Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Answering our own prayers

IT’S BEEN WELL said that praying about something is both the least you can do and the most you can do; it all depends on how serious we are about it. As James 5:16 reminds: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power.” At the same time, if I am honest, not all of my prayers have been offered with a belief that God is going to answer them.

Sometimes, I have merely been spouting words out of a sense of obligation or dutifulness. It costs me nothing. So how can we know when our prayers are serious? Maybe when we are willing to be the answer to them ourselves—a concept that has some biblical precedent, hidden away in the Gospel of Matthew.

In chapter 9, we follow Jesus as His begins to preach about the kingdom and heal people. Seeing how desperate they are, He tells his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (vv.37-38).

Presumably, they do as they are instructed, but what happens next is obscured a bit by the way the narrative is broken up. This encounter ends the chapter, and we skip a beat or two before picking up the story in the next chapter, which begins: “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction . . . These twelve Jesus sent out.”

Because of the arbitrary nature of the chapter break, we miss something of the immediacy of all this. No sooner has Jesus told His followers to pray for more workers to go out into the harvest than He’s sending them off as answers to their own prayers.

I wonder how my prayers might be different if I offered them knowing that each time, I might be expected to be part of realizing whatever I’m asking to happen? And how might I embrace that idea? Next time I pray about some physical need, maybe I write a check or put some money aside. Next time I pray for someone’s comfort, perhaps I should write a note or make a call.

When I take such steps, I’m putting something of myself where my mouth is.

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