“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Last time, we talked about the three phases of prayer:
- Asking God for what I want
- Asking God for what I need so I can do what God wants
- Becoming a “moving prayer”
The story about Phase One prayer was my own from college, where I asked God to get me out of a tight spot in college and ran into Meister Eckhart’s tough love words about not treating God like a celestial cow to be milked for my own benefit.
The story about Phase Two prayer was about Gilbert, who stopped the action before the final race at his Cub Scout troop’s Pinewood derby to pray. When his car won, the Cub Master asked Gilbert if he prayed to win, to which Gilbert answered it wouldn’t be fair to ask God to help him win, he had asked God to help not cry if he lost.
Phase Three prayer involves no words. Instead, the Spirit sweeps us up into action. The story I think illustrates this the best is the movie E.T. It’s hard to believe it’s been 40 years since the movie’s release.
To refresh everyone’s memory, alien botanists land in a forest outside of Los Angeles to gather specimens. E.T. wanders off, enchanted by the lights of the city. Soon, a group of government vehicles show up and, in a panic, the alien vehicle zooms off, leaving E.T. behind.
E.T. ends up at the home of ten-year-old Elliot who, with the help of his older brother Michael and younger sister Gertie, keep E.T. hidden away from their mom. A strong connection forms between Elliot and E.T, where Elliot feels what E.T. feels.
E.T. gets Elliot to help him build a makeshift radio transmitter so he can “phone home.” On Halloween Night, Elliot and Michael dress up E.T. as a ghost to sneak him out. With E.T. secure in the basket on his bike, Elliot rides out to the forest where E.T.’s spaceship had landed.
As they reach rough terrain, Elliot slows down and tells E.T. they’ll have to walk. E.T. has other things in mind and flies Elliot across the full moon to the landing site, where he successfully calls home.
The next day, Elliot wakes up in the field and E.T. is gone. Elliot returns home, now feeling very ill, and tells his brother Michael that E.T. is lost. Michael finds a dying E.T. in a culvert, returns home, and shows his mom their stowaway.
The government agents show up and set up a lab at the house. As E.T.’s condition worsens, so does Elliot’s. While the doctors work to save their lives, the connection between them disappears, and Elliot recovers while E.T. appears to die.
Left alone to say his final goodbye, Elliot sees E.T.’s heart light up and a jubilant E.T. cries out, “Home! Home! Home!
It is here where Elliot becomes a moving prayer. He and his brother plot with a group of friends to get E.T. back to the landing site. They ride their bikes through the neighborhood, eluding the government agents, splitting up to confuse them. Just at the moment where they have been cornered and all hope is lost, E.T. levitates his rescuers and flies them back to the landing site.
It does not occur to Elliot to ask E.T. to fly them away. He is consumed by the desire to help his friend and does everything he can do to get E.T. home, regardless of the odds or what might happen to him.
Soon after marching with Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery on March 21, 1965, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote:
“For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”
We become a moving prayer when we step in sync with God. Without words, without thought, without song – we do. And nearly impossible things happen.
Eternal God, Help me to be a blessing to everyone I meet.