Work Done in Gratitude

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.
Ps 86:1
Psalm 86 is one of many psalms which tell me of God's love for the downcast. Calvin reminds me that I should be encouraged by this particular psalm when I find myself oppressed or destitute. He said that, in order to keep our minds from being overwhelmed under the greatest of afflictions, we should find encouragement in this prayer, composed by the Holy Spirit for the poor and afflicted.

This is fine and well. And certainly Calvin is correct. But more than needing assurance that this prayer for the poor and the afflicted is for me, I need to remember that I am not the only person on earth—that there are billions who are poorer and more afflicted than I, and that most of them can more rightfully pray this prayer than I can.

Most importantly, I need to remember that most prayers are not answered directly. God does not reach down from heaven and set things right, except through the agency of other people. In this sense, answered prayer is usually only possible in community, and as often as I want to make my requests known to God, I should also be open to being the answer to someone else's prayer. The best expression of this particular "theology of prayer" that I can think of is found in one of Wendell Berry's Sabbath Poems:

Work done in gratitude,
Kindly, and well, is prayer.

Whether I pray for myself or others, the best prayer is the one that is open not only to God's assistance, but to using my God-given strength, talent, wealth, or insight to bring that assistance to another.

Help me to pray aright, Lord; that is, not just asking, but also sharing. Thank you for answering my prayers, and thank you for showing me how I can be the answer to another's prayer. In the Name of the One who taught me to pray in the first place: Our Father...