A Princess is being carried on one of these grand sedan chairs by a huge retinue of striking looking bearers. Let’s watch this procession and see where they go. These bearers are have a regal bearing not like slaves or servants at all. There is a graceful confidence in the way they walk and their burden, the Princess, appears to be light. They actually look joyous in their duty; laughing with each other and conversing with the Princess in her sedan chair above them. They move forward and upwards to a stairway and, look, there is a Great Doorway and they walk right in bold as you like! They walk into the presence of a Mighty King – one who they are sure they can ask anything of – and they gently place the Princess before him. He is delighted that they have brought her. He runs from his throne to greet them and rests his hand on her head. He pulls her to her feet and hugs her to him; he treasures her. The bearers of the Princess rejoice; they feel the favour of the King. They know him to be their Father. The Princess nestles into the arms of the King, her Good Father and she knows she is loved. This her safe place; her healing place.
My Prayer Warriors were my Bearers. Every day, as soon as they were called into that ministry, they prayed and in so doing, carried me into the presence of God. His favour rests upon them. Of course, it was a great thing for me, but I know that in prayer for others, we also feel the favour of our Father. There’s lots of places in the Bible where we are instructed to pray. James tells us to “pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). In his letter to the Ephesians (6:18), Paul tells us to pray for the Church and its ministers “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints..” and he exhorts us to make “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks [……] for all men” in his first letter to Timothy (2:1). So many times, throughout the Gospels, we read of Jesus praying for others and he commands us to do the same, even those who persecute us, and of course, he gave us a simple prayer to pray every day, where he taught us to call God “Our Father”. God compares prayer with sweet-smelling incense that pleases Him (Revelation 5:8). Clearly he loves to hear us when we pray. It reflects something of his own character; of love and mercy being poured out. He wants us to become more like him and, when we pray, we look up from our own selves; we are thinking of the needs of others and somehow, as we talk to God about them, we are lifted into the heavenly realms; we are in his presence.
Of course, I would have been in that band of Prayer Warriors for any one of my friends or family had they been sick or in trouble. Indeed I have been one of those praying boldly in the past. Even today, I am one of those lifting others in prayer to God. I love praying! Not that I am super good at it; or even good at remembering to do it! It’s like any exercise – you need to practice – and you don’t always feel like practising! I’m better when I can be disciplined about it. That is, when I use a ‘format’. So, at the moment, I am using Celtic Morning Prayer. The liturgy, the short Bible readings and the meditations there help to guide me into the Throne Room and I can talk more meaningfully (I hope!) about the needs of others. I have an order of praying for the World, the Church, Friends and Family and it works for me. We’re all different; we’ll have our own ways of talking to Father. (Much like me and my sisters had different ways of talking to our Mum). None of them are right or wrong; what matters is that we talk from the Heart.
As a fellow disciple of Jesus, a member of the Church, any one of us should be able to expect to be prayed for. We should be confident that the Church will gather and anoint us with oils and to know that our sisters and brothers are banging on the doors of Heaven, pestering God to the point of distraction. The Bible tells us this is how it needs to be:
“Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet” (James 5:14 Msg.)
However, now being at the very centre of things, in the midst of such a potentially scary journey, I can hardly put into words just how marvellous it actually feels. It is BRILLIANT!! Last week, we visited our previous church, All Saints in Marple. (We were there for almost 20 years and it’s really like our spiritual birthplace – so it always feels as though we’re going back ‘home’ when we go there). Our fab vicar friend, Daniel, dropped us in it by asking if we would be interviewed about the Cancer journey. We didn’t mind; it was great to have the opportunity to share what’s been happening with this part of our family and to publicly thank people for their prayers. Daniel asked what it was like for me ‘in the middle of things’ and I said a bit about the physical side of things, but more importantly, I said what it had been like having God so close to my side through it all. That it was the Prayer Warriors essentially, through their prayers and their messages to me, who had carried me into his presence, reminding me continually that he was there – above, below, in front, at the side and underneath me. My gorgeous, dear friend, Tracy had started the group “We Love Bev Prayer Warriors” – joined together on WhatsApp. Every one of them had jumped right into praying. They gave me verses from the Bible that gave me hope and joy. They made me laugh out loud with jokes and funny stories. Through this mode of virtual reality, they walked with me – indeed they carried me through and into the presence of our Father, the King. I LOVE them!!
In the days before surgery, Nad reminded me of something from Psalm 23. How the Lord has a table set with good things – for ME – in the presence of my enemies – they were Doubt, Fear, Death, Anxiety. They try to get seats at the table; try to meet my eye and get me to invite them. But the seats are all taken with Joy, Peace, Hope and Love. So there is no place for them!! On the morning of the op, I was inundated with messages. Daniel gave me words from Isaiah 26. “The Lord is my Rock Eternal – he keeps me steadfast and I can trust him forever”. Paula told me “The angels were dispatched a while back and the hedge around you prepared”. I loved the image, although later while waiting to go into theatre, I giggled to myself thinking of the surgeons trying to operate on stepladders and working over this enormous hedge!! “Blessed assurance, Jesus is with you every moment – feel his hand on your shoulder” – Muriel said. I did! I really did! “You go before me and you follow me. You place a hand of blessing on my head!” said Nad and “It is well with my soul” Andria reminded me, through that beautiful song of the same name. As I recovered, Janet messaged John to tell him of the rainbow in the sky over Manchester as she stood praying; a reminder of God’s promise. I posted a picture of myself with all my tubes and Nick made me laugh, asking me to sneak out the white-board pen he could see in the frame! He later asked if he could have the cannula they took out of my hand: “very useful for oil, with those little valves”.
They were not the only Prayer Warriors. Back in Honley, there were Cate and Richard, Angeline, Jenny, Elizabeth, Elaine…and so many others. Over in New Zealand, on holiday, Jane and Graham took time to pray. In Canada, there was Mel….Friends of Facebook from all over the country were prompted to call out to God for ME. At my own church, in Huddersfield, another Jane kept a group of willing and loving intercessors updated so that they could pray informedly and messaged me often to to let me know. Tania wrote often with beautiful, encouraging words – usually formed when she was in her Prayer Room – the Bath! (I love that picture of her praying through the bubbles!!) Mike, Steve and Jane came to our house and anointed me. Wayne and Ruth; Julie and Paul; Charlotte and Jo; Rebecca and James …so, so many people praying. So many people shared words, sent cards, brought gifts. I was loved – not only by the Father, and I was continually reminded of that, but also by my brothers and sisters in Christ. Even those who weren’t quite sure that God would answer, or indeed, weren’t sure there was a God at all, never mind one who listened, were prompted to, at the very least, to ‘hold me in their thoughts’.
The other day, I read something from “The Railway Children” and saw this
The morning of the fifteenth was spent very happily in getting the buns and watching Mother make A. P. on them with pink sugar. Afterwards the children went up to the village to collect the honey and the shovel and the other promised things. The old lady at the Post-office was standing on her doorstep. The children said ‘Good morning,’ politely, as they passed.
‘Here, stop a bit,’ she said. So they stopped. ‘Those roses,’ said she.
‘Did you like them?’ said Phyllis; ‘they were as fresh as fresh. I made the needle-book, but it was Bobbie’s present.’ She skipped joyously as she spoke. ‘Here’s your basket,’ said the Post-office woman. She went in and brought out the basket. It was full of fat, red gooseberries. ‘I dare say Perks’s children would like them,’ said she.
‘You are an old dear,’ said Phyllis, throwing her arms around the old lady’s fat waist. ‘Perks will be pleased.’
‘He won’t be half so pleased as I was with your needlebook and the tie and the pretty flowers and all,’ said the old lady, patting Phyllis’s shoulder. ‘You’re good little souls, that you are. Look here. I’ve got a pram round the back in the wood-lodge. It was got for my Emmie’s first, that didn’t live but six months, and she never had but that one. I’d like Mrs Perks to have it. It ‘ud be a help to her with that great boy of hers. Will you take it along?’ ‘Oh!’ said all the children together. ‘Oh, isn’t it nice to think there is going to be a real live baby in it again!’
‘Yes,’ said Mrs Ransome, sighing, and then laughing; ‘Here, I’ll give you some peppermint cushions for the little ones, and then you run along before I give you the roof off my head and the clothes off my back.’
I was minded to think how wonderful it is to be able to respond in some way to the needs of others. Our hearts ache when we see misery and despair, illness and pain – but when we can DO something, it not only brings relief to them, it brings joy to us too. You know why? This is what I think. It’s because we are made in the image of God and it his nature to want to pour out love and mercy on his children. When we act out of compassion, we reflect something of his image in us. We shine. We are something like the best versions of ourselves; a version that’s closer to how Jesus might be. The children’s compassion for Perks and their longing to give him a good birthday, had an effect on their mother, people in the village, the grumpy post-mistress and also on themselves. Witness the delight of Phyllis at Mrs Ransome’s unexpected gifts.
When we can’t help; when it seems we can’t do any good – the best thing is to pray – because we know our Father can do good. Yet, we need also to pray before we act – because our Father is the one who knows the good we can do and longs to guide us to do that good. As we talk to him about our friends and loved ones, we are joined to him in his perfect compassion for them. We all end up in his Throne Room and we all end up knowing we are dearly, dearly loved.