The match scrapes and we light the candles, find the lectionary reading for the day, and read the Word together; candles flickering, the limited illumination bringing us, huddled, nearer, closer. We read our prayers, for our marriage, our children, those who are sick, for refugees, for our nation's leaders, for thieves, for terrorists, for Christians in other countries who are being persecuted, for bereft parents and spouses, for needs both great and small. Yes, we read our prayers, finding some sort of beneficial scaffolding in time-tested prayers to hang our own petitions and praises upon. We didn't always do so, but have found a great relief in praying without having to think it all up ourselves at day's end.
We also didn't always pray together; not habitually, not every evening as naturally as brushing our teeth. Not even as we served as missionaries for years. We prayed individually, spontaneously, and sporadically unless we were with lots of other Christians. Then, it seemed, we were reminded of the people we were, of our common vocation, and our desperate need to connect with God. I find this to be a great loss and a source of humility. How could I have thought that prayer meant so little and that my own work meant so much?
"Prayer. Prayer before anything else, or there isn't anything else." — Ann Voskamp
"Do nothing at all unless you begin with prayer." — St. Ephrem the Syrian
Imagine a paramedic, dashing into the aftermath of a bombing, among the bleeding and moaning, wounded humanity, opening her first aid kit and finding ... nothing, nothing to stanch, nothing to sanitize, nothing to bind, nothing to save. Imagine a firefighter, raised high on a ladder, hose in hand, aiming at a window engulfed in fire, and ... no water comes; the hose is dry and the flames lick hot and fierce.
Such are we without daily connection with Christ through the discipline of prayer. To heal, we must be healed also, to guide we must also be guided, to love well we must experience the love of God. To give water to the thirsty, our own vessel must be filled and brimming over. We cannot give that which we do not have.
It is there, in our domestic church, with our spouse or alone, that we submit ourselves for treatment. There our hidden sins are ferreted out; there the words we've spoken or the thoughts we entertained are laid bare, and God supporting us, we see them and repent. We feel His love and joyful forgiveness like the prodigal son seeing his father running to embrace him. Having our own wounds tended, we offer care to others, interceding for them and their salvation. We read the Bible, the living Word, and through our now-unclouded eyes we see His truth; we see the way in which we must walk. We know that we must begin again. Here also we praise Him, letting loose what our souls were born to do, in word, in song, in tears.
"Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:4-5).
No one needs to be told that our world is very broken. We all can think of particular persons around us whom we long to see healed and saved. Our very hearts ache to see what wholeness would look like for them. Knowing the transformation that God is doing in our own hearts makes us yearn to touch other lives with His love and truth. But how careful we must be not to arrive at a pivotal moment, brimming with enthusiasm, and totally unprepared!
May we begin today, this very day, to attend our domestic churches with as much regularity as our corporate ones; may we, wild branches though we are, remain abiding in the Vine, and doing so, may we bear much fruit.