Sunday, May 16, 2010

More Inspiration from Ruth

Visiting with Ruth is more inspiring than sad. I weep often, but more from being touched by her faith and her spirit than from sadness.

She says she thinks she’s figured out why she’s still here, when two months ago the doctor said she had only weeks, not months. As people come to visit her, she asks each person to tell how they came to faith in Jesus. They get to rehearse telling their story so they can then tell it to others.

Also, she gets to match people to needs. Norma Jean has been wanting an in-depth, one-on-one Bible study; Marcia, an excellent Bible student, has been praying for someone with whom to study the Bible. Barb, the hospice chaplain, stays well past her “brief stop.” Her well is being filled by Ruth’s faith and wisdom.

Barb asks Ruth her favorite Bible verse. Ruth says she loves all of Philippians, and Barb and I agree. Ruth is on morphine for the first time, and thinking seems to come more slowly. I say, “Long ago you said your favorite verse was from the situation where the father asked Jesus to heal his son. Jesus asked, ‘Do you believe?’ and the father answered, ‘I believe! Help thou my unbelief!’”

Ruth’s eyes lit up and she smiled. “That’s it!” she said, triumphantly. “That’s the one I was trying to remember. And the King James is the version I learned it in.”

We talk about heaven and its mysteries. We can read Revelation and John 14 and other passages about heaven, but the concept is beyond human understanding. Barb says one of her favorite passages is II Corinthians 4:17-18. She reads it to us: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Ruth talks about Bob’s cooking her breakfast each day and learning his way around the kitchen “because he’ll need to know that kind of thing.”

She gets calls from old friends and from a granddaughter in Alaska. She jots down notes of ideas to remember and to share with other visitors. She is excited that her visitors can be connected through her in order to grow in faith.

She is also tiring rapidly. Barb leaves and Ruth and I pray together. I think of all the times we met for breakfast over the years, sharing concerns and praying together. I remember the first time I asked her to have breakfast or lunch with me—probably 20 years ago. During our meal conversation, she said, “This is wonderful! I’m always asking people to lunch, but no one ever asks me.” Even then I knew it was because she was such a strong woman that no one thought of her needing female companionship too.

So now I think—who shall I start taking to breakfast or lunch? Is there a mentor who is in need of encouragement herself? Or what younger women shall I mentor as Ruth has me? I can best honor her friendship by passing it on—by having important spiritual conversations.

My friend Laura’s uncle, Chip Jordan, would only see her for brief periods of time when he visited her college town. He would take her to lunch and always ask, “How is your spiritual life?” Surely she is one of the most spiritually strong women I know, and some of that comes from being asked that important question during her formative years. I need to do that for someone. I need to know that person well enough, and that person must be assured that I love them, before I can ask such a probing question. But I can do that. I can be Uncle Chip or Ruth or Miss Eurie—with God’s help.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

National Day of Prayer

The news is full of the pros and cons of having a National Day of Prayer. And the disagreement is not necessarily between Christians and non-Christians. Some Christians agree that it does not separate “church and state” as they prefer. Some non-believers do not feel threatened by it and instead have a “let them do whatever they wish” attitude.

So where do you stand? Surely to most Christians, it doesn’t matter. Every day is a day of prayer for us, so what’s the big deal about having a National Day of Prayer?

Historically, the United States was founded by believers who attested to their faith by inscribing our money with “In God We Trust.” They began their meetings in prayer, and even invoked God in their Declaration of Independence. My friend Connie gave me this information:
• In the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln in his Proclamation of Thanksgiving on October 3, 1863 invited fellow citizens to pray.
• The Continental Congress declared a fast on March 16, 1776: "In Congress that Friday, the Seventeenth day of May next, be observed by the said colonies as a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer...."
• Every President since 1952 has signed a National Day of Prayer proclamation, 57 in all.
• There have been 135 national calls to prayer, humiliation, fasting and thanksgiving by the President of the United States from 1789-2009.

I recently read God Work by Randy Harris. In it he says, “I’ve got this theory that, generally speaking, the prayer lives of Christians and non-Christians are about alike. I think Christians probably lie more about theirs. But I’m thinking that they’re pretty much alike. I don’t think Christians pray as much as they claim to and I think non-Christians pray more than we think they do. I don’t know, is “Oh God” a prayer? It might be. Most of the non-Christians I know have some sort of prayer life.”

So, accepting that theory, there are many people in the United States who might be interested in praying together even if they aren’t interested in “church.” We are having a prayer service at our church building, hoping to reach at least one or two of those folks in our neighborhood who would like to be part of corporate prayer. We are praying for our community and nation, for the poor, for children, for people to come to faith in Christ, for us to live within God’s will. There will be nothing doctrinal in our scriptures or our prayers; we just want to encourage our community to pray and for the community to know that we are a fellowship that believes in prayer.

We could have testimonials about the power of prayer, but I think that would be distracting. As soon as I hear “that was an answer to prayer,” I think of all the prayers I’ve prayed when things haven’t gone my way. I don’t pretend to understand that, but I do understand that prayer is a conversation with God. I can’t imagine having a friend whose conversation is always about what they want me to do for them. (Well, actually, I have experienced it. But those people stay in the realm of “acquaintances,” not “friends.”) I think He’s OK with my asking for His help with everything from decisions to healing, but I think we need simply to converse also. So maybe this national focus on prayer, even for one day, will lead more people to think about prayer and about God. If so, praise God. If not, praise Him anyway!