My step-father is a quadriplegic and cannot move a muscle in his body other than those in his neck. What this means is that someone has had to feed him every bite he eats. Someone must put him into bed and get him out of bed. Someone has to brush his hair and brush his teeth. Every single thing he needs to do in his life, someone else has to do it for him.
But, my step-father does something that is really remarkable. He races sailboats. He is the skipper, the director, if you will, on a sailboat during regattas. The way this works is that he has a chair fastened to the back of the boat and he gets strapped into that chair for the duration of a particular race. The interesting part comes when he is put onto the boat. Four grown men lift him out of his wheelchair, one guy under one arm, one under the other, one guy under one leg, and one under the other. They carry him this way down a very narrow dock, with water on both sides, and then they transfer him to a couple other guys who are on the boat. During the transfer, my step-father is over the water being moved from one set of arms to another while these men carefully step aboard the boat. The boat is in the water, don’t forget, so when you step on, it moves. Eventually, the men maneuver my step-father to his chair. By the end, these men are sweating and out of breath.
I have watched this process on and off since I was 10 years old. Shirts come up, people lose their footing, sunglasses fall into the water. And every time, no matter how many times I have seen it, I cringe, watching through half-closed eyes, thinking, “They’re going to drop him!” But, they never have.
I wonder if my description reminds you of a story we read in Luke 5 when some men carry their friend, a paralyzed man, to where Jesus was teaching in a home. The problem was that it was too crowded and they couldn’t get their friend into the presence of Jesus. So, they climbed up the roof and lowered him down to the floor. Can you picture what this must have looked like? I picture four men who pick up their friend, one man under one arm, another under the other, one man under one leg, another under the other. While carrying him, instead of walking down a narrow dock with water on both sides, they climb up a roof. They are sweating and out of breath. They lose their footing, and their sunglasses. When they finally get their friend up onto the roof, they begin the process of lowering him to the floor below. I imagine some kind of harness and pulley system. I imagine them breathing heavily, worried. I imagine others watching and thinking: “They’re going to drop him!” But they don’t.
When the man lands at the feet of Jesus, Scripture says: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’” And later, he heals the man completely so he can walk again.
So, what does this have to do with prayer? I read something not long ago about a man dying of cancer who said that the the pain from his cancer overwhelmed him so much that he lost the ability to pray. When friends came to visit and asked what he needed, his answer was prayer. Some people in our lives have lost the ability to pray. They are in too much pain. They are overwhelmed by suffering caused by financial, relational, or emotional stress, by poverty, by joblessness, or by hunger. Or, maybe they don’t know how to pray and they are stuck. Often, though, we decide not to pray with people (preferring to do it in our head or alone) because we are worried about our words. We think we are not eloquent enough. We don’t pray as well as some other person we know. We don’t know enough Scripture. We fumble for words when put on the spot. We will be clumsy and awkward and embarrassed.
Have you ever seen four men carry a paralyzed man onto a boat? Or up onto a roof? It is the most awkward, clumsiest thing you will ever see in your life. In the story told in Luke 5, when the men carried their friend up onto a roof so that they could place him in the presence of Jesus, Jesus did not compliment their technique. He did not say, “Wow, what a pulley system you have put together!” or “You are strong and graceful men!” What Scripture tells us is that “[w]hen Jesus saw their faith, he said ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’”
It’s not our words. It’s our faith. It’s not the words we say in prayer. It is our faith to bring people into the presence of Jesus. There are people who have lost the ability to pray and they need not our words, but our faith. Our most powerful prayers are not necessarily the most eloquent, where all the words are right. Our most powerful prayers are the ones where we use the full measure of our faith even if it is clumsy and awkward, in order to present someone at the feet of Jesus for the help only he can give.
How do you do this when Jesus is no longer physically present on this earth? You don’t have to pick anybody up, but you could:
- Hold their hand.
- Put your arm around their shoulder.
- Describe Jesus to them based on what you know from Scripture.
- Say, “Lord Jesus, we are in your presence. Thank you for life. Forgive us for the ways we fall short. We need your help, healing, and peace as we struggle with [insert whatever the need is]. Deliver us.”
Is there someone you could help carry or walk with into Jesus’ presence?
Picture source: Mary Warren, The Lame Man Who Walked Again (Concordia, 1966)