Thursday, 25 February 2016

You can be an answer to prayer

When we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn – conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus… 2 Corinthians 7:5-6.

It’s good to pray – every Christian knows that: we’ve heard it in a thousand sermons.

But it’s a real joy too to be the answer to someone else’s prayer. Is that something you’ve ever thought about?

It’s happened recently to my wife and me. Having just moved to a new home, we were obviously keen to find a church to be part of. We’ve ended up in a quite tiny congregation, a church recently planted by a bigger one. Most of the members are young adults, many with small children. This creates a really nice atmosphere: but these pioneers have been very aware of their relative youth and inexperience.

So when we happened along, grey-haired and wrinkled, having parked our zimmer frames at the door (all right, I’m exaggerating just a touch), the response has been (and perhaps I’m exaggerating just a touch here too): “Oh! We’ve been praying for some really old people to join us!” (A cheeky lot, they are.) And we’re, like, “Er, thanks a bunch.”

But – jokes aside – we’re pleased, of course.

I hope you can see the funny side of it. But the serious point is that just as they have turned out to be an answer to our prayer, so, in return, it seems that we are also an answer to theirs. Which is a good feeling. (Mind you, they don’t really know us that well yet…)

Paul had serious problems with the church he had planted in Corinth. In fact, of all his “problem churches” – and he had a few! – they were probably the worst. And he tells us here that as he made his way through Macedonia (quite likely he was in Philippi) he was close to despair (“downcast” or “brought low” is the word he uses).

No doubt there were other things on his mind as well as the problems in Corinth, but they certainly didn’t help. He doesn’t actually mention praying but, knowing him as we do, who could doubt that he did?

And then what happens? Along comes his young protégé Titus, bubbling over with good news: things are looking up in Corinth! I can imagine Paul and Titus talking long into the night about what Titus has discovered.

The point is simple: Titus, the bringer of good news, was an answer to Paul’s prayer. And the challenge also is simple: Why shouldn’t you and I expect to be the answer to someone else’s prayer?

It’s a truly humbling thing. Once, when I was still a full-time pastor, I had a feeling one day – just a hunch, really, nothing more – that I should visit a particular person that afternoon. I wasn’t aware of any special need or difficulty; it may have been simply that it was a time since we had last talked. But as she opened the door she looked at me and said “I was praying that you might come”. (Thank you, Lord…)

I can’t claim that this kind of thing has been a regular occurrence in my life. But when it does happen, how good it feels! I reckon Titus felt pretty good that day in Philippi as Paul wrapped his arms around him.

I’m quite sure that there are people in your circle and in mine who are in need of blessing and encouragement – or perhaps rebuke and challenge. Perhaps they’re trying to pray their way through a difficult time: sickness, marriage problems, difficulties at work, a major disappointment, doubts and questionings. And you might be the answer to their prayer with a visit, a phone call or some other contact.

For this to happen just one main “qualification” is needed: an openness to God’s day-to-day leading; a sensitivity to the moving of the Holy Spirit. What matters is to embark on each new day not with our mind focussed on “What do I want from today? What are my needs and problems?” but “I wonder how God might be able to use me today?”

You might get a surprise. And some troubled soul might get just the help they need.

Be blessed. And be a blessing!

(Oh, and as for that bunch of impertinent children that God seems to have landed us among, don’t worry – we have ways of getting our revenge…)

Lord God, please teach me to pray. But help me too to believe that I can also be the answer to someone else’s prayer this very day. Amen.

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