Prayer shouldn’t be a Talk Show

Controversial talk radio host Rush Limbaugh recently told his audience of 20 million that he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. He didn’t ask those millions to pray for him, but he did say he found comfort in his faith.

How? We’ll get into that as we get into this Sunday’s readings. But first, an observation about prayer. Although Limbaugh didn’t ask for prayers that day, you can bet millions were offered up for him, from both supporters and detractors who nevertheless believe in forgiveness—for him and themselves. Those millions are among the countless millions of other prayers for countless millions of other causes seeking God’s intervention every day. The only problem is, we think saying “Amen” is the equivalent of saying “The End.”

In this age of online consumerism, we often pray like we order merchandise on Amazon—press a button then wait for the delivery of an answer.

Rather than acting like we’re God’s customers placing orders, what if we were to pray that we were God’s order placement button? That we had the power to fulfill the deliverables in his gospel? Using the Limbaugh example, what if we saw our lives and the things that happen to us in them as part of God’s plan? Or, as Limbaugh likes to joke, as acting with “Power on loan from God”?

Through his book of daily reflections titled My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers suggested we put ourselves in God’s place—on the receiving end of our orders.

“If God were human, how sick and tired He would be of the constant requests we make for our salvation and for our sanctification,” Oswald wrote. “We burden His energies from morning till night asking for things for ourselves or for something from which we want to be delivered! When we finally touch the underlying foundation of the reality of the gospel of God, we will never bother Him anymore with little personal complaints.”

The reality of the gospel of God is that we are to be the means of its deliverance. As such we have only to put ourselves into God’s hands and let him use us as he sees fit. This Sunday’s readings offer several examples of how that’s done. In the first from Genesis (Gn 12:1-4a), through Abram’s example, we see that sometimes whatever greatness we might be blessed with is actually useful to God—as a blessing for others.

I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. …  All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.

Now back to Limbaugh for a second. When he announced his dire medical condition, he mentioned a “deeply personal relationship with God,” and said has been working that relationship tremendously. What does “working that relationship” mean?

His many detractors might attach phoniness and politics-as-usual to it. But for those willing to give Limbaugh the benefit of any doubt, maybe it means using the license his gift of gab has given him on the air to accomplish great works of charity off the air—for causes like cancer. That’s an example of living the gospel—a calling meant for everyone, devoid of politics or star status.

In Sunday’s second reading (2 Tm 1:8b-10), Timothy reminds us that we are merely the medium of God’s message—and that all of his blessings have a purpose connected to His plan. This message comes with a note of hope about the nature of our life and death.

He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

So thanks to Jesus and his gospel, we can confidently think of earthly death as merely an illusion—as illusory as thinking earthly matters like politics can really matter to heavenly souls. In this excerpt from Sunday’s gospel detailing Matthew’s account of Jesus’ transfiguration before his disciples (Mt 17:1-9), we are reminded why Luke says of Peter in his account of this event that Peter “didn’t know what he was saying” when he said:

Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.

As if Peter’s tents were the answer to the prayers of prophets!

Whether or not you agree with Limbaugh’s politics—a word whose Greek roots translate into “affairs of the cities”—we are called to rise above earthly affairs and apply ourselves as citizens building God’s Kingdom on earth.

–Tom Andel

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