Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by John Howard Farmer

Visit the Irvington Baptist Church website

Smile and Pray

I am thinking of our prayer muscles. Somewhere in eons past I heard, or read, that one uses more muscles to frown than to smile. I have no data upon which to base this—yet I have no quarrel with the concept. One supposes it to be an encouragement for the faint of heart to try a bit harder to muster the vicissitudes of life. There are other muscles that need a bit more workout than we usually grant them. Shamefully our prayer muscles atrophy from lack of use. Prayer as a conversation with God; the medicine that makes our lives have purpose. It is a way for us to tap into the deep resources that our God has prepared for us through the life of his own dear son.

Many of the disappointments of my life are due to the fact that I’d rushed head long into some situation, or opportunity, without laying a proper foundation of prayer. It is as if I can lay out a patchwork quilt asking God to center on my prayer specific need.

Reading from a past issue of a friend’s Illinois Methodist newsletter, I gleaned: “Dear Lord, so far today, Lord, I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped, haven’t lost my temper, been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or over-indulgent. I’m very thankful for that. But in a few minutes, Lord, I’m going to get out of bed. And from then on, I’m probably going to need a lot more help. Amen.”

We have specific prayers, private prayers, sure. Yet, too much of our prayer life is self-focused. Let’s concentrate on corporate prayer; prayer that accomplishes much be­cause God’s people are in harmony. It is rewarding when our prayer ministry has a galvanizing effect upon those who are united around a common cause—others, not self.

Years long spent ago, while driving back home from a family to-do on the Eastern Shore, I observed teamwork personified. My nerves having survived the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (twice), we were approaching the Severn River Bridge, just upriver from the U.S. Naval Academy (Annapolis). 

Off to our port side slipped a couple of slivers afloat. Navy sculling teams were rowing up river. It was a cloudy, rainy day. Not the sort of day one would normally be boating. It signaled that those chaps were committed to a cause. It was time to be about matters at hand, weather notwithstanding. They rowed backwards, trusting the least among them to guide.

Team spirit and common cause sent the lads (and lasses) dockside. Uniformed up, it takes concentrated teamwork just to get the boats off the racks and into the water. Balance is no easy task. Those boats are just a bit wider than the straining hips, thighs and back muscles who sit so uniformly committed.

Stern end leading, sits a coxswain who coordinates the pace set by the stroke (lead oarsman). He also steers. His (or her) job is to assist the team in maintaining the combined pace that will send them forward toward victory. Movements are very precise. Individuals cease to exist. Eight persons move together as if one unified body.

My prayer was quick and simple: “Lord, watch over those young people, they’ll be our leaders of tomorrow.”

As we drove homeward, the weather worsened. Headlights popped on as if they could punch their way through the onslaught of rain. We merged off Route 50 onto US 301 south. There we blended with folks from our nation’s capital trying to get home. I was hoping that someone had prayed for them too.

The image of the young officers-to-be prevailed. It occurred to me that the church could garner such teams to move our prayer life off the norm. We spend heaps of time in corporate prayer. We do so, however, without determination, without the leadership, without the dedication to common cause that enabled those Navy types (which I witnessed) to stay the course.

I wondered mightily as I homeward wandered. My mind conjured up a scene wherein a Christian group could focus on getting the most out of a prayer experience. 

There are times when we are in corporate prayer mode when we really are not united. There are times when our prayer muscles, though gathered about us, are less de­fined. There are missed opportunities because we are busy praying through general, time worn, attitudes, platitudes.

Decades ago I met a young Christian comedian from North Carolina, none other than Andy Griffith. He’d attacked my heart and ears from an old 45 rpm jukebox at the Fork Union Military Academy snack bar. Over the years, he kept heart and ear full for me. In particular I tear-up whenever Andy sang “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” truly one of my favorite Griffith offerings. Prayer is so precious to me. 

Maybe we should go at it differently on occasion. Mount our muscles. Set a course. Elect a leader. Hone in on just one prayer petition. Select an item from our long-term agenda. Send the team up river in locked oar preciseness. Pull those oars. Use those muscles. Don’t rock the boat. God will honor such effort. God will be astonished.

Alas, we Christians spend too much time together, pulling in diverse directions. Let’s get it together. Set a course. Put a smile on your face, and let us pray…

Actually, join me: let’s all stop and pray that this awful pandemic virus would disappear from our world and that life can find our new healing normal. There is such a void that needs filling. So, dear Lord, we pray earnestly that you rescue us all, Amen.