Today marked the first time back at my regular church, All Hallows in Leeds, for several months. It was great to see some familiar faces, and while it certainly felt strange being on a Sunday morning service after so long away, it actually seemed in other ways like I hadn’t really been away at all.
When I attend any church, I do of course enjoy being filled by the time of worship and the communion supper, but I usually tend to seek for something within the sermon to take away and apply within my own life. Today, however, while the sermon was good and thoughtful, I found myself instead being most challenged of all by the time of prayer. I’m not sure whether it was the feeling of being back in a familiar setting or finally being in a place where I can comfortably reflect on the last few months, but for whatever reason I found myself at the whim of an almost overwhelming sense of sadness while the prayers were being said. It just seemed to dwell on me moreso than usual, the deep feeling of sadness many within the congregation must be feeling at any one time through all the personal troubles we go through in our own lives. There was nothing which particularly stuck out from the norm about those being prayed for, but if only for a few moments and in a very limited, vicarious way… I could feel the effects of despair through those prayers. People who are sick and terminally or irreparably ill; who are suffering bereavement and loss; who are in prison; who lack the understanding of being loved; and so on.
It all reminded me of the immense power there is in prayer, not just in the continual hope and thanksgiving we have that God will answer us, but also in the tremendous sense of solidarity which unites us when we pray together and for each other. Recently, I have been trying to remind myself to begin my prayers from a position of thankfulness for all that God has done and continues to do for me; Today, I found myself being thankful to be part of a community which cries out to God in loving desperation for the people around them.
Later on, when praying by myself, a word came to my mind and stuck in there: Precious. We probably think of that word mostly in a sense of deep, inexpressible love for a child, for example, and so we often think of ourselves as being precious in God’s eyes. However, I found myself using that word in solitude to express my love for God. He is precious to me. Much as I might fail, swerve, swagger, and fall short in life, I can never deny that I care deeply for God. He is my all, and I feel that I love Him not only as my Father and Master, but also in the same way someone might care for their son or daughter. As well as being the Almighty Creator of the universe, and the redeemer of mankind upon that cross, He is also eternally the helpless babe born in that humble manger two millennia ago. There are many ways to look at God in Christ, and today I look at Him through Mary’s eyes… precious, irreplaceable, and the joy of my life. It would kill me to lose Him.
Does He not say, after all, that whoever does the will of God is to Him a brother, sister, and mother? (Mark 3:31-35) If God’s love is precious to us, for both us in Him and He in us, then how much precious will those around us be? How desperate will our desire be for the unloved and the despairing to come to Him? How much will we lament for the way things are, and cry out “How long” to the Lord of all to deliver us from the bondage we suffer not only from Satan, but also that which we create for each other without even realising it?
Being a disciple of God means being constantly challenged by the sadness and sickness in the world, yet also lifting up praise and thanksgiving to our precious God, who has given us eyes to see, who has given us the empowerment to live in solidarity with one another, and who will not leave us this way forever. The lamentations we have for ourselves and for those around us, will one day be justified by the same power which raised Christ from the dead.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.