It’s right to pray and bring our needs before God. Sometimes in the process of praying for something over a period of time our prayer request is modified. It may be that God is giving us time to think carefully what we want him to do for us.
Jesus asked the blind beggar outside Jericho: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ This gave the beggar time to think and to make his request more specific than his original call: ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ The readings were Psalm 94 and Luke 18:31-end.
Several years ago my church was praying earnestly for the teenage daughter of a friend of mine who was seriously ill in hospital. As you can imagine, we all longed for her to get better and to go home to her family, and we were praying accordingly.
A wise ‘elder statesman’ of our church said to me: ‘Be careful what you pray for.’ This was all very mysterious to me. A few days later the girl died. She died of meningitis, which as most of you probably know is a very difficult disease to treat. The treatment of desperation, which is the last possible things doctors try, reduces the circulation to the extremities and can result in limbs being lost in order to save the person’s life. This young woman, had she lived, would have lost both legs. We had been praying for her to return home to her family, but what if she had returned as an invalid? Be careful what you pray for, indeed!
The man at the side of the road on the way into Jericho shouted to Jesus: ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Even when those around him were telling him to shut up, he carried on shouting. As a result he got Jesus’ attention.
There must have been so many beggars who sat at strategic points in order to somehow get enough to survive. Jesus used the story of a beggar, Lazarus, to illustrate a point. Peter and James healed a lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate where he was taken by friends to beg each day. Jesus probably wouldn’t have had to look very carefully to see what was wrong with this particular beggar.
Jesus had healed all sorts of illnesses and disabilities already and could easily restore this man’s sight. All he had to do was reach out and touch his eyes, or possibly spit on them, or simply say ‘Receive your sight’. It would have been the work of a moment to sort out this problem. Instead, Jesus asked the man: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ What might have been going on here?
If we think about it, the man might have wanted all sorts of things. Maybe like the man lowered through the roof by friends, he wanted his sins to be forgiven. Maybe he needed to be able to forgive someone else. Maybe he had other health problems, not just blindness. Jesus gave him the choice. He had to think: What does Jesus’ mercy look like to me?
I remember reading about a woman who had been paralysed and in a wheelchair for many years. Eventually she was miraculously healed and able to walk normally. At first she rejoiced as you can imagine. She was able to go all over her house, she could walk down the street, she had independence. After a short while the novelty began to wear off and reality hit home. Not only could she move all around her house, but she was now also capable of cleaning it. Not only could she walk down the street, she could go and buy the groceries also. Not only was she independent, but she was left to her own devices much more and was often without company. She became very depressed, even worse than when she hadn’t been able to walk. It took her quite some time to get back in balance and appreciate the good and the bad of being able bodied again.
There would have been similar implications for the blind man. He would no longer be a beggar but that would mean he would have to find a way to earn his living. Along with his sight would come responsibilities. He would not only be able to see the beauty of the world, but the ugliness and poverty that are part of it too. Jesus did not assume what he was being asked to do (There is a saying never to assume anything as it makes an ASS of U and ME). Jesus gave the man time to decide what he wanted and once the man was sure, he got what he asked for.
Often when we pray it takes a fair while to get the answer. Not always of course – those ‘Help!’ arrow prayers can be answered in an instant at times and that’s a very good thing. If the answer does take a while, though, perhaps God is giving us a chance to think: ‘What do I want God to do for me?’ We may set off praying for something but over time we might begin to see more clearly what the implications would be if the prayer were to be answered. It could be that we begin to change our prayer as a result. We can certainly be sure that God knows what’s best for us and by giving us time he may be allowing us to see his solution as the best one. Of course, there are times when we honestly don’t know what we want. I felt like that yesterday and in the end, having struggled to work out what was the matter, I simply said to God that he knows my needs. I left myself open to his solution. Last night my internet crashed so I went to bed early. I reckon that was God’s answer to my needs as I have been feeling better and better as the day has gone on.
On another occasion I was absolutely certain what I wanted. I’m sure you’ve all approached a significant birthday, one with a zero on the end, and thought a fair bit about it. Seven years ago I found that a birthday with a 9 on the end made me really think. It was Lent and I was looking towards my 49th birthday. It occurred to me that I was entering my 50th year, the Year of Jubilee in the Bible. I looked back over my life and thought that, despite the ups and downs, I had been thoroughly blessed by God. I decided that I really wanted to offer my Jubilee year to God as a thank offering. I planned what I would do to make that a reality – more time spent with God, more Bible reading, serving others etc. What I hadn’t reckoned with was that God would take my prayer which offered my year so seriously. In Holy Week he called me to be ordained as a priest and I have been trying to catch up with him ever since. It’s been a period of the greatest elation and the deepest despair in my life since then. I still don’t know if I can train as a priest or not, I won’t know until towards the end of August. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have missed all that’s happened for anything.
Maybe I’m not quite old enough to be an ‘elder stateswoman’ of the church, but my experience leads me to repeat what I was told: Be careful what you pray for!
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor