The Prayer of the Righteous
I use a prayer app that invites me, every day, to pray for three contacts in my phone. I have used this app for years, and I love it. What is there not to love? I click on a little icon in the morning and I’m instantly reminded of the blessing of friends and colleagues I may not have thought of for a while. And how charming is it when my app, which doesn’t know the difference between a person and a place, invites me to pray for AAA, or CVS, or Chesapeake Bay Bridge Info? (I always do.) Each morning, the app also includes a scriptural quotation. This morning it was a passage from the letter of James, which ended with this line: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Boy, did I need to hear that. As I offer my prayers every day in this mess of a world, it felt really good to hear that they might have great power, that they might really matter, really do something, really work. Of course, there is that little adjective in there, righteous. It is the prayer of a righteous person that has great power, James writes. Which this morning made me wonder: Am I a righteous person? Am I person who is “living right with God,” as this passage is rendered in another translation? Am I a righteous person, and how can I know for sure?
One place to start is to ask myself how well I am living out the promises I made at my baptism. Am I, with God’s help, doing all that I said I would do when God reached out and called me as God’s own? (We’ll be studying this important question together in October in our adult forums. See below for more information!) James describes living right with God as being willing to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another so that our relationships can be healed. Righteousness is about right action, not just right belief. It requires reflection and vulnerability. It requires contrition and forgiveness, listening and love.
So, when I pray and my heart is filled with hatred for my enemies, it is probably not the prayer of a righteous person. When I pray because I think I know best, it is probably not the prayer of a righteous person. When my prayers are filled with judgment, they are probably not the prayers of a righteous person. When my prayers are limited to those I like, or those who look or think like me, they are probably not the prayers of a righteous person. When my prayers lead me away from a greater connection to all of my neighbors, to God, and to the terrain of my own soul, they are probably not the prayers of a righteous person.
The world in which we live desperately needs the power of our prayers. And even though there’s no app for this yet, maybe we should add this petition to our daily prayers: Lord, make me a righteous person, learning how to truly love you and my neighbor as myself. Lord, make me a righteous person in what I think and say and do. Lord, make me a righteous person, that my prayers for the healing of this broken world may have great power as they are working.