Have you ever been the answer to your own prayers?
In the gospel lesson I just read, Jesus has been traveling about teaching, proclaiming the good news, and curing every disease. When he sees the crowds he has compassion for them—because they are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. This all sounds very relevant for our times, doesn’t it?
Jesus tells his disciples that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. In other words, there are plenty of people in need out there, but it seems too few of us are willing or able to get to work and help.
So, Jesus says, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Pray for people to go into their neighborhoods, into their communities, into the world, to love and serve the Lord. Yes, even in this time of coronavirus-carriers, he says, pray for gospel-carriers!
But then, in the next breath, Jesus calls his disciples to him, gives them holy authority, and says, “Go…” Go! And by obeying this command to go, the disciples become the answer to their own prayer for laborers in the harvest.
Have you ever been the answer to your own prayers? We all face plenty of opportunities to be just that.
I love Eugene Peterson’s version of Matthew 10:6-8 in The Message. As he puts it, Jesus says, “Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here.”
Of course, Jesus makes the idea of telling others about him sound so simple. Meanwhile, in the church today we have had all sorts of responses and reactions to the concept of evangelism. Many of us recoil in fear from the very idea. Others have created mammoth, highly organized, multimedia campaigns—and somehow the clear, clean, simple message of God’s love gets lost in the hoopla.
But Jesus does make it sound so simple… And you know what? Maybe it is.
Jesus instructs his disciples to start with their fellow Israelites, that is, to “Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood.” Know anyone in your neighborhood? Then go. Go and tell, go and serve. You don’t have to make a big deal about it. Telling others about God in your life is just something you can do while you go about your life.
Just do what you normally do, but pay attention; be open to the opportunities to say a hopeful word, to perform a kind act, to offer a listening ear, to share the love and presence of God with someone else. Pay attention to the Spirit’s inner prompting about who around you may need a word of encouragement or a helping hand. Be clear and simple about God’s presence with them. Meet any needs you can, and be open to receiving others’ hospitality in turn. And don’t be hurt or angry with anyone who doesn’t want to listen to you; just move on and leave them in peace.
A friend of mine was able to do this in a unique way on a mission trip to South America a few years ago. The mission team decided to put these very verses Jesus gave his disciples into practice and see what happened—to enter a town and seek those who might be open to their helping hand and encouraging word.
They stayed in simple homes and ate whatever was given to them. They asked everyone they met a very simple question: “How can I pray for you?” That question always seemed to open the door to a conversation—and for God’s Spirit to enter in. These encounters revolutionized my friend’s faith and life.
Though the culture he found himself in was different, the needs of the people in this other land were pretty much the same as those back home—needs for love and acceptance and hope and faith—needs that dwell at the core of each of us in the human family.
When my friend returned home, he determined to continue to treat the people he encountered at work, in his neighborhood, and at his church in the same way he had treated these people in South America—simply by asking those he came in contact with, How can I pray for you? My friend got what Jesus was saying here.
Oh, but preacher, you’re probably saying by now, we’ve been living in a different time, a strange and challenging world. We’ve been in this frightening situation where we’ve been encouraged, even ordered, to stay at home, self-isolate, keep our social distance! And even if this gets better soon, who knows what might happen next week, or next year?
In this crisis, you’re probably thinking, the thought of running into some stranger we don’t know, saying a word of good news to them, of lending them a helping hand, even at six feet away or more—we just can’t do that now!
Well, you make an excellent point! So what can we do in times like these? Here are some thoughts:
First, be sure your own spiritual needs are being met. It’s like flight attendants instruct us when we’re on an airplane—put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others. Your spiritual life is holy oxygen for your soul.
How do you do that? Well, start by reading the Bible for yourself, if you don’t already, using a daily devotional or other spiritual resources if you like as a guide. Many of these guides are available online. If you can’t get to church, a growing number of churches are streaming their worship and prayer services, even Sunday school classes and Bible studies, on Facebook and YouTube and elsewhere online. And you can visit our website at Day1.org and find all sorts of meaningful resources to help you strengthen your faith and give you hope. So make sure your own spiritual needs are being met in times like this. And stay strong.
Second, pray. Pray early and often. Pray for yourself, for your family, friends, fellow church members, for clergy and church leaders, for people in your community, your state, your country, for political leaders at every level. Pray for good news for each one. If you don’t have a prayer list you use each day, now is a good time to start one.
Third, be creative in how you can reach out to others, particularly in times when you can’t help in person. If you’re on social media like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, why not post that question, “How can I pray for you?” And then, pray for each request that comes. Share with others what Jesus means to you, especially in dark and worrisome times. Tell a story of hope and faith that has happened in your life. Share the good news and serve others in the name of Jesus in whatever way you can.
As I record this in early April, we’ve witnessed plenty of examples of people doing just that. For instance, many people have been making medical supplies like face masks, following appropriate guidelines, right in their homes, and sharing them where needed.
In the condo community where I live in Atlanta, one resident announced on our online community page that they were going to the supermarket, and could they pick anything up for anyone, particularly the older residents? Another resident set out some books for anyone to pick up for free, and another baked a bunch of banana bread loaves—safely and cleanly—and left them for anyone to take.
In my city, people gathered safely and at proper social distance to pack and deliver some 35,000 Meals on Wheels one week to high-risk elderly folks. In one neighborhood, when a 7-year-old had to cancel his birthday party, neighbors posted signs and balloons in their front yards and in their windows to wish him a happy birthday—and even left him a surprise gift outside his garage. The boy was reported to be shocked but pleased, and smiled all day.
Most nights at 8:00, driven by social media posts, droves of Midtown Atlanta high-rise residents stepped out onto their balconies and to applaud and cheer all the medical caregivers, first responders, grocery store workers, and other neighbors who are working to keep us all fed and safe. It’s incredibly moving to hear!
People have created Facebook groups and other online means to check in on others in their circles. Churches are bringing back phone prayer chains to make sure those who may be ill or in need are checked on and served, and certainly prayed for.
Ideas for going out into your community—even virtually—to offer an encouraging word of hope or a way to help—well, they’re truly endless. So give it some prayerful, thoughtful consideration. And if you need help, it’s always okay to ask for it from neighbors, churches, family and friends.
Jesus calls us to love in the time of coronavirus, as he does at any time. So what else might you be able to do to help? How might God use your talents, gifts, and skills in times like these? Pray for creativity and opportunity!
Friends, Jesus beckons us to follow his lead in our own circles of life. Whether in our actual neighborhood, or beyond. He says, “You received without payment, so give without payment.” In other words, “You have been treated generously, so live generously.” Be generous with your love, whether that’s in person, or virtually. The world needs God’s love so badly right now.
As you go about your life in challenging times, even if you’re stuck at home, live generously in word and deed. Share lavishly, but safely, the peace and love of the God who has grabbed hold of your soul.
Revel in that peace and love yourself, and then reach out and share it. And help bring the kingdom of heaven a little closer to this needy world.
What’s holding us back? God will help us take the first step. Let’s ask Jesus to be with us. To help us to live generously and love lavishly—as lavishly as God has loved us.
Let us pray.
Holy and loving God, you have called us to go in peace to love and serve you no matter where we are, no matter whatever life’s circumstances may be. When we find ourselves in difficult times, please fill us with your peace and hope, and give us the wisdom, strength, and creativity we need to share that peace and hope in love with anyone we can, in any way we can. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Sources: Peter Wallace, Out of the Quiet, pp. 207-209.
“Random Acts of Neighborly Kindness, Solidarity Abound in Atlanta Right Now,” March 24, 2020, Josh Green, Atlanta.Curbed.Com