I never forgot that little phrase. I think about it often when I am confronted with a big problem or difficulty in life.
Our first response most likely is trying to do something about it by ourselves. But often our physical efforts seem miniscule compared to the enormous problem.
For example, recently I met a woman on the South Shore Line train going to Chicago. I was going with a friend of mine to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs play the Tigers. My friend and I, along with a number of other passengers, were in quite a jovial mood — you know, a kind of “Take me out to the ball game” mood.
As I spoke with this woman who was in the next seat, my mood started to change. While we were headed to a baseball game to have some fun, she was headed to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for a cancer treatment. Obviously, my manner became more serious and subdued. She told me that she had a very rare kind of cancer and that the only place she could get treatment was at Northwestern. The prognosis was serious and her future was uncertain. She went on in great detail telling me about her situation — all she had been through already and what still lay ahead. Hers was a difficult road and my heart went out to her.
At some point, she asked me what I did for a living. I always hold my breath when I tell people that I am a pastor. I have come to realize that some people have not had the best of experiences with churches and pastors, and sometimes telling people what I do can be a real conversation killer.
But not this time. Her face lit up as she broke into a huge smile. She actually opened up to me about the importance of faith in her life. “I know I am going to be all right no matter what happens to me because I trust in the Lord,” she said.
From that point on in the conversation, I sensed a deep kinship of spirit emanating from our common faith.
I wish I could have done more for her, but about the best I could do at that point was to give her a listening ear. Hopefully, I had also expressed compassion and care for her and passed on some encouragement as she faced a very grueling cancer treatment in just few hours hence. I assured her that I would pray for her — and I have, numerous times.
Somehow, however, I still didn’t feel like I had done much. But really, what more could I do? It was a random meeting on a train. And I probably would never see her again — at least not in this world.
As I reflected later on all this, I recalled the little saying I mentioned earlier: “Prayer is not the only thing you can do, but it’s the best thing you can do.” When you think of it that way, there was nothing better I could have done.
The old hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” proclaims the same truth. I especially like the words of the second verse: “Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrow share? Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.”
It’s often that way in life — we wish we could do more. But actually, sharing the solid foundation of our faith is the best thing we can do. That’s what Peter and John did when confronted with a crippled beggar in Acts, chapter 3. The man was hoping for money, but Peter responded with the words, “Silver or gold I do not have. But what I have I give you.” And then he healed the man. He gave the man something far greater than money — he gave the man hope and a new life by the power of God.
The apostle Paul proclaims the same good news in Ephesians 3, where he says that God is able to do to “immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine.”
Never underestimate the power of prayer. It may not seem like a lot, but it is!
— The Rev. John Koedyker is the pastor of congregational care for First Reformed Church in Grand Haven.