Summary: Troubles in the lives of saints and sinners alike give us pause not only to seek comfort for ourselves but also to be of comfort to others by trusting in the Lord to provide and to guide.
Sympathy, Sensitivity and Specificity in Praying
“Please pray for me” has been the one request above all others that have been made of me during a ministry spanning fifty-five years. Actually, for me, praying for others has always been the easiest part of my pastoral opportunities.
At about the midpoint of my career, however, when my hair began to turn gray, folks made assumptions that put a lot more confidence in my capacity for helping them than my ability allowed me to.
What I discovered was that, aside from ordinary sickness, surgery, chronic illness for which we readily pray and seek to minister to each other – there were certain types of mental illness that presented quite a different challenge. Seldom if ever did I feel comfortable praying for any type of illness classified as mental.
Well – long story short – when I mentioned to Dr. George Christenberry, my Sunday School Director but also President of Augusta State University that I had always understood Baptist beliefs but had never figured out Baptist behavior, he suggested that I enroll in the university and study human behavior.
After twenty-eight consecutive quarters (taking one course per quarter) over a period of seven years, my degree and certification as a community counselor prepared me for offering professional help to folks suffering from emotional and mental disorders in addition to being specific in my praying - specificity being a form of praying which any caring Christian can engage in, at least to a certain degree - privately.
As you know, mental illness can take many forms, and it is estimated that one in ten people suffer from clinical depression. We find these folks in all walks and stages of life, Christians and non-Christians alike, and as far as the Christian Church is concerned, for too long too many have looked upon depression as a sin.
Folks, depression is an illness that can be mild or severe (even life-threatening), just as surely as any other illness like the flu which can precipitate pneumonia, and therefore must be treated by a physician - as well as prayed for by practitioners of the Christian Faith.
Once I became convinced that the Church of Jesus Christ ought to minister to the whole person, I was well on my way toward becoming a lot more effective in the ministry of helping. You know what I discovered?
Apart from our greatest of all needs salvation - what people need and desire most is comfort! More than any other age group, we senior adults know firsthand about the importance and significance of being comforted!
Our challenge is to go the second mile and be comforters - as long as we can, as best we can – a ministry challenge which the Apostle Paul dealt with in his second letter to the Church at Corinth – 2 Corinthians 1:2-7 . . . One of the most powerful truths in God’s Word is stated here: grace and peace come from God - Father of our Lord Jesus and of all born againers!
For you see, it is only as we take hold of grace thru faith in Christ that we experience true peace - or wholeness, a state of contentment which stems from the removal from our human nature of that innate enmity and hostility toward God – a divine act appropriated to us by the grace of God because of Christ’s atoning death on the cross – a cleansing - applied to our innermost beings at conversion.
As we care for and pray for those who suffer from illness, mental as well as physical, it is important to remember that whereas mercy and comfort may come through various means, including medical treatment, God our Father remains the ultimate source of healing, hope, and help (even when medical treatment fails).
We do what we have been gifted or called or trained to do as best we can, but we leave all the rest to great professionals and the Great Physician. Of utmost importance in any and all ministries of helping is our awareness of specific needs that are beyond our expertise.
Yes, I pray with ease but recognize my limitations plus God’s expectations that a person’s needs might best be met by one who has been endowed with ability and called by God to act on His behalf as His agent for accomplishing His will on earth as it is in heaven.
Prayer plus Providence, when combined, are the two elements that produce the result God intended in the whole realm of living – physical, mental, spiritual!
Thus, as I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake, I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take. God bless us all! Show me a person who can pray, “Not my will but thine be done”, and I will show you a person at peace with God . . . self . . . his or her fellowman.