I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come?Psalm 121:1
This is my first blog post since last Saturday. That’s unusual for me, but the explanation is pretty simple: I have been sick in bed until today. My rapid COVID-19 test came back negative , but I have had all the symptoms, so I have been sleeping in the basement and wearing my mask around my family. And I have felt terrible. Today is the first day I have had any interest in writing anything, which brings me to this little devotion.
A while ago I wrote a devotion on Dom Chapman’s famous suggestion to “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” Today, I would add, “Pray while you can, before you can’t.”
I am typically quite faithful to my prayers. I pray the Psalms daily, pray for my family and my congregation, pray for my community and world, and pray for those who have asked for my prayers. But to be honest, I have not been praying very much the last few days. I barely got out of bed. I didn’t do any reading, even my daily Bible reading. And when I did pray, it was pretty brief and a bit selfish.
There are times when life’s challenges deepen our prayer life, without a doubt. We have all experienced those times when our desperate need becomes an appeal to God. We “lift up our eyes” to the hills, looking for God’s help. And God loves to answer those prayers! But there are other times when we are so exhausted, so sick, so filled with pain, that prayer becomes more effort than we can summon. We might come up with a feeble, “God, help me” but that’s about it. (Of course this, too, is a prayer which God also loves to answer!)
As I sat in the Urgent Care last Saturday, I was at that point. I was dealing with an agonizing headache, and the light and the noise around me seemed to be beating my head like a hammer. I wondered how much longer until I could endure it, and when would I be called back (it was now long past my scheduled appointment). I was in agony, but I was not alone in that. There were sick people all around me. I closed my eyes, and without thinking, prayer bubbled up. “God, help me ” But then, “God, help those screaming children, and their anxious parents.” And “God, watch over this overworked medical care staff.” And so on. It didn’t require any effort, really. I just fell back on what I have done daily for many years.
I share this not to boast of my ability to pray when sick, because most of the rest of the time, I laid in bed and relied on the prayers of those around me. I share this experience simply to point out that if we pray while we can, our prayer-life can endure those times when prayer seems impossible. Prayer bubbles up as soon as it finds an opening. It floats back to the surface, no matter how severe the storm.
So, pray while you can. Dig your roots deep into the soil of God’s grace. And then rely on those deep prayer roots when the drought comes. But also, don’t be afraid to ask for prayer during those times when, for whatever reason, it is too difficult to pray. Sometimes, after all, we are the person too sick to find Jesus ourselves, but need to be carried to him by our friends.
Pray as you can, pray while you can, and pray without ever giving up, for our God is faithful, and eager to hear our every prayer.