Learning to pray more wisely
To those who know me, this will come as no surprise, but I am realizing that the apostle Paul is a much wiser person than I.
In Paul’s prayer for the Christians in Philippi (in Philippians 1:9-11), he prays that their “love may abound more and more….”
If I had written to the Philippians, I would have ended the prayer right there, believing that all that is needed is more and more love. Let’s just all be as nice to others as we would want them to be nice to us.
But Paul (more wisely than I) recognizes that love needs wisdom as well. He prays that their “love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best….”
What is love that abounds more and more in knowledge and depth of insight? It’s a love that differentiates between the kind of thing I might want done for me and what is truly needed in the situation.
Mitch Albom shares an example in Tuesdays with Morrie about his former professor (and his friend) Morrie Schwartz:
“Morrie was given a grant to observe mental patients and record their treatments. While the idea seems common today, it was groundbreaking in the early fifties. Morrie saw patients who would scream all day. Patients who would cry all night. Patients soiling their underwear. Patients refusing to eat, having to be held down, medicated, fed intravenously.
“One of the patients, a middle-aged woman, came out of her room every day and lay facedown on the tile floor, stayed there for hours, as doctors and nurses stepped around her. Morrie watched in horror. He took notes, which is what he was there to do. Every day, she did the same thing: came out in the morning, lay on the floor, stayed there until the evening, talking to no one, ignored by everyone. It saddened Morrie. He began to sit on the floor with her, even lay down alongside her, trying to draw her out of her misery. Eventually, he got her to sit up, and even to return to her room. What she mostly wanted, he learned, was the same thing many people want—someone to notice she was there.”
Morrie discovered what she needed! That was a love that abounded “more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” It’s what our world needs more of.
Bob Olmstead shares another example from an interview with a letter carrier from rural West Virginia named Rose Mary Hart:
“For my first seven years as a letter carrier I tried to do the job as efficiently and promptly as I could. But in 1976 I [met Jesus] and now I enter into my work differently. I have started to listen to people on my route in a new way. I have begun to share their pain and joy. When I listen, I can hear their turmoil inside. I hear domestic violence. I’ve even broken up a few fights. I’ve seen latchkey kids sitting out on their steps in 10 degree weather because they forgot their key. I hear the frustration of working mothers. They come out and talk to me. Sometimes I don’t even have time to think about a response. But I do what I can, and sometimes word comes to me that something I said was heard. I just walk down the street, but I think I made a difference.”
She pays attention to everyone she meets and does what she can to meet their need. That is a love that abounds “more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” It’s what our world needs more of.
Several years ago, my wife and children and I filled out a ‘relational needs assessment’ that indicated each person’s greatest emotional needs (e.g. the need for affection or security or affirmation or encouragement). I was struck by the fact that each one of us scored differently as to what is our greatest relational need.
Since each of my family members have different kinds of greatest relational needs, I need to express my love to each of them in different ways (while also paying attention to the uniqueness of my own greatest relational needs).
Even within my own family, I find that I need to pray (with Paul’s wisdom) that my love “may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that [I] may be able to discern what is best.”