No pain, no gain. You certainly get to know the truth of that on the Camino. I’ve walked a lot and am used to covering the sorts of distances I was doing on the Camino, but what I wasn’t used to was getting up the next day and doing it all again. And the next day. And the next. And the next….. You expect to have the odd blister, but it’s how you cope with them that is the real issue. I got 3-4 small blisters that didn’t amount to much and were easily treatable with blister plasters. I saw other people with infected blisters which looked like they were one step away (excuse the pun) from having their foot amputated. Usually when I go walking my rucksack doesn’t weigh 9kg like it did on the Camino so for the first few days I really felt the weight of it and my shoulder blades ached at the end of each day. The other thing that caused me considerable pain were the muscles right at the top of my thighs. I was Ok whilst walking during the day, but in the evenings they contracted and virtually seized up making walking very difficult and making me look like an old man [pause here for sarcastic responses]. So what did I do? I called on the faith community of which I am a part to help me. Through Facebook I was able to keep people updated with my progress and I also took the opportunity to ask them to pray for me, specifically about my various aches and pains. It was great to know that as I was walking each day there were people all over the world praying for me (that great cloud of witness again), it was such an encouragement and an inspiration. More than that, I believe that the prayers worked – my blisters didn’t give me the slightest bit of trouble and my aching limbs were good to go at the start of each new day.
Someone asked recently, “what good do our prayers do?” This is a searching question, which those of us who do pray and believe in the power of prayer need to address. God’s Word invites us to respond. In Matthew 7 we are told “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” In John 15 Jesus says, “Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” It all sounds too easy, too good to be true. Dietrich Bonhoeffer might help us understand a bit better: “God does not give us everything we want, but he does fulfil all his promises.” Prayer isn’t about testing God or seeing just what he can (or can’t) do. It isn’t about what he will or won’t do. It is about relying on what he has already done in Jesus. It’s a reliance on the promise we see in Psalm 50, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” Why would God be concerned with us, why should he answer our prayers or help us in times of need. The greatest act of benevolence was God being born among us, Jesus Christ. Because of this we can fully expect God to act with benevolence towards us again.
Knowing that the prayers of others were carrying me along in both spiritual and practical ways was (is) an amazing, faith affirming thing. Other than the obvious answer, the question still remains “what good do our prayers do?” Sure, I was walking better and feeling up-lifted, but is that all there is to it? After all those things don’t last. Remember that verse from Psalm 50? God answers, I glorify him. My testimony to this reveals something of the glory of God to those around me. In walking and suffering and calling out to God he ministers to me, body, mind and soul. I, then, have something to offer to my fellow pilgrims: through my own experience of being wounded and the ministry of the Great Healer I am able to model that same healing to others who are wounded. Our prayers bring the reality of God who is making all things new into a lost and broken world.