I generally arrive in the office well before the rest of our church staff, and one of the great gifts this habit gives me is the opportunity to spend some quiet moments alone reading scripture and praying about the needs of our congregation…and what needs there are! In my church family – as in any church family – there is a constant stream of loss and illness, along with the stresses and transitions that life inevitably brings. And it is my privilege and my joy to lift these needs into the light of God’s presence – knowing full well, of course, that He is aware of these needs – but eager, all the same, to add my loving concern to the “constant beams of love energy” that God showers upon His people (as one of my seminary professors used to put it).
But I wonder. When I look at the prayers of the New Testament, I rarely find the leaders of the early church praying about the illnesses and the strained marriages and the impending losses – although these needs were certainly present. Instead, as one of today’s readings from the Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer exemplifies, the focus falls on the expansion of God’s work within and among his people.
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:17-19)
These emphases are not mutually exclusive, of course. I have little doubt that the Apostle Paul prayed over the heartaches and worries of his “children in the Lord” – even as he prayed over their continued growth in Christ. But can we achieve the same balance? Can we pray – not only for the health, comfort and blessing of our friends – but also for their growth in wisdom, in hope, and in love for God and others?
To my church family, I say this: “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Eph 1:16). I’m thinking about those burdens that you carry with such grace. I’m remembering the beauty of the way you serve others. And I’m praying that God will “expand His kingdom embrace” – within us, among us, and beyond us.