...which makes me think the problem might have more to do with the one who is praying! But, still!
My prayers never work.
I wake up at 3:00 just about every morning these days. I get up to use the bathroom (frequent night-time trips to the bathroom being one of the joys of being an old man!), and on a cold winter morning, crawling back into a warm bed is like crawling into heaven.
Unfortunately, that's not what happens most of the time. Most mornings, doubts and fears crawl into bed with me. And so I toss and turn. "Please God, give me peace! Give me the assurance you are with me and let me get back to sleep!"
No peace. No assurance. No sleep. Just tossing and turning.
Of course, eventually I DO fall back to sleep, but by that time my prayer has expired. Well, in my mind anyway!
...back when I was in high school, I belonged to a weekly Bible study we called Oasis. We met every Monday evening for many years, gathering in each other's homes (well, in our parents' homes!). Somehow we always seemed to get done just in time to get back home to catch the halftime highlights on Monday Night Football!
Funny story, one Monday I arrived a few minutes early. And, as was often the case, the front door was open, so I let myself in and parked my gangly, 6-foot tall body - with Bible in hand - in a comfy easy chair by the fireplace, waiting for the other kids to arrive.
Our meeting was at the house next door.
I was a very earnest Christian back then... mostly earnestly seeking the company of the girls who attended!
One meeting it was brought up that a family member of one of our group was very ill. And so we prayed. Heads bowed, hands held together, lots of, "Lord, we just..." If you said "just" a lot in your prayers, it was the sign of your very deep faith. I came to call those prayers "The Prayers of the Just." (All these years later I still can't help myself from slipping into the Prayer of the Just now and again!)
So we prayed for God's healing.
It didn't work.
There was no healing. The one we so earnestly prayed for died.
...it was sort of hinted that if you really wanted your prayers to work, you had to add "In Jesus' name!" on at the end. Like, if you add the magic words you will get whatever you were praying for. Based, of course, on the passages in three of the four Gospels, where Jesus says, "Whatever you ask in my name, you shall receive."
Well, to quote Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya in the Princess Bride, "I do not think those words mean what you think they mean!"
Clearly, If I pray, "O Lord, may there be a fire red Lamborghini parked in my driveway... in Jesus' name I pray!" a fire red Lamborghini... or even a used Chevy for that matter... is not going to magically appear in our driveway.
Okay...I had to go check! I mean, you never know!
But imagine what would happen if we could get WHATEVER we asked for, as long as we said, "In the name of Jesus" at the end.
Just think of the chaos!
During a gentle snow, just for the fun of it I pray, "May the snow turn into marshmallows... In Jesus' name!"
Or, "May the trees out front be filled with purple monkeys!"
"O Lord, I pray that our cats could talk. And maybe do the dishes!" (Although that might be a bad idea - they would likely lick them clean!)
"May I receive a million dollars every July 1st for the next 30 years!" (Oh, wait, Bobby Bonilla already took that prayer!)
You pray for rain to water your garden, I pray for bright sunshine to warm my pool (well, first I would have to pray for a pool... one of those infinity pools... with a grotto and a waterfall and a fun slide on the other side!). So it would be...
And then imagine ALL of us praying for what we want when we want it all the time!
(And whose team would win the Super Bowl???)
...I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Yeah, I didn't know what it was either. But when my doctor said I should get my papers in order (papers??), oh, and I probably had two years to live, I did some research! One treatment option they eventually offered was a bone marrow transplant, adding that my chance of surviving that was a whopping 60%! But if I did, I might get another 5 years.
That was more than 20 years ago!
The recovery was long - much longer than I ever expected - and not a lot of fun. For weeks I was so weak that I often thought that even if the house were on fire I wouldn't have the strength to get out of bed. And as a family we were struggling in just about every way. Bills were piling up with no money to pay them. We had five grade-school aged kids, a couple crazy dogs and a cat, and it seemed to be chaos almost all of the time - and I just didn't have the strength to do much about it. My wife and I often said that we felt like the guy on the old Ed Sullivan Show, whose bit was to frantically dart from plate to plate trying to keep them all spinning in the air.
Our plates kept crashing to the floor.
And that was BEFORE I got sick!
After the transplant we had to make monthly drives into Chicago for follow-up appointments - two hours in, two hours back. When I had gotten well enough, I could make the drive alone. So I found myself praying most of the way there and back. Mostly I prayed, "God help us! Please give us some peace, at least a DAY without some kind of crisis or another! Just one day where we could have the sense that things were going to be okay."
And then, on the way home, there would be a shift. I would have this sense that God WAS with us, and things really WERE going to be okay.
I'd pull the car into the driveway with my renewed sense of hope, walk into the back door...
...invariably to be greeted by some new little hell.
A gaping black hole in the kitchen window where a basketball had been thrown through - a window we didn't have the money to replace... the power shut off... Blackie loose... again...
And I would almost cry.
"God... just ONE DAY!"
As I write this, I am thinking the fact that I AM writing this, still sitting here at the computer over 20 years later is a testament that prayer really DOES work.
I am certain it was the power of prayer (not so much my own, puny prayers) but the many, many prayers of others that has brought me here today.
Somehow our family survived the craziness of those years.
I am sure the power of prayer had a lot to do with that too.
I dropped Dani off at work in Franklin Grove (about 10 miles from here) and on my way home, I made my usual stop at Walmart to make a few laps around the store to "get some steps" (Those of you with fitness trackers know what I am talking about! The kids gave me one for Christmas last year, and now it runs my life!)
On my first lap, I ran into my youngest daughter and her 12 year-old daughter in the freezer section. Since we are still in the middle of the COVID pandemic we were all wearing masks, and as much as I wanted to give them each a quick hug, I couldn't. Had to keep my "social distance"!
Of course I had to snoop, and look into their cart to see what they were buying!
"What's this?" I asked as I picked up a plastic DVD package... the complete collection of the Jurassic Park movies - on Blu-ray!
"Oh crap," my daughter says.
"That's your birthday present!"
Oh well! So much for surprises! But my birthday is still a few weeks away, and being as old and forgetful as I seem to be getting, I am sure I will have forgotten by then!
But I always say there is nothing like a good dinosaur movie!
I say good-bye and continue on my lap, and as I do, I am smiling. (Not that you could see, behind my mask!) God has been so good to us. Our kids and grandkids are such a joy. And so I pray that God would bless them and give THEM the same joy they give me.
And then I thought...
Do I really have to ASK God to do that???
Doesn't God love them infinitely more than I do???
Isn't blessing them and giving them joy exactly what he intends to do for them?
It's not like God hears my prayer and thinks, "Oh, WOW! What a great idea! Why didn't I think of that?!"
It's not like I have to twist his arm to convince him that it would be a good idea to watch over them and bless them.
And it definitely can't be that THEIR happiness depends on ME! It can't be that their happiness depends on how faithfully and sincerely I pray (and how many times I say, "Lord, I just..."!).
I mean, the truth is, if anyone's happiness depends on my praying, they are going to be deeply disappointed. My prayer life is, well, erratic at best. And if the effectiveness of prayer depends on the righteousness of the pray-er... well... (Although James says something to that effect in his letter. I am guessing he was meaning something a bit different).
And I sure hope MY joy doesn't depend on someone else's prayers! What if the guy assigned to me is a real slacker, more interested in gaming than praying???
It just can't be that God is not going to be good and loving unless someone asks him to be!!!!
I believe that God is nothing but perfect love. God IS Love. And because God is the perfection of Love, he can never do ANYTHING LESS than to always and in every way love us perfectly and completely. ALWAYS.
God never slacks off.
(Or slumbers or sleeps... as the Psalmist puts it a bit more eloquently!)
And God's desire for each and every one of us is that we have life, and life abundantly - that's what Jesus gave his life for us to have!
When I pray, it's not that I am not trying to twist God's arm.
No. When I pray...
God is giving me the blessing of SHARING IN HIS LOVE!
Of course God is going to bless my daughter! There is no uncertainty! There is no doubt! And when I pray for her I am joining my love for her with God's unending love for her.
What a JOY!!!
No maybe my prayers will be good enough.
No maybe God will hear.
No maybe God will answer.
Just pure joy!
The joy of knowing that God is ALWAYS and in EVERY WAY loving her perfectly.
In an instant my prayer life was revolutionized!
At that moment I came to see that prayer was not a chore, but instead, this wonderful opportunity to enter into the joy of God's love!
...past the giant, 65 and 70 inch Ultra HD TVs that I covet (at the outlands of the display were a couple beat-up boxes of lowly 50 inch sets. They looked so SMALL!), and as I walked I was thinking that when I pray, what I am really praying for is that the ones I love - and all I pray for - find joy - the joy that is found, and only found, in knowing God's love.
What I am really praying for, is that they find God and his love for them.
Isn't that exactly what God is all about? Drawing us - all of us - into his perfect love?
And so when I pray, really what I am doing is joining in fellowship with God.
What a wonderful thing!!!!