The Day a Mentally Handicapped Woman Taught Me How to Pray
Originally posted 7/11/2017 The Bible says in Romans 8:26-27 that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Sometimes you preach sermons. Sometimes you watch them. I’m not here to split theological hairs over the interpretations and applications of Romans 8:26-27, I just want to share with you what I saw and heard last Sunday.
After our late service two ladies approached me with some urgency and excitement about a conversation they didn’t know how to handle. One of the ladies, Julie, had brought with her two adults, a male and a female, who have mental handicaps and are under the care and supervision of one of her family members. Julie explained the situation.
The lady of the two was physically in her fifties, but mentally still a child. Sadly, Julie also shared with me that the lady's body is eaten up with cancer, but she cannot comprehend her diagnosis.
At the end of the service this lady looked at Julie and said, “I want to be baptized.”
“Brian, I don’t know what to tell her.”After Julie had explained to me the situation in full, I was thinking, “Julie, I don’t know what to tell her either” but I said, “Let me talk with her.”
How do you explain salvation to someone who doesn’t even comprehend that they have cancer?How do you help a person understand the importance of baptism when they have are incapable of making any decision for themselves?
So I sat down.Not sure of her and not sure of myself, but certain of God’s Word.And so I began to read: John 3:16, then Romans 3:10, 5:8 and so on.I wasn’t sure she could read, but the more I read, the more she looked on as if she were reading along with me.
She answered every question I asked her.She responded to each turn of my presentation.I explained to her the reason we are baptized is that we decide to repent of sin and receive Christ as our Savior.I explained the incredible image of death being brought to life that we demonstrate in Baptism.No problem there, I’ve done it countless times.
It was the next part that was a struggle for me.Typically I encourage a person to pray on their own. I do not lead a person in prayer for fear that they would only repeat my words thinking them as a magic potion from a preacher necessary for salvation.This is where Baptists can split hairs and I have split a head full of them.It is ironic that we Baptists want to make sure everyone knows God saves but we trip all over ourselves trying to explain how the Almighty does it.We claim God is sovereign, but we want to make sure that we don’t mess it up.Go figure.
So there I am, once again, figuring out for God how “we” are going to do this.In this special case, I decided that I would lead her in prayer.So, I explained to her what that meant.
“I will say a few words, and then you say them with your mouth, but mean them with your heart.”
“I’ll try,” she said.
What I meant was, say what I say AFTER I say it.What she thought I meant was, say what I say WHEN I say it.What she said she would “try” was an intellectual impossibility of which she was especially grossly incapable.
And then the Spirit interceded.
I said, “Dear God.”She said, “Dear God” at the exact moment as I.Coincidental, not impossible.Not surprising that anyone would guess that you start out a prayer, “Dear God.”
But there was no way she could have known the sentences that I would use next, but with each thing I said, she would pick up about midway through the second word and say verbatim what I was saying at the exact time I said it.
“I know that I have done wrong. . .”
“I know that I have done wrong. . .”
“and the Bible calls that sin.”
“the Bible calls that sin.”
If I prayed 100 words, she might have missed five of them, but only in delay.If there were 100 words, she prayed 95 of them AS they came out of my mouth, not AFTER.
This Sunday we are scheduled to baptize her.I am tempted to let her baptize me!
Jesus said that we turn and become like children that we would never enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:3).In sitting before a mentally challenged woman and trying to figure out what God “could and would” do for her, I received a three-fold lecture on what it means to be saved, what it means to pray, and what it means that the Spirit intercedes for us.I was “knowledgeable, studied, prepared.”She was yielded, willing, trusting, and child-like.
I set out to lead her.Through her, the Spirit of God, lead me.
How many of my prayers are spiritually handicapped but helped by the Spirit of God?How many times have I prayed the words of a preacher, a pastor, a seminary graduate that lacked anything of substance that would move the kingdom of heaven?I wonder how much of what I have prayed has covered up what I am and missed by miles what I need?The good news is, despite the ignorance of my heart and what may have come out of my mouth, the Spirit said what needed to be said.
Sometimes you preach sermons.Sometimes you watch them.He knows what I need according to the will of God.