Heavenly Help

Heavenly Help

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep; If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.   God is great and God is good, and we thank Him for our food. By his hand we all are fed. Give us Lord our daily bread. Amen

Were you taught these or similar prayers of overnight protection and provisions? Clients have shared that when they’re in a pinch--financially needy, lonely or afraid-- that they still mentally utter these prayers and ask “Does God really answer little prayers offered by just anyone? I was 15 before I began to make up my own prayers which evolved into praying for wisdom, regarding education, jobs and other pressing matters.

It’s no secret that troubled times of crises invariably trigger spiritual thoughts. One of the silver linings of Covid-19 pandemic has been families huddling together to recover from loss of loved ones, medical problems, school and declining job security. Consequently, we often discover that God provides and protects without our even asking. This seems like a good time to discuss how God chooses to answer SOS calls for help. Communicating with God naturally progresses covering every area of our lives and those for whom we’re concerned. Getting an answer to prayer is always exhilarating as detailed in a recent experience.

A couple of days ago I was gowned, with bumpy socks, back marked for a procedure and waiting in the out-patient hospital room for the doctor to let me know he was ready. He’s done several lumbar transforaminal epidurals for me through the years to reduce inflammation and relieve pain, so I know him well, fully trust his skills, and consider him a good friend. I greeted him with, “I prayed for you this morning; that you would be calm, alert and have wisdom”. “Thanks for praying”, he said, “I really depend on prayer”.

I was familiar with the routine, on my tummy, back and hip numbed, patient participation needed as dyes and meds are inserted. The medical assistants worked hard getting the bed just right and the overhead MRI placed perfectly.  The doctor kept me informed about his progress.

Inserting meds in tiny spots in my aging lower back has often been challenging and after a while I could tell by the doctor’s directives to his assistants that today would be no different. I prayed for myself that I could relax, not be afraid, and be a cooperative patient and again, for my doctor. “How are you doing, Ruth?” “Just fine. I’m thinking about Isa. 46:4 where God promised, I will sustain you I made you”. That’s a good verse”, he agreed.

Then, as he continued, he said to his assistants, “I’m going to slant the needle this way in order to put the meds it the right spot.” He continued for a few minutes, then said, “Ruth, I’m through the river, but not to the farm yet. Tight terrain.” It seemed like forever before I heard him sigh, and say, “Well, Ruth, your prayers have just been answered.”

Hearing that my prayers had been answered so quickly inspired the subject of Heavenly Help. The first idea that popped into my mind was the steady progression of prayer requests. The early childhood prayers focusing on safety and food gravitating to difficult decision-making and for other people. Then, I reflected on the intricate connection between prayer growth and acceptance of new challenges.

A formidable challenge occurred after enrolling in Moody Bible Institute and traveling down town Chicago for a job interview. My requests became more intentional as I nervously took the stairs down to board my first fast subway ride, and listened carefully for the announced exit for the correct street. Doors opened for a split second. Following directions to a skyscraper office building was nerve-wracking, searching the floor plan for Northwestern Insurance office on 20th floor, and sharing an elevator with well-dressed sober-looking business people with briefcases. My hands shook.  Scary and intimidating for this country-town-gal. Thankfully, I was hired!

Praying for others kicked into gear when I accepted a Methodist summer missionary assignment in the hills of Southern Ohio. To my delight, I was paired with a high school classmate attending a different college, so we lived with a pastor’s family. We taught Vacation Bible Schools in various areas visiting homes to enroll children who had no church contact. I taught the 3-6th graders material focused on Bible characters and the importance of prayers. The church was too small for all classes to be inside, so our tables were outdoors. I was amazed with the children’s delight in learning about prayer for the very first time. They quickly began praying for everybody and everything they could think of. What a good lesson for me.

A couple years later, when Jim pastored a small country church, I was asked to do personal counseling with teens and adults. For this huge undertaking I needed to pray for each of them. I discovered I really enjoyed this new challenge. The next out of my comfort areas opportunity was at the mission in Verhalen, Texas and their first ever two-week Vacation Bible School where I ended up teaching 10 four-and five-year-olds which demanded prayers for preparation, kindness, patience and wisdom.

A year later when Jim began Seminary, he became assistant pastor of a large country church, where together we taught Bible study to a large group of teenagers and planned retreats. The youth were well-versed in the Bible and had many difficult questions about God’s will, which kept us on our toes as we taught and counseled them on praying about choosing colleges, jobs and dating. Young people need prayer.

After Jim graduated from Seminary, we flew to York, PA to pastor Temple Baptist Church. The church attracted parents who had little church background who wanted to be involved in worship. But when several four-year-olds ‘graduated’ from nursery and disrupted adult worship they stopped coming. Jim said, “Ruthie, we need children’s worship” so the parents can attend worship.  That’s when I learned my new name, “we”.      I vividly recalled teaching Verhalen’s 4-and 5-year-olds. With 15-year-old David, and 10-year-old Roger’s help, the next week we began children’s worship.

Several years later we purchased land in the suburbs and built the first of three units. Jim began a bus ministry which brought children galore from the city, expanding children’s worship attendance to 50. Children without parents need constant supervision and well-planned programs. I really relied heavily on prayer for preparation for children’s worship, for the adult classes I taught, substitute teaching and counseling.  Again, I was teaching little kids Bible stories, how to pray, sing and dialogue with puppets. I was being stretched. I enlisted several adults to help.

My willingness to lead children’s worship, although I preferred youth and adults, was one of the best things that ever happened.  I felt inadequate about leading so many kids and visited the Christian bookstore and asked the manager for a guidebook on children’s worship. The manager said “There are no books.  Why don’t you write one?”  When you are willing for God to use you, he’s full of surprises and that was a big one. I had never written anything but letters, articles and Bible studies.  I met a publisher who gave me tips on manuscript writing. Worship is For Kids’ Too (Baker Book House) was my first book, paving the way to more book writing, adult counseling, retreats and teaching adults. Progressive prayer has served as the reliable catapult for ministry.

Just as the doctor used his medical training and experience to know where to insert the meds, he may have also stepped out of his comfort zone a bit to get the meds to that hard-to-reach-spot. I believe prayer enabled him to press on a bit more which today makes me feel like a million dollars. The Lord is there for any who step out of his/her comfort zone to make unfamiliar reaches to people and projects. Yes, God hears and answers all of our prayers. For me, heavenly help has expanded to an all-day running dialogue continuing with reminders, ideas, words, and courage for new challenges until I fall asleep at night.

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice.  He heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. Ps 116:1-2.  Rejoice, always. Pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. I Thess. 5:16-18 (NIV)