Praying in a Zero-Sum World
God will humble you in an extraordinary ways. He can take your worldly trophies and smash them to dust. My pride crumbles more in nursing homes than in any other place. As a pastor I try to visit from time to time church members who no longer can take good care of themselves. I have a few people in my church spiritually gifted with encouragement, and they usually accompany me.
I recently stopped by a couple of nursing homes with Tom. I always balk at the outside door, pausing to look and the green button you press to enter. The debate of whether to turn back or go in occurs every time in my head. But God always pushes me through the door.
On this trip Tom and I were going to visit a man who had failed in his attempt to commit suicide, an elderly lady on dialysis three times a week, and another lady so crippled with arthritis she can barely move. I prepare myself for these visits and do everything I can to bring joy to the lives of those where joy can be so absent.
But God works in His own way. For it is I that usually come away with a better perspective on the joy of life.
As we were walking through the halls, Tom asked me, “Why do you think God let’s people live like this? How come He doesn’t take His children home?”
I didn’t have an answer for him then. I would by the time we were done seeing people.
It seems that living in this world can be a zero-sum endeavor at times. People gain only at the expense of others. Riches are won because another loses. The primary concern is to get what’s yours first and leave leftovers for the rest. It’s the way our commodity markets work, and the way gambling works – it’s called ‘playing in a zero-sum game.’ I think people sometimes carry it over into their personal lives as well.
Tom’s main concern was the church members we were visiting seemed to be losing, that God had passed them over in life’s lotto winnings.
Visiting Plina, an elderly lady who is the type of biblical scholar I aim to be someday, would change both our minds.
We talked with her for some time about the church, what was going on, and my vision as her pastor. She told me the story of how several ladies in the church had started a quilting club. They spent hours a week making quilts. They would then sell them and pool the money. With this money from selling quilts, they were able to buy a large steeple for the church and pay to have it raised on the roof. It was a simple story of endurance and faithfulness.
“You want to know what I do now?” she asked.
Tom and I looked at each other; given her condition we were both afraid to ask.
“I pray,” she retorted without us prompting her. “I pray for you and you.” She pointed her curved fingers at both of us.
The following Sunday I preached from Philippians 4, not because I was inspired by Plina. But rather because I was simply preaching through the book. Below is the text:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
God is not a zero-sum god. His grace is sufficient for all. His joy is overflowing. His love is infinite. And I now pray for the peace that Plina holds in her heart so dearly.