Prayer comes in different sizes

Good morning, Friends! I hope you’re all doing well this week.

For the last several weeks, we’ve been talking a lot about prayer. We looked at the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus himself taught us.

We enjoyed a whole morning of prayer as singing. You all know that prayer can be a song. We can sing our love and praise, our faith and trust, our hopes and sorrows, our joys at different holidays. Prayer can be singing.

Last week, we looked at quiet prayer, which is something Quakers care a lot about. We read a dozen different Bible verses about quiet prayer. Sometimes being quiet and still, just waiting with the Lord, is the best prayer in that moment.

Today I want to open up another idea about prayer together. Prayer comes in different sizes. We pray for big things, and we pray for little things. We ask God for huge favors, and we ask God for piddly stuff.

In today’s reading, someone comes to Jesus asking for a favor that literally means life or death. He’s frantic for help, desperately in need.

And Jesus says, “You know, this isn’t the biggest prayer request ever. You can ask for even bigger things. But you can also ask for tiny things, mustard-seed sized things, and God can help you.

When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.”

“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.

Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.

Matthew 17:14-21

I want to tell you a personal story. I have never prayed harder in my entire life than the time my son was sick. My wife and I were living in Indiana, and our son was in Buffalo, seven hours away.

He called us that morning and said he wasn’t feeling good. His stomach hurt, and he wasn’t going in to work. By late afternoon, he needed to go to the Emergency Room.

They thought it was appendicitis. There was no discussion for us. My wife and I packed our bags, got someone to look after our pets, and hit the highway by 6:00 that evening.

I’m usually a pretty conservative driver, but that night I put the hammer down. I still don’t know why the police didn’t stop us that night.

About 10:00, we were out somewhere in the dark in the middle of Ohio, when his fiancee called again. She said that his intestine had burst, that he had peritonitis, and was fighting for his life.

I don’t know how I kept it on the road. I won’t try to tell you all the words I said, all the bargains and promises I made to God, as we drove through the middle of the night.

We pulled into the hospital parking lot at one in the morning. We ran upstairs, and found him in recovery. We stayed with him and his fiancee the rest of the night.

It turned out he had Crohn’s disease, which causes severe inflammation of the intestinal tract. They don’t know what causes it. It usually strikes young people. It can be treated, but often people don’t know they have it until they’re in pain or in an emergency.

We were blessed. Our son had a very good, experienced surgeon. In a life-or-death emergency, he saw immediately what had happened, and he did exactly what was needed.

The nursing care was outstanding. It was a Catholic hospital, one of the best in the whole city. All those jokes about how strict the nuns are, were absolutely true. You could eat off the floors. The food in the cafeteria was like your Italian grandmother served at home. And the nuns and the chaplain came and prayed with our family, every morning..

He was in the hospital for ten days, and he was unable to work for two months.

But we were blessed again. He hasn’t had to be on anti-inflammatory drugs. He hasn’t had any recurrences or flare ups.

He still has to watch his diet. There are some foods he can only eat in small quantities. He has to take a vitamin shot once a month, because the part of the intestine that was removed is the part that normally absorbs vitamin B-12.

But he’s been able to lead a normal, healthy life. He and his fiancee got married. They go on long hikes and bike rides. They bought a house and fixed it up. They’ve got many friends. We are truly blessed. But we never forget, how scared we were, how hard we prayed, what a nightmare that day was for us.

I hope that none of you EVER have to go through something like that. But I know that many of you have. In any case, we all know that sometimes we pray for very big things, for the lives of people we love and hold dear.

Sometimes, if I seem preoccupied or like I’m not paying attention, it’s because I’m concerned about someone. I’m praying about something. My mind may be one place, but my heart is calling in another. I try to come back and focus, but sometimes it takes me a few moments. You all know what that’s like!

In today’s story, the person who came to Jesus was desperate for help. His son was in terrible trouble. The disciples couldn’t heal him. They were all out of answers. They brought the boy to Jesus, who saw what was needed, and the boy was well.

The family was grateful. And so far as we know, the boy was OK for the rest of his life. The ones who really had to learn a lesson that day were the disciples. People like us.

Prayer comes in different sizes. Some problems are the size of a mountain. We can’t imagine how they can be solved.

Some mountains are silent. Like a mountain, they just sit there, unmoving. Other mountains are noisy and actively dangerous, like a landslide, or a flash flood, or even a volcano. There’s more than one kind of mountain.

We have all been in situations where a problem is so much bigger than we are. Where things are completely beyond our control.

Just remember – who made the mountains? Who made the earth, the oceans, and the skies?

Jesus says that prayer can move mountains. We need to remember that. Big mountains. Little mountains. Foothills. Molehills. They’re all the same size to God.

Jesus said, all it takes is faith. Faith the size of a mustard seed.

Do you know how tiny a mustard seed is? A mustard seed is like, one squintillionth the size and weight of a mountain. There’s almost no comparison. The size of one, versus the size of the other.

I thought a lot this week, about the size of problems, and about the size of prayers.

We may not feel that our prayers matter. But they do. God listens to every one.

Our problems may not all be the same size. And some things we pray about, may not matter all that much to God.

I seriously doubt whether God cares all that much about who wins the next professional sports game. God probably cares more about children that are hungry, or about people who have lost everything because of war.

But I’m not going to try and say how small a problem has to be for God to care about it.

I believe that God cares about aching backs, aching hearts, stray animals, and lots of other small things. Jesus said that God knows about every fallen sparrow.

In one of Paul’s letters, he said, “Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. Give thanks, and let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

In one of the gospels, Jesus says, “If you abide in me, and I abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7)

Jesus told a story once, about a woman who was so poor that she only had ten coins. She lost one of them one day. Couldn’t find it. She took a flashlight, tore the house apart, till at last she found it. Jesus said when she found it, she called all her neighbors and said, “Rejoice with me! I found the coin that was lost!”

Jesus told another story, this time about a shepherd living out in the country. Had a flock of a hundred sheep. One of them got lost, Jesus said. The shepherd couldn’t stand it. Left the whole flock. Went off up hill and down dale, searching for it day and night. When he finally found it, he put the sheep on his shoulders and carried it home. Called all the neighbors and said, “Rejoice with me! I found my sheep!”

Jesus told a third story. This time about a son who rebelled and ran away. Took everything his father had set aside for him since he was a boy. Took his dad’s tools and his truck, cleaned out his college savings account, and headed off to the city.

Woke up one morning, completely broke. Nothing left, with the world’s worst hangover. His good time friends were all gone. Came to his senses again. Realized he’d lost everything. Started walking back home, with his head hung low.

While he was still a long way off, Jesus said, his father saw him on the road. Father stopped the car, and came running to meet his son. Took him home. Threw a party. Called the whole family.

Jesus said, “That’s the way God treats us, when we come to our senses, and turn back., and head home again. God comes running to meet us.”

A lost coin. A lost sheep. A lost son. Three problems of very different sizes. The woman, the shepherd, and the father were all praying. To each of them, theirs was the biggest problem in the world. Maybe not as big as a mountain. But it seemed that way, to them. (see Luke 15:3-24)

In the Old Testament, in the prophet Isaiah, God says: “Before you call, I will answer; while you are still speaking I will hear you.” (Isaiah 65:24) Before we even get a word out of our mouth, God already hears our prayer.

It’s still important for us to try and say it. If you say a prayer, you’re committing yourself to it. You’re asking God to listen to you, to come and help you.

But it’s not the size of the problem. It’s faith and prayer. It’s trusting that God can help, knowing that God cares.

Not all prayers get answered right away. Sometimes it takes time. Sometimes our prayer gets answered in a different way than we asked for.

In one of the letters we read in Bible study, a couple of weeks ago, Paul said: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who called them according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

We believe – we know in our heart – that God is always working for good. We trust – even when the problem is really big – that God can move mountains.

And it works in the other direction, too. I often tell people, “If it’s too small to pray about, it’s too small to worry about.”

If you think that your problem is too small for God to care about, just remember that God cares about you. You are the apple of God’s eye. You are God’s beloved son or daughter.

A problem can be like a pebble in your shoe, or it can be something you’ve temporarily forgotten and can’t remember.

I spend a lot of time listening to older people who are worried about their memory. They get so anxious because they can’t remember something. I always tell people – I may have even said this to some of you – you only need to remember two things. If you forget everything else, just remember these two things.

Remember who you are. And remember that God loves you. You are God’s beloved child. And God loves you more than anything.

That is bigger than any little memory slip. That is more than any mountain. Remember who you are. And remember God loves you.

When you pray, don’t be afraid to lift your lowest problems up to God. And let God cut your mountains down to size. God is always working for the best. God is searching for the right solution. God never gives up on us.

Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. Give thanks, and let your requests be made known to God.

Before you call, I will answer; while you are still speaking, I will hear you.”

Prayers come in all different shapes and sizes. Don’t be afraid to pray. God listens to them all.

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