By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. [Luke 10:31-32 (NLT)]
Yesterday’s devotion got me thinking more about the movie War Room. Elizabeth is a woman whose marriage is crumbling and Miss Clara is a fervent prayer warrior. Clara could easily have done her “Christian duty” for Elizabeth by offering to pray for the young woman’s marriage in her “war room” of prayer. Instead, Clara asks Elizabeth to give her one hour a week and offers to teach her how to fight for her marriage with the right weapons. With her offer, Clara lays herself open to rejection, being called a busybody (or worse) and the inconvenience and challenges that come whenever we become enmeshed in another person’s messy life. In short, Clara does more than pray for this troubled woman—she takes action.
I saw parallels between Miss Clara’s actions and those of the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable. A Judean is attacked by thieves and left naked and half-dead on the side of the road. When a priest sees him, he crosses to the other side of the road and passes by his fellow countryman. When a Levite passes, he goes over to look at the man, and then walks to the other side of the road to continue his journey. Both men heard the man’s groans and yet these supposedly religious men of good character ignored their Jewish brother’s needs. Neither one wanted to be delayed, get involved or dirty his hands. I wonder if either man assuaged his conscience by saying a prayer for the man which would have been faster and easier than getting involved. In this case, however, the dying man needed more than prayers—he needed immediate help and both the priest and Levite were capable of giving him assistance. It was the despised Samaritan who bandaged the man’s wounds, let him ride on his donkey, took him to an inn, nursed him through the night and paid the man’s expenses. It was the Samaritan who, instead of offering prayers, sacrificed his time and money to help a stranger.
Although Jesus’ purpose in telling this story was to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” it got me wondering whether the two supposedly pious men might have promised the dying man their “thoughts and prayers” before going on their way. In Letters to Malcom, C.S. Lewis points out that our prayers for others often “flow more easily than those we offer on our own behalf.” But, he adds, that’s not necessarily out of Christian charity. While praying for someone else’s faults is easier than working on our own faults and failures, it also is easier to pray for others than to do something for them! “It’s easier to pray for a bore than to go and see him,” says Lewis. Indeed, offering only our “thoughts and prayers” is far easier that actually offering our time, hands, hearts, or finances as did the Samaritan and Miss Clara. Prayer is not a substitute for action when action is what is needed!
There are many divinely ordained opportunities when more than our prayers are required. I often say, “I’ll pray for you,” but there certainly are occasions when I should be doing far more than that. None of us want to be considered busy-bodies or meddlers but sometimes, like Miss Clara and the Samaritan, we need to offer more than our prayers to someone in need.
Lord, help us discern those opportune moments when you want more than our prayers—when you want us to turn our petitions into exertion and our compassion into action.
God does not need your good works, but our neighbor does. [Martin Luther]