“My mother told me, before she passed away
Said son when I’m gone don’t forget to pray
‘Cause there’ll be hard times, hard times,
oh yeah Who knows better than I?
“Well, I soon found out, just what she meant
When I had to pawn my clothes, just to pay my rent
Talkin’ ‘bout hard times, hard times, oh yeah
Who knows hard times better than I?”
— Ray Charles
Everywhere I look I see hard times. In the last couple of years parents have lost their children at the hands of an angry, disturbed young man; an unprecedented storm caused billions of dollars in damage and untold personal loss in the Northeast; and a tornado of biblical proportions recently destroyed Moore, Okla., causing unbelievable destruction and unspeakable pain. Most of us watched it on the evening news. Hard times.
No one is exempt or immune from pain and hard times. Last week I stood with a family as they said goodbye to a much loved daughter and wife. She was 38. It’s not supposed to happen this way. But it does, you know it does, in one form or another it has happened to you.
Some would say there is nothing to be done, it’s just the way of the world. And I would agree that we can’t stop storms and natural catastrophes and there will likely always be some madman bent on killing innocent people. But there is a deep and profound wisdom in Brother Ray’s mother’s words. She told him to pray because there would always be hard times.
“Prayer, you say. It cannot be that simple.”
“Well,” says I, “prayer is never simple, but it’s all we really have.”
In a perfect world we wouldn’t have these adversities and we wouldn’t need to appeal to a higher power; but this, as is easy to see, isn’t a perfect world. So we have to deal with the way things are, not as we wish them to be. James, one of the truth speakers of the New Testament, wrote, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Prayer is an act of faith, or at least an appeal from faith, for help from a source stronger than ourselves. You say you want to do something to help these people who are in such pain and grief, the most effective tool we have is prayer. James said the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. He says it can even bring healing – healing of the body and healing of the heart.
There is a great promise that was first given to Israel but I think still applies to us that says: “…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
The instruction is clear. For prayer to change things it has to start with changing us. He says that we have to start by humbling ourselves before God. Then we have to turn, as individuals and as a people, from our wicked ways. James, whom I have already quoted, says we must confess our sins to each other; same thing. We have to know that he is God and that we aren’t. We have to recognize our own helplessness and inability to make things right and appeal to the one who can. Is that simple? No, but many of us can testify that it is effective.
Even President Obama, who probably doesn’t agree with much of what I think, agrees on prayer. Really? Yeah, I heard him say on national TV to the people of Oklahoma that, “… the thoughts and prayers of all Americans are with you tonight.” He must believe it to be of some value or why would he say it?
Do you really want to help people going through hard times, like the folks in Moore, Okla.? Then pray for them. Tell God how you feel and ask him to heal their lives and land. Oh, and sending money to the Red Cross for disaster relief won’t hurt either.
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Shalom…. see you in church.