for release Friday September 03, 2004
by Melodie Davis
Call Waiting: Connecting With God Through Prayer
I was a participant in a recent telephone conference call, the kind where people dial into a number and then suddenly join the “meeting room” of the air. When each caller joins the phone meeting, his/her arrival is announced with a little beep.
The convener of the meeting had launched into an early opening prayer. Not everyone had joined the telephone meeting yet, so as the leader prayed, we kept hearing these annoying beeps signaling that another person had joined the phone call or “entered” the room.
The leader would be thrown off for a second in his prayer, and then plunge ahead, not knowing whether to break the prayer and acknowledge the caller, or hope that the caller would figure out what was going on and not announce themselves with a “hello” or something.
The scene of course had immediate connotations for me in thinking of that age-old question of kids: how can God listen to so many prayers at once? Is it like the telephone conference call: God is busily involved listening to one prayer, hears a beep for another prayer to come “on line” and then… well you get the picture. Or maybe it is like “call waiting.”
Of course it is not, but how does God listen to and relate to us through prayer?
Too many of our prayers are of the “give me” or, only slightly better, “give so-and-so” this or that. Too seldom do we just bask in the love, goodness, joy and presence of God in our thought life.
At the recent Olympics, it was possible to frequently see athletes pause, bow their heads, and say a few words before they began their event. Of course they might have been only talking to themselves, but when I observed the Japanese gymnast doing so I wondered what god he prayed to. The inner urge to communicate with the Divine transcends culture and religion.
A new book called Adventures in Prayer by Sharon Conners, (2004, Bantam Books) says that “Prayer takes us into the mystery of God for an encounter that will forever change our lives—for the better. We can never know the fullness of the great mystery that God is, but through our adventures in prayer we create a relationship with God that allows us to experience for ourselves some of the mystery.”
She also goes on to talk about how prayer is a universal spiritual language, but here we will talk about it mainly from a Christian perspective since that is my experience.
Unfortunately, in some religious groups, prayer is viewed mainly as a way to “apologize for sins, plead for mercy, or somehow convince God … that I could be made worthy,” Connors writes. “The God of my upbringing was a harsh judge who kept score and meted out punishments commensurate with the wrong.”
Sound familiar? Instead, prayer can be the avenue into an ongoing, intimate, deep relationship with God, the creator of the universe. For the Christian, we feel that Jesus is the avenue by which are able to have that personal relationship with God. Jesus is the new covenant or promise that God made with humanity—a path to God.
Another book, Answers to Satisfy the Soul, written by Jim Denney, (Quill Driver Books, 2002), attempts to answer the question, “Does prayer really work?” I have often pondered the question, “If God knows everything, knows every need, why do I need to pray about it?”
I don’t have the answer to all these questions, and sometimes we all face doubts. But there does seem to be a very real role for humans in the prayer process. Some people going through trauma or illness report an actual physical feeling of peace they have received, knowing that people were praying for them. Or perhaps they didn’t even know that someone was praying for them and they still felt uplifted. On the other hand, sometimes we pray for a person and they still feel very far away and negative towards God.
We know that the body—if the mind is tricked into thinking it is going to get well from a little pill—may actually get better, even when you find out the pill was only sugar. In the same way, sometimes the power of positive thinking is enough to help a person improve. When you pray personally it can also have a relaxing, stress-reducing effect.
Some scientific studies have done more than this though, and shown that patients who are prayed for improve faster than those who are not (Denny, p. 230). He also points out, however, that prayer—or God—doesn’t guarantee any fixed outcome. “Even though friends and family are praying for them, people do get sick, sick people do get even sicker, and eventually everyone dies.” But prayer can influence the outcome of some situations. Sometimes God uses doctors or other people in responding to needs. Perhaps you will be someone’s “answer to prayer.”
For a free booklet, “When Prayers Go Unanswered,” write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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