A few months ago, I was watching my usual 6.30pm news-type program, when they had an interesting segment about a couple who had converted from Christianity to atheism. Their fall was a spectacular one. They were a prominent couple at their Church. They were both leaders in the community. They had children who they were bringing up in the faith. It seemed like a typical Christian family, strong in faith, and sure of where their spiritual lives were going. However, something was looming underneath all of this. The woman had a secret yearning for her prayer life to bear more fruit. The interview revealed that she would pray however, not much was changing due to her prayers. “Was God listening to her prayers?” she wondered. “Was there a God at all?” Suddenly, one evening, she revealed to her husband that she was having doubts. Clearly this was the beginning of an avalanche, as their faith quickly fell away and they now identify as atheist.
The one thing that stood out to me from this segment was this poor woman’s lack of understanding about prayer. It has certainly not been my experience of prayer that people are miraculously healed, or that marriages are miraculously brought back together, or that stolen items are miraculously returned to their owner (or whatever miracle we are asking for). If we are searching for tangible evidence of the power of prayer via miracles of this sort, then we will not find it*.
When Jesus taught us how to pray, he basically told us to follow a formula we now call the Our Father. Step 1 – praise God. Step 2 – Pray for the strength to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. Step 3 – pray for that which sustains us. Step 4 – Seek forgiveness from God. Step 5 – Pray for the ability to forgive. Step 6 – ask for help to withstand temptations.
Where in this formula does Jesus say that we should be asking God for tangible changes?
I have had some wonderful prayer experiences. For the most part, prayer does not change anything that I can see. But it does change me.
When I was a young adult, a young guy landed on our doorstep, homeless and needing a place to stay to get back on his feet and finish his HSC. He was known to me, and I was not pleased that he was going to be staying with us. However, my parents being the kind of people they are, decided that they must give him the security he needs. He was put into a room with one of my brothers (who promptly moved out) and that was that. I prayed and prayed that God would change this boy, that He would move in his heart and make him more tolerable to live with. The more I prayed for him, however, the more I changed. I started to change my prayers too. I asked to be more patient (Your Kingdom come on earth). I asked that I understand how his life had become as it was (forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us). I began talking more with him and although there was a lot about him I would never really understand, I saw him for who he was. So although HE did not change, through my prayer, I did.
Prayer is also comforting. When my first daughter was born, it was quickly apparent to the pediatrician that she suffered from Developmental Dysplasia of the Hips, which required multiple ultrasounds, a harness at 10 days old, too much grief to begin writing about, and curious stares from onlookers. I prayed and prayed for my daughter to be healed, that she wouldn’t have to endure surgery at such a tender age.
At 6 weeks old, I took my daughter to see the orthopedic surgeon who promptly informed me that the harness was not working and that she would most likely need surgery if things did not improve in the next 4 weeks – which he didn’t believe they would. I heard what he had said – it was my worst nightmare coming true. But I felt a calm, and I said to him “No, I don’t think she will.” In hindsight, I must have seemed a real piece of work telling the professional to stick his opinion up his ar*e, but I truly felt it.
After my meeting with the doctor and on my way to the Orthotics department, I stumbled upon the Hospital’s chapel. I had taken a few steps past it, but decided that I had more than enough time between appointments to stop and pray. I was in an odd space, mentally. Having just been told my daughter may need surgery, I was quietly confident and I couldn’t pick why. I just had this CERTAINTY that she wouldn’t. I can’t explain it any other way. In the chapel, I sat quietly and suddenly heard “Your daughter will be fine in 4 weeks”. I just knew it. I knew she would be fine, and I knew it would be in 4 weeks. Exactly 4 weeks later we had a follow up ultrasound, and it revealed that her hips had been healed.
I do not believe this was a miracle, and I’m not proclaiming it as such. I just felt that God was keeping me calm, and giving me the confidence to assert to anyone that my daughter was going to be fine. The fact that I knew she would be better in 4 weeks proves to me that God really was comforting me and assuring me that things would be fine. God did not heal my daughter, but He was surely there helping me through what was a tough time.
Everyday prayer does not move physical mountains, but it can move us to action.
Everyday prayer does not have an outcome that we want, but an outcome that we need.
Everyday prayer is not about what we can get from God, but what God can get from us.
Everyday prayer cannot provide the scientific proof of God, but it can be the transforming element of our faith.
Everyday prayer brings us closer to God, and brings God’s Kingdom closer to those around us.
We should not be asking what has changed around us because of our prayer, but how has our prayer changed us. How has it inspired us. What have we been more courageous in doing because of our prayer? Whom have we brought closer to God because through our prayer, we have become closer to God’s own heart?
I don’t really know what the woman in the interview was praying for. One could presume it was for healing of friends, or to find a parking spot at the shopping center. I don’t know. But what I do know is that prayer for me, is not some kind of sure bet. What we pray does not always happen, especially in the way we want. But then, we already knew that… right?
*I am not saying that miracles do not happen. All I am saying is that miracles are miracles because of the rarity of them. If they happened each time someone prayed for a miracle, then what would be special about them?