Hands: Praying Hands

Hands:  Praying Hands
Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16-17

Pastor Morris Brown
February 18, 2018

I’d like to begin this morning’s message by inviting you to look at your hands.  Hands they are an interesting part of the human anatomy, aren’t they?  In fact, scientists say our hands are one of the things that separate us from other creatures in the animal kingdom.  Our hands are one of the things that makes human beings human.

A friend of mine once told me that you can you can learn a lot about a person just by looking at their hands. For example, a person’s hands can sometimes give you a clue about what they do for a living.  If a person’s hands have a lot of callouses it might indicate they’re a construction worker, a landscaper or maybe a farmer. If a person has hands with slender fingers it might indicate that he or she is pianist or a surgeon, or perhaps an artist.  

A person’s hands can also tell us about their age or their station in life.  For example, the tiny hands of an infant can remind us of the gift of a new life with endless possibilities that have yet to be discovered. While worn and withered hands can be a sign of the wisdom that has come from a lifetime of experiences.  

Occasionally, a person’s hands can tell us something about their emotional state.  We often raised our hands as a sign of celebration or joy. We clinch our hands to show our anger. We wring our hands when we’re worried. We hold hands to show our love.  

Hands can also indicate a person’s gift for bringing beauty into the world.  For example, some people use their hands to create inspiring paintings.  Other people use their hands to write powerful stories.  The musicians in our church use their hands to play music that lifts our spirits each week.   

Hands. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some of us have large hands, some of us have small hands, some of us have fat hands, and some of us have slender hands.  I have hands, like my Mammaw Dotson - with fat palms and rather thin fingers.  In fact, when Pam and I went to pick out our wedding bands the jeweler said, “Man, you’ve got girl hands!  You know could save money if you get a woman’s wedding band.”  Not exactly what you want somebody to say to you in front of your fiancé!  Well, whatever kind of hands we have, our hands are important.  They’re important because we can all use our hands to make a positive difference in God’s world.

And that brings us to the Lenten worship series we’re beginning this morning.  The series is entitled, Hands.  In this series, we’re going to explore some things Jesus did with his hands, how he used them to transform the world for love.  In doing that, we’ll learn how God wants us to use our hands to do the same.   

In this series, we’re going to talk about the fact that Jesus’ hands were healing hands, angry hands, forgiving hands, serving hands, crucified hands and resurrected hands.  This morning; however, we begin by thinking about the fact that Jesus’ hands were “praying hands.”  This morning’s first gospel reading reminds us of this. Very early in this gospel of Mark, which is the oldest of the four gospels, we are reminded that one of the first things Jesus did with his hands each day was use them to “pray.”  As Mark 1:35 puts it, “Early in the morning, while it was still dark outside, Jesus got up, and went out to a lonely place where he prayed.”

Prayer was the central element of Jesus’ life.  In fact, the four gospels contain over 40 references to Jesus engaging in the practice of prayer.  So, if our hands are to be like the hands of Jesus, we need to use them to pray.  We need to make the practice of prayer a central element of our lives.  Why?  Let me suggest five simple reasons.

First, Jesus teaches us we need to use our hands to pray because prayer fills us with power.  In other words, by engaging in the practice of prayer, by opening ourselves up to the presence of God, we receive the strength, energy and focus we will need to meet the challenges of our daily lives.  I think Jesus knew that. He knew that as he spent time in prayer he was opening his mind, body and soul to receive God’s energy into his life – an energy that would enable him to have the strength he needed to teach, to heal, to deal with those who opposed him, to make decisions that would enable him to further God’s kingdom in the world

I love the story about the little girl who was late getting to the bus stop for school.  As she was running down the street she saw the bus coming and wasn’t sure she could make it.  So, she prayed, “Dear God, please help me make it to the bus on time!”  Just then, her foot caught a crack in the sidewalk and she fell down. 

Looking up she said, “Gee whiz, God, I appreciate the help.  But you really don’t have to push!”  

It’s a silly story, but it reminds us that when we engage in the practice of prayer, God in a sense, gives us a push, a burst of divine energy, a source of strength and focus that can be a great resource as we face the challenges of the day.

Isaiah 30:15 says, “In returning to me you shall find wholeness.  In quietness, you shall find strength.”  Psalm 138:3 says, “As soon as I pray, O Lord, you answer me with encouragement.  You give me strength.”  Both these texts remind us that when we pray we tap into an energy that gives us focus, confidence and power for our lives. So, if we need more energy to face each day, if we need strength to meet life’s challenging situations, if we need focus to help us discern what’s most important in a multitude of our daily tasks, we, like Jesus, might want to use our hands to pray.  We should spend some time in the presence of the One who can fill us with power. 

Second, Jesus teaches us we need to use our hands to pray because prayer changes our perspective.  In a sense, the practice of prayer enables us to “step back from the trees of our lives so we can see the entire forest.”  It can help us look at ourselves, at others, and at situations we face in life in new and helpful ways.  

For example, a few years ago the Journal of Comparative Family Studies reported on a research study that was done with couples who were experiencing high levels of conflict in their marriage.  The studies divided the couples into two groups.  Group 1 received counseling around the issues that were causing them conflict. Group 2 also received counseling.  In addition to the counseling; however, they were asked to spend a specified amount of time each day praying for their partner.  Now, at the end of the study 25% of the couples in Group 1, who had received counseling, reported they were having a lower level of conflict in their marriage. The counseling had helped.  In Group 2, however, 53% of the couples that had prayed for their spouse in addition to receiving counseling, reported decreased levels of conflict in their marriage.  The study concluded that the practice of prayer seemed to help couples significantly reduce the level of conflict in their marriage.

Why?  Because couples who prayed for each other were more relaxed and less resentful as they dealt with conflict, and better able them to see issues from their partner’s perspective.  “Prayer,” researchers said, “seems to help people see things from a viewpoint other than their own – which is a key to resolving conflict.”

Throughout his life, Jesus had the ability to see life from other people’s perspective, which enabled him to show them compassion and help them become better human beings.  How was he able to do this?  I believe it was through the practice of prayer!  If we want to change our perspective, we like Jesus, need to use our hands to pray.

Third, Jesus teaches us we need to use our hands to pray because prayer fills us with peace.  Prayer enables us to experience “shalom” which, by the way, is not the absence of conflict or difficulty in our lives, but the deep sense that in the midst of conflict and difficulty, all is well because we’re in God’s hands. Jesus knew that.  His life was not an easy one.  There were many times when he had to deal with situations that seemed overwhelming.  There were many times when he faced circumstances that were very frightening.  And yet, he was able to face these situations, these circumstances with a deep sense of shalom - of peace!

Earlier this week I was reading an article on stress.  The article offered some helpful tips for dealing with the stress, anxiety, fear and depression that many people deal with in our fast-paced, post-modern world.  In the article the author said, “To help you deal with the stress of our culture there are several things you can do. You can eat right and exercise.  You can get your rest.  You can surround yourself with a group of supportive friends.  But one of the best things you can do is spend a few minutes a day engaging in some form of meditation or prayer.  Meditation and prayer is a no cost path to balance and peace.” 

In his classic book, A Testament of Devotion, Quaker mystic Thomas Kelly echoes this.  He says, “When we engage in prayer on a regular basis we become established people - people who experience a deep serenity, an unshakability, an ability to stand with great firmness and peace in the midst of all the storms of our lives.”   

Fourth, Jesus teaches us we need to use our hands to pray because prayer enables us to participate.  Prayer offers us the opportunity; the privilege of participating in God’s healing work in the world.  You see, when you and I pray we become conduits, vessels, outlets of God’s presence; of God’s healing presence. Jesus knew this.  That’s why Luke 5:16, which says, “Very often Jesus withdrew to lonely places and prayed” is quickly followed by Luke 5:17 which says, “The power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick!”  Jesus was able to heal others because as he prayed the Spirit of God flowed into, and through him!

And this is true for us, as well!  Study after study has proven this, but let me give you one example.  A study was done in which patients that where in the hospital for heart bypass surgery were divided into two groups.  “Group One” was given excellent health care by the doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals. “Group Two” was also given excellent health care.  In addition, however, “Group Two” was “prayed for” by nuns who lived in a convent in another state.  Each day the nuns simply lifted up each patient’s name in God’s light for a few minutes.  Well, over the course of the study an interesting discovery was made. Researchers discovered that the patients in “Group Two” the group that was “prayed for by the nuns” required less ventilation assistance, less antibiotics, and healed more quickly than patients in Group One” – the group that was “not being prayed for.”  The study concluded, “There is something mystical about the practice of prayer.”  

It seems to release God’s healing energy and love into the world.  So, when we pray for people we know and don’t know, when we pray for world situations, when we pray for a plethora of other issues - we become conduits for releasing God’s healing energy, participating with God in the transformation of the world!     

Finally, Jesus teaches us to use our hands to pray because prayer can fill us with passion.  In other words, prayer set us on fire!  It fills us with compassion for people who are hurting.  It fills us with a deep passion to do something to help; a deep passion to get our hands dirty loving and serving people less fortunate than us.

Over and over again scripture reminds us that Jesus was “filled with compassion and passion.”  He was incredibly sensitive to the hurting people all around him.  And he had a passion for using the gift of his time, his talents and his life to do something to relieve their suffering, something that made their life better.

Where did Jesus develop this sensitive heart for people who were less fortunate?  How was it that Jesus was filled with so much compassion?  What made Jesus so passionate about using his gifts, his life to care for the outcast, help those who were the hurting?  I believe it was his consistent engagement in the practice of prayer.

There’s an old story that says every human being is born with a stone that is very close to our heart.  When our lives get busy, the stone begins to turn.  And as it turns, it rubs against our heart.  If we stay busy too long, the story says, the rubbing of the stone against our heart forms a callous and our heart begins to harden. We become insensitive to the needs of those around us.  As a result, the story says we must pause each day for prayer so that God might stop the stone from turning, so that the callous might begin to heal, so our hearts might become tender again, allowing us to feel and respond to the needs of the hurting people around us.       

Theologian Karl Barth once said, “Prayer opens our hearts up to the things that break the heart of God.”  When we pray, we will soon discover that we become more compassionate people who notice the needs of those around us.  We also discover a passion welling up in us to use our hands to do something to help them.

So, how did Jesus use his hands?  Jesus used his hands to pray!  Why?  Prayer helped him receive God’s power, experience different perspectives, enjoy God’s peace, participate with God in healing others, and be passionate about helping people in need.  

What does God want us to do with our hands this Lenten season?  God wants us to use them to pray!  So, we can be filled with God’s power, so we can see things from a different perspective, so we can experience a deep sense of peace, so we can participate with God in healing others, and so we can become people who are passionate about changing the world for love.  Let us pray!