Velcro to which other things stick.”

Prayer Takes Us to the Place Where We are Healed of the Need to be Healed

Even while diligently taking advantage of the best medical care available at every turn, Joy reached a point where “she no longer had to get well.” This is full trust—so trusting in Jesus that we know our life is in him no matter what happens to us next.

“Today,” Steve tells us, “we greatly need to regain the theology of ‘holy dying,’ …We do not have to have health restored in order to have hope” (p. 85). Because of Jesus’ victory through the cross and resurrection, whether or not it “will be okay” as we usually mean it, “it is okay” already.

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