Not long ago I spoke to a middle school English class on the importance of grammar. Part of my talk covered how much a message can change with a simple comma.
A recent illness helped me realize I have missed an important benefit of prayer for the same reason — for want of a comma.
First, let me explain that I am a workaholic. Reasons include my upbringing, my passion for my work and my desire to not let anyone down. Also, my work includes more than just the activities that pay the bills.
No matter the reasons, the result is a crazy schedule that becomes harder to maintain as I get older.
I think that is why I got so sick this time. My body was too tired and worn down to fight the infection and I nearly developed pneumonia. A week later I’m still trying to recover. I have been to the doctor twice and taken more horse pills than the Kentucky Derby.
Along with my medicine, I prayed to get healthy.
I also prayed for a better way to handle my hectic schedule and I thought about the famous Martin Luther quote: “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
I have always felt mocked by that quote. As hard as I work, Luther calls me to work harder. It’s like he is speaking across the centuries just to call me lazy.
Because prayer is work. I know this is true when I see people make lists for their prayers. They keep prayer journals. They use rosaries. There are people we must pray for and things to say thank you for and confessions to make, and we need to keep all that straight.
Prayer is work and I already have too much of that. (I started coughing again at just the thought of more work.)
But prayer never seemed that hard for Jesus. Prayer was his escape when things got crazy.
Luke 5:15-16 says, “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
Prayer was a break for Jesus, not work. And that’s when I realized how much the addition of a comma could change the meaning of prayer for me. It is the difference between:
– praying for my health; and
– praying, for my health.
Maybe the call to “pray continually” in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 isn’t a goal to be reached, but an offer of relief.
It is a thought with big implications for me. I know I have to slow down or I will make myself sick again and that Proverbs 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Now I realize God gave me a tool to do those things.
By praying, for my health.