At the time of this writing, we have two deputy sheriffs in the hospital with covid-19, one chaplain who is recovering, special friends of my daughter coming down with it and some now recovering, one Bella Vista City Council member testing positive, my nephew and his family all struggling to overcome it, and a host of other friends also either with or recovering from this deadly virus.
Yes, you can catch covid-19 (the Delta Variant) even if you have been vaccinated, but the reaction is not nearly as severe and almost no one vaccinated ends up in the hospital. On the other hand, around 98% of the people in the hospital with covid-19 were never vaccinated, which leads me to the theme of this article.
Whenever we encounter the stress and uncertainties around us, our normal response is to say something like, "I'll be keeping you in my prayers. If there is anything I can do for you, let me know." That sounds really good except for two things: (1) what if you don't have a prayer life? And, (2) no one who is really sick and down is going to reach out and ask for help; you have to take the initiative and reach out to them with help.
Prayer is in its simplest form "communication with God." It may be the expression of joy and thanks or it may be one of desperation seeking God's help in facing trials, health issues, and personal challenges. However, if you have not communicated with God in quite a while, maybe He has forgotten who you are. One of the serious stories in the Bible, but one which always makes me laugh, is found in Acts 19:17. It seems that God was working miracles through Paul in the name of Jesus and some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call upon the name of Jesus to cast out evil spirits. However, when they attempted to do this, an evil spirit said, "Jesus I know and Paul I know, but who are you?" The evil spirit then leaped on them and beat them up. The moral of this story is to make sure you know the source of your power.
Chaplains all over the world are now told to end their public prayers in a manner that does not offend anyone who is not a Christian -- e.g., do not say, "in the name of Jesus," but either end by saying "amen" or "in the name of God." Apparently, God unifies; Jesus separates even though the Bible says we as Christians are to end our prayers in his name. Now, I have a little problem with this instruction. While I have no desire to offend anyone when I pray, it should be noted that I am not praying to those who are listening; I am praying to God in the manner my Bible has taught me to pray. If I belonged to another faith tradition, I would gladly appreciate a prayer in another way; but for me, I only ask that I be allowed to pray in my faith tradition to God.
I have to assume that God listens to both "heart prayers" and written prayers. Heart prayers tend to come from deep with a person's soul and normally do not have a written script. It's like the person who is down and out who drops to his or her knees and prays, "Lord, forgive me, I am a sinner." On the other hand, written prayers tend to be focused upon the people who are listening to them. There is nothing wrong with a written prayer (although I don't think God needs to have good grammar and context to understand), but care needs to be given to whom the prayer is addressed. A prayer may be written elegantly and contain exactly the right wording, but if it is not addressed to the Almighty, there is a problem in expecting an answer.
We have a lot of written prayers today, and I am sure that most of them are authentic, so I need to be careful not to be judgmental. However, as I listen to government prayers and special prayers at chaplains' meetings, I am not sure if the prayer is really "communication with God."
I have a special time each day when I pray for my family, friends, and others who are in need. I also pray for the people in law enforcement, firefighters, and elected officials. Most of these people do not know that I do this, but God does. I happen to know God personally through Jesus and am comforted by it. My admonition to others is simple: Don't offer to keep someone in your prayers if you have no prayers and do not have any intention of taking their needs to God. Your words may bring comfort to those needing divine assurance, but it's hard to find an answer from God if you never get around to talking directly with him.
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Robert Box has been a law enforcement chaplain for 27 years. He is a master-level chaplain with the International Conference of Police Chaplains and is an endorsed chaplain with the American Baptist Churches, USA. He also currently serves as a deputy sheriff chaplain for the Benton County Sheriff's Office. Opinions expressed in the article are the opinions of the author and not the agencies he serves.