Summary: Prayer and suffering need not be exclusive of one another. As one connects with the other – as our suffering connects with our praying, then a cry goes out to the heavenly realms which God cannot ignored.
When you pray…
The prayer of suffering
Over the past few weeks we’ve been looking at various forms of prayer. Can I just remind you that prayer is simply a means by which we communicate with God and God communicates with us. When we communicate with each other, we do so in a number of ways. By written word, by spoken word, by tone of voice, by a look, by a facial expression, by our body posture – all sorts of will things communicate to another person what we think, what we feel, and what we want to say. And it’s the same with prayer. Prayer isn’t only just about words spoken out to God.
Of course, there are wordy prayers, adoration, confession, thanksgiving… But we’ve also looked at some of the more unusual prayers – for example we’ve looked at praying the ordinary where the work of our hands, the things that we do, are offered up to God as a prayer. We’ve looked at the prayer of rest – Jesus said ‘Come unto me all you who are heavy laiden and I will give you rest. We’ve looked at the prayer of tears – remember the Psalmist says ‘You have put my tears in your bottle’. And today we’re going to be looking at something that is closely related to the prayer of tears, that is the prayer of suffering. Paul writes, ‘I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.’
I’m sure many of you are very familiar with the picture behind me of the ‘praying hands’. But there is a story that goes along with them. I don’t think it’s a true story, and I’m not sure how much fact, if any, it contains, but I’m going to tell you it anyway.
The praying hands
Back in the fifteenth century, in a tiny village near Nuremberg, lived a family with eighteen children. Eighteen! In order merely to keep food on the table, the father, who was a goldsmith by profession, had to work almost eighteen hours a day and he took on any other paying work he could find in the neighborhood.
Despite the families poverty, two of the children had a dream. They both wanted to pursue their talent for art, but they knew that their father would never be financially able to send either of them to Nuremberg to study at the Academy.
And so after many long discussions at night in their crowded bed, the two boys finally worked out a plan. They would toss a coin. The loser would go down into the nearby mines and, and with his earnings, support his brother while he attended the academy. Then, when that brother had completed his studies, in four years, he would return and support the other brother at the academy, either with sales of his artwork or, if necessary, by also going down the mines.
So they tossed a coin and Albrecht Durer won the toss and went off to Nuremberg while his brother
Albert went down into the dangerous mines and, for the next four years, financed his brother, whose work at the academy was almost an immediate sensation. They say that Albrecht’s etchings, his woodcuts, his oil paintings were far better than even those of his professors, and by the time he graduated, he was earning considerable money from selling his work.
And when this young artist returned to home, the Durer family held a festive dinner to celebrate. After the meal, Albrecht rose from his honored position at the head of the table to drink a toast to his beloved brother for the years of sacrifice that had enabled him to fulfill his ambition. His closing words were, "And now, Albert, blessed brother of mine, now it is your turn. Now you can go to Nuremberg to pursue your dream, and I will take care of you."
All heads turned in eager expectation to the far end of the table where Albert sat, there were tears streaming down his face. He rose to his feet and walked over to his brother and he said, "No, brother. I cannot go to Nuremberg. It is too late for me. Look ... what four years in the mines have done to my hands! The bones in every finger have been smashed at least once, and lately I have been suffering from arthritis so badly in my right hand that I cannot even hold a glass to return your toast, let alone hold a paintbrush with which to paint. No, brother ... for me it is too late."
Over 500 years have passed. By now, Albrecht Durer’s has hundreds of works of art hanging in every great museum in the world, but the odds are great that you, like most people, are familiar with only one of his works.