A Prayer for the Other Guy at Martini’s Bar
AL PERROTTA — The news out of Bedford Falls that Christmas was joyful. Beloved local businessman George Bailey had dodged a date with the slammer when a sea of friends and family pitched in to cover the mysterious disappearance of $8,000 from his struggling Savings & Loan.
George had been so distraught he had seriously considered suicide, going so far as to stand over the edge of a bridge, starring into the icy rapids below. As he could have recounted after that round of “Auld Lang Syne,” he’d been seconds from ending his life when he spotted another man on the bridge, a portly old Irishman. Turns out the Irishman was an angel by the name of Clarence, and with his help, George had discovered the value of his life, his value to others. Flush with new understanding of his God-given worth, he made a mad dash home to his beloved wife, Mary, and the riches of love and friendship.
The story of George Bailey as recounted in Frank Capra’s immortal It’s a Wonderful Life is no fluffy holiday fare. It’s an tense story, hurling urgently through George’s lifelong frustrations towards that life-or-death encounter at the bridge.
What tends to be overlooked is that it’s no accident that Clarence is on that bridge.The film had opened with a flurry of urgent prayers from George’s friends and loved ones. Clarence is there specifically as the result of their prayers.
Their cries had opened the ears of heaven, and inspired God to act.
Yes, the news about George Bailey that Christmas in Bedford Falls was good news, a fitting tribute to the power of prayer and intercession. It’s a living demonstration of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:19: “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.”
Yet I have to ask: Was that the only news in Bedford Falls that Christmas?
One of the people praying was Giuseppe Martini, owner of the local watering hole, whom George had helped along the way. Through his thick Italian accent he pleads, “Joseph, Jesus and Mary, help my friend George Bailey.”
Before staggering onto that bridge George had been in the bar, a broken man, convinced by the evil Mr. Potter he was worth more dead than alive. In George’s eyes, all was lost. Even though he was not a “praying man” he had asked God for help. And then got punched in the nose. “That’s what you get for praying,” George had grumbled before stumbling out of Martini’s into the snow, having no idea his prayer, and the prayers of those interceding on his behalf, were already well on the way to being answered.
Let’s return to Martini’s:
This year, a year filled with so much hurt for so many, I see the scene at Martini’s bar on Christmas Eve and wonder about the other patrons there, nursing their own drinks and untold wounds.
Was there anyone else suffering at Martini’s that Christmas Eve? Someone else at the end of their rope? Someone else who felt worth more dead than alive?
If so, this someone had no one praying for him. This someone in the shadows, out of frame, had no friends to pick him up off the floor, let alone lift in prayer.
How might his story have ended? Lost in George Bailey’s front-page triumph over Mr. Potter’s nefarious criminal plot there might have been another news article out of Bedford Falls. It’s easy to imagine:
BEDFORD FALLS — The body of an unidentified man was discovered Christmas afternoon tangled in branches two miles downstream from the Bedford Falls. It is unclear at this point whether the unfortunate man slipped into the river due to inclement conditions or jumped. Nick, a bartender at Martini’s, says he recalls serving someone of the victim’s general description, but lost track of the man after a fight broke out in the bar later in the evening. If anyone has any information, or needs to report a missing person, please contact Officer Bert at the Bedford Falls Police Department.
For that matter, is there any doubt that without benefit of all that prayer George Bailey would have jumped?
Where We Fit Into the Story
As we enter 2016, can we not consider the stranger in a dark corner of the bar, the office loner, the wallflower at the New Year’s Eve party … the local leader who puts on a brave face? Can we not be alert to those who cross our field of vision? Can we not be sensitive to those won’t even open up to friends and family how much they are hurting? Some of the saddest words in the English language are, “I had no idea.”
Thankfully we do have help, as Paul explains in Ephesians: “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.” We have within us the Holy Spirit. We walk our neighborhood watch with the very power of the Living God.
Paul repeats in Thessalonians his instructions to “pray without ceasing.” Even though this is in the context of rejoicing in our own circumstances, loving our neighbor demands extending our prayer outward. James reinforces the message. “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
Healing comes when we do our part. “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” Just ask George Bailey.
We might pray like this:
A Prayer for the Other Guy at Martini’s Bar
Thank you, Lord, for giving me eyes to see and ears to hear; for allowing me to see all those around me as you see them: glorious creations with a specific purpose and tremendous value. When George Bailey fell, he had many there to lift him up. But in Ecclesiastes you say, “woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” So let me lift up in prayer this person who is alone, or thinks he is alone. Let him feel Your presence through me.
If there are words of encouragement to be offered, Lord, give me the right words. If there are words of knowledge to be delivered, get my words out of the way. If there is practical assistance to be offered, Lord, provide me the means and opportunity.
As Clarence’s inscription to George reads, “no man is a failure who has friends.” Let me be a friend as I am also commanded to be a brother.
Forgive me for being too caught up in my own mind to notice those who could have used a friend in the past. Free me from any fear that keeps me from approaching those who may be in need, and from selfishness that keeps me from even noticing.
Lord, I pray a blessing today on all those you put in my path, and a blessing for all in my neighborhood, community and nation. Lord, especially be with this stranger who your Holy Spirit has brought to my attention. Let him know your love, your hope, your purpose in his life. He is your workmanship, your poem. Keep despair far from his heart. Lift any burden.
Guide him through the slippery heights of testing and safety into your arms.
In Jesus’ name, we pray. AMEN.