While reading a book, I came across a story of a five-year-old boy who was left alone with his father at bedtime. It never happened before, but since the wife wasn’t around, so the father had to take the task.
After some maneuvering and a lot of fun, the father finally got the little fellow into his nightclothes and was about to lift him into bed when the boy said, “But, Dad, I have to say my prayers yet.”
So, the little boy knelt down beside the bed, folded his hands, raised his eyes to heaven, and prayed the usual: “Now, I lay me down to sleep.” But tonight, he took another look at his father, then continued to pray, “And, dear God, make me a great big good man like my daddy. Amen.”
In a moment, the little boy was in bed and, within five minutes, asleep. Then the father knelt by his son’s bedside and prayed, “Dear Lord, make me a great big good man, like my boy thinks I am.”
“Prayer is not asking,” Mahatma Gandhi once said. “It is a longing of the soul. It is a daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” To which Søren Kierkegaard added, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
Famous people believe in prayer. American president Abraham Lincoln admitted: “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”
Saint Thomas Aquinas, an Italian Dominican friar, pleaded: “Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you. Amen.”
“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy,” said Thérèse de Lisieux, a Roman Catholic French Discalced Carmelite nun widely venerated in modern times.
In Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, Henri J.M. Nouwen wrote: “To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear the voice of blessing– that demands real effort.”
So, why do we need to pray? To answer this question, allow me to share the story told by Bishop Tihamer Toth:
A famous old Eastern philosopher named Hillel had a young, clever, and pleasant disciple called Maimon. The master was gratified with his student’s progress. But later on, he was sadly surprised to see that the young man began to trust too much in his own philosophy and increasingly less in prayer.
“Why should I pray?” Maimon asked. “God is all-knowing; He does not require our words to know our needs. And God is kind; of His own accord He will give us what is good for us. Moreover, God is eternal; can we change the Eternal by prayer?”
Thus, Maimon reasoned and ceased to pray.
His wise master sighed and then sat with a serious face in the shade of a palm tree. The young disciple asked, “Master, why are you so sad?”
“Why? Because I have a friend who till now has carefully cultivated his fields and lived well from them, but now he has cast aside plow and scythe, and intends to leave the fields to themselves, saying that he can live from them without work.”
The youth asked: “Has he lost his senses?”
“By no means. On the contrary, he is otherwise quite a clever man,” the master answered. “But now he says: “God is almighty; therefore, He can easily give me bread without my having to plow with my eyes fixed on the earth. And God is good. He will furnish a table for me.”
“But, master, this is tempting God,” exclaimed the young disciple.
“It is, indeed, my son. But I am speaking of you. Are you not tempting God in a like manner? Is prayer less than work? This man in sloth does not want to fix his eyes on the earth in order to receive material goods, and you, in your conceit, do not want to turn your eyes to heaven in order to receive spiritual good.”
Oftentimes, when there are gatherings, there is always someone to be asked to pray — before the program starts or before eating. But in most instances, someone being asked would say, “I don’t know how to pray.”
Jesus Christ, when He was still on earth, taught us how to pray. Matthew 6:9-13 shared: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, you will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver from the evil one.”
God asked to pray with ceasing. But there are some instances in which prayer seems to be a burden. William Breault recalled that time when he met a high school girl whom he described as “an intense, shy and intelligent sort of a person.” He asked her if she ever prayed to God other than with vocal prayer.
“Oh, yes,” she answered embarrassingly. She looked down at her hands on her lap, then half sideways at him, said: “Only I don’t exactly pray to God, I write him a letter, but I never address him, except in the third person. I go into my room and write there. I guess you could call it a kind of prayer.”
Eight months later, Breault became very dry in prayer. He was like “a stone, completely without feeling.” Then, he picked up the girl’s idea of sitting down and writing God a letter telling Him just what was going through his mind. He told Him everything that he was having trouble with, etc. “And it worked,” he said.
“Prayer is the most powerful resource we have in this life; yet, many only turn to it as a last resort,” Franklin Graham reiterated. “When unbelievers pray for repentance of sin and ask for God’s forgiveness, prayer is the spiritual dynamite that obliterates the darkness and despair of a sin-soaked soul.”
God answers prayer in three ways: yes, wait, and no.
Sometimes, it takes years before He will answer a prayer. That was what happened to the prayer of the mother of E. Howard Cadle, who was a Christian. The story was featured in From This Verse by Robert J. Morgan.
By the time he was 12, Cadle was already emulating his father, an alcoholic. It took just a matter of time before he was in the grip of sex, gambling, and the crime syndicate.
“Always remember, son,” his worried mother often said, “that at eight o’clock every night I’ll be kneeling beside your bed, asking God to protect my precious boy.” But her prayers didn’t seem to slow him until one evening, on a rampage, he pulled a gun on a man and squeezed the trigger. The weapon never fired, and someone quickly knocked it away.
Cadle noticed that it was exactly eight o’clock.
Then, it came to pass that Cadle’s health deteriorated, and the doctor told him he had only six months to live. Dragging himself home, penniless and pitiful, he collapsed in his mother’s arms, saying, “Mother, I’ve broken your heart. I’d like to be saved, but I’ve sinned too much.”
The old woman opened her Bible and read Isaiah 1:18, which said: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” That windswept morning, on March 14, 1914, Cadle became a Christian.
At one time, the man who became one of America’s most popular radio evangelists said: “Thank you, Jesus, for saving me that dark and stormy day from a drunkard’s and a gambler’s hell.”
There are instances that God answers prayer in mysterious ways. In L’Abri, Edith Schaeffer shared her own story.
Once while Francis and Edith Schaeffer returned from the United States to their Swiss home, young Franky grew ill and lost his ability to walk. The doctor diagnosed polio, and Edith devoted her waking hours to caring for him.
Francis was in Italy when Franky suffered another attack. The local doctor arrived, begging to inject the child with a virtually untested serum he had invented. “Please let me use it. Don’t deny the boy the possibility of help. He may never walk again otherwise,” the doctor said.
Edith, sick with panic, silently cried. “Oh Father, show me what is best. I’ll go with the doctor unless you stop me, God. I don’t know what else to do.” Meanwhile, the doctor paced the floor, saying, “Hurry, hurry… no time to lose.”
Jumping in the car, they raced to the little hospital. The ether mask was affixed over Franky’s screaming face and the injection given, with another scheduled for the morning.
Before the night was over, Edith again prayed hard. In the morning, the doctor walked in with the nurse, and as she started to pull the cot towards the operation room, the doctor put his hand and said sharply, “Wait.” Then, he gazed at Franky for a few minutes and finally said, “I’ve changed my mind. We won’t do it.” The second injection was never given.
“Whatever that injection did, Franky did not have any paralysis, and the day came when he could sit up, then stand, and finally walk,” Edith wrote.
But why does God answer someone’s prayer negatively? There are several reasons. It may be because what you are asking for is bad for you. Or, He may have something much more than what you are asking from Him.
Or, perhaps this anecdote shared by Donald T. Regan can give you an idea:
There was a man whose business had fallen on hard times. He was a devout person and had given generously to his church for many years. He figured that perhaps there were accounts received he hadn’t pursued. So he went to church and asked God to let him win the lottery. He waited expectantly, but nothing happened.
So, he returned to the church, somewhat upset. Once again, he pleaded his case. And once again, there was nothing.
The next time, angry, he shouted at the Almighty, “Why don’t you give me a break?”
Suddenly, a great wind swept through the church, and a deep, powerful voice said, “Give you a break? Why don’t you give me a break? At least buy a ticket!”
In Love Finds You in Poetry, Janice Hanna wrote: “Really, there was only one sensible thing to do. Stay the course. Pray it through, day by day, minute by minute. The Lord had an answer and it would surely come.”