The preacher stood at the podium, knowing precisely what we needed to hear on this rainy Sunday morning. We needed encouragement, hope and peace. Plus a good dose of common sense. So speak, Lord. Please.
This was the Sunday after the shooting tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Yet everywhere hearts were heavy and confused. The sky was falling down, it seemed, and the world was coming apart. Or that's how it felt in this little Houston church we were visiting. Even the skies were crying. A heavy, Texas rain pounded the pavement outside. We were drenched, cold, and in need of consolation. So speak, Lord. Please.
As if in reply, here stood this Houston preacher. Kind of aging. Kind of ordinary. No fancy microphone. No sophisticated message. Just confidence in God. So he urged us to do the confident thing: pray.
Then pray again. Then keep praying. Morning by morning. Evening by evening. Tell God our frustrations. Believe he can hear them—and can do something about it all. That kind of praying, said this common-sense preacher, is how we find power to face and overcome fear.
It was this kind of prayer that had brought me to this church in the first place. My husband and I were in Houston visiting our youngest daughter and her husband, who were expecting another baby. The pregnancy wasn't going smoothly. During an ultrasound at week 18, doctors found something abnormal in the baby's brain. Some "spots," or "markers," my daughter explained, signifying possible genetic abnormalities in the fetus.
On the phone with my daughter from Houston, her voice sounded strained, worried—afraid. Likewise, I felt fear rising up in me, too, as we talked. I knew I needed to pray for this baby, just as I had been praying for my daughter since leaving her Christian faith and converting to Islam as a college student. She went on to marry a young man who had made the same choice—leaving the faith of his father for something foreign.
Now here we were facing a complicated pregnancy in our complex family in our dismaying world on a stormy, messy Sunday. What is a Christian mother like me supposed to do?
I knew the answer. Pray.
I went to God humbled. Listening. Hoping. Asking. Speak, Lord. Help me face my fear. Quiet my doubts. Assure my daughter. Grow her baby. Heal our land. Then bless our complicated, unconventional family. Not just through the long weeks of a pregnancy, but for all weeks, for all times.
Was that good enough?
According to this plain-faced, ordinary preacher before me, yes, praying was good enough. When we pray, we gain a new perspective and see God at work in a world that feels undone.
People in the Houston church started to applaud as the preacher closed by reciting God's resonant reminder to King Solomon, recorded for the ages in 2 Chronicles 7:14:
"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray …"
Many of us knew this Scripture by heart, and soon people were saying it aloud from memory with the preacher:
"… and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
The preacher smiled at us again. "And won't he do it?"
We smiled knowing he was right. We agreed to ask God to help our unbelief, and to show us again that he heals and overcomes, even in our crazy homes, our mixed up hearts, our foreclosed neighborhoods, our struggling nations, and in our fearful, messy situations. God heals despite our fear.
Back at home, however, I had to figure a way to live this truth daily—to believe God truly is an ever-present help in times of struggle. Yet earlier last summer, just blocks from my house in Aurora, Colorado, a shooter had opened fire in a movie theater, killing 12 and injuring 70. One of the victims—a young dad and stand-up comedian named Caleb Medley—lost an eye; he can only stand with assistance and is struggling to speak again. Then in Boston, two men decided to bomb the city, killing several innocent civilians, including an eight-year-old boy.
And my job is to just pray?
For a full answer, I turn to Jesus. Sitting at his feet, Bible in hand, I study the story of the anxious father with a demon-possessed son. The father begged Jesus' disciples to heal his tormented boy, but there was a problem: "They couldn't heal him" (Matthew 17:16-21).
Only Jesus could heal. This he did—rebuking the demon, which immediately fled—and "from that moment, the boy was well" (17:18). Perplexed, the disciples came privately to ask Jesus, "Why couldn't we cast out that demon?" To this Jesus replied, "You don't have enough faith."
Faith? That's it?
Isn't there more, Jesus?
After Newtown? After Boston? After ultrasounds and bombs and shootings and complicated families and rainy Sunday mornings, isn't there something more than faith to stomp out fear? Faith in me, Jesus keeps promising us, is the more. Especially in fearsome times.
As A. W. Tozer said of this God and his people: "Then we must throw ourselves before him and pray with boldness for whatever we know our good and his glory require, and the cost is no object."
So we pray for people who can't, for people who won't, and for people who aren't sure. We pray and keep at it. In this going again and again to God, we are healed. And so are others.
I pondered such things when my daughter's lovely baby girl was born recently on a merciful Houston afternoon—whole and wonderful, with no genetic abnormalities—and not burdened by her grandmother's late night fears. Then on a rainy Sunday a few days later, I praised the power of praying over fear while listening to the invocation offered at a little Houston church. "We thank you, dear Heavenly Father," the lay preacher declared, "for waking us up on this beautiful, sunshiny day."
Hearing the pouring rain outside, the praying man chuckled for a minute, then continued on in faith: "Because even though the sky outside is dark and cloudy, the sun still shines."
A murmur of affirmation passed through the congregation: indeed, the sun still shines. And so does the Son. So let us pray.
How? Past our fear. By our faith. In the sun.