“Then Jesus said to another, ‘Follow me.’ ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘first let me go bury my father.’ But he told him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.'” (Luke 9:59-60)
If you count being in my mother’s womb, I have been “in church” almost forty-five years. When I begin to tally the number of prayer requests I have given, heard from others, prayed for, and listed – my mind gets a little dizzy. I’ve heard them all. From “unspoken” prayer requests (which never really made sense to me) to ones that shall remain unspoken on this blog (I try to keep this blog PG). Let’s just say that many-a-church people do not mind mentioning every. single. body. part. when prayer to the Good Healer is involved. Some don’t want to share anything except the word “unspoken.” Others want everything – and I mean everything – spoken and prayed over.
If I could add up the hours I’ve spent listening to prayer requests throughout my life and turn ’em into five dollar bills – I would be one rich man. Like, filthy rich. Like, Jeff Bezos rich. Seriously. I would.
Do you know what kind of prayer requests dominate in the church? Prayer for the sick, the dying, and the already dead. It’s unbelievable. It’s like we (as in “we” church people) cannot wait to get to our Sunday School class and share how bad off someone is! If we have a smidgeon of information we believe no one else has – watch out! – we are going to share it in the hopes that everyone’s face gets downcast as we spew out our fresh updates. We love to start off our times together seeing how quickly we can get depressed. We cannot wait to feel better about ourselves by mentioning how horrible someone is doing so we can pray for them and determine to whip up and drop off a casserole.
The teacher who hasn’t prepared for the lesson loves when this time gets extended (and it always does). The teacher who has prepared rolls her eyes when Mrs. “I-Can’t-Wait-Until-Prayer-Time-So-I-Can-Share-All-I-Know-About-All-Our-Hurting-Friends-Family-Members-Neighbors-Co-Workers-Dogs-And-Cats” walks in.
Sunday School Classes. Small Groups. Deacon Meetings. Wednesday Night Prayer Meetings. Email Updates. Committee Meetings. Wherever two or more are gathered, you can bet there will be a significant time of listing prayer requests – for the sick, the dying, and the already dead. Come to think of it, the only time we don’t share prayer requests is when food is involved. NO ONE will ask for prayer requests when the chicken is hot and ready to be served. If someone ever did, he or she would be disfellowshipped immediately.
There is – most definitely – a time and place and purpose for sharing prayer requests for the sick, dying, and the already dead (their family). I have been a part of many groups who, after praying for healing and help, and have seen God do miraculous things. I am guessing you yourself can testify how God has answered prayers for you or someone you love. We pray because God hears and heals.
But I wonder if we need to spend more time “letting the dead bury their own dead”? What I mean is, I wonder if our attention on the sick, dying, and already dead is an indication of our lack of attention elsewhere? I wonder if the time spent on sharing prayer requests is a way to control the narrative? To say it another way, I wonder if we spend so much time on it because we really don’t trust God? Isn’t this what Jesus communicated to the “would-be” disciple in Luke 9? Jesus wanted his attention elsewhere, trusting God to take care of the other. Jesus told this guy to let the dead alone so he could “spread the news of the kingdom of God.” To say it another way, “Trust God with the sick, dying, and already dead. You go and focus on those God is bringing to life in the Gospel!”
I’ve spent countless hours sharing prayer requests. However, I can only count on half a hand how many hours I’ve spent sharing or hearing about lives being awakened to the kingdom of God. Why is that?
Could one of the reasons so many are turned off by the church be because we love to gossip about what we know, clothing it in prayer requests?
Could it be that people are bored with the church because we spend the first 20-30 minutes of every gathering getting depressed on how sick so many people are?
Could it be that there is little life in our churches because our attention is on death?
What would happen in our churches if we prayed for the spread of the kingdom of God as much as we prayed for the sick? Pay attention in your church circles. How much time is given to Gospel, Kingdom of God, True Life for people prayer?
Yes. There is a time and place for praying for the sick, dying, and those who’ve lost loved ones. There are times and seasons when the best thing we can do for one another is be present in grief and sorrow and sickness. Yes. Yes. Yes. But let’s be careful we aren’t so focused on death that we never look for, pay attention to, rejoice in – LIFE. God is in the business of giving life ,not wallowing in death. Last I checked, He conquered that.
I gotta go. I think I smell chicken.