Thursday, April 6, 2006

The Real Power of Prayer

I simply haven't the nerve to imagine a being, a force, a cause which keeps the planets revolving in their orbits, and then suddenly stops in order to give me a bicycle with three speeds. ~Quentin Crisp


I can't imagine why people feel the necessity to conduct studies on things like the impact of prayer on sick individuals, but someone has. You can read about it here and here, among other places (because it got a LOT of play in the media, at least on line). Basically, a large group of heart surgery patients were divided into three groups. One group knew that people were praying for them, another were prayed for but didn't know it, and a third group had no one praying for them (at least officially). The praying was being done by a non-denominational group covering all the major religions of the world. The bottom line: People who knew that prayers were being said for them fared worse than the other two groups. The people doing the study were reluctant to draw any real conclusions.
Well, I have a little parable that will make it clear to all concerned. I don't know where I came across this. I wish I did, because I like this story, and I wish I could credit its author.
Once there was a small town that had been beset by torrential rains for days on end. As a result, flood waters were rising, and authorities were trying to evacuate people as fast as they could. A sheriff's deputy came by the church and found old Preacher standing in the doorway.
“You'd better come with me, Preacher,” the deputy called from his car. “The river's rising fast, and it's going to rise high.”
“Go on ahead, my son,” said Preacher. “The Lord will provide.”
So the deputy went on. Time passed, the water rose, and Preacher had to move to the second floor of the church because of the rising flood. A boat came by with several people in it, one of whom shouted, “You'd better come with us, Preacher. The river hasn't crested yet, and no one knows how high it'll get!”
But Preacher demurred. “No, no, friend, I'll be all right because the Lord will provide.”
The boat moved off. Sure enough, the water continued to rise, forcing Preacher onto the roof of the church. A helicopter came down low, and the pilot's voice boomed out of a loudspeaker: “Grab the rope ladder, Preacher, and we'll get you out of here!”
But once again, old Preacher sent his rescuers on their way, saying, “It's all right, the Lord will provide.”
It grew dark, and water continued to rise. The Preacher was forced to climb to the top of the steeple. As the water lapped at his toes, he looked heavenward and cried, “Lord, I am certain that you will provide for me, but I'm getting sort of nervous!”
Suddenly, a voice came from above. “Listen, I sent you a car, a boat, and a helicopter. How much more do you want?”
So what have we learned here?
God is not Santa Claus. God does not do “gimme.” Prayers are so often filled with demands. If you are fortunate enough to get what appears to be a gift from God, it probably won't be because you pestered the Almighty endlessly about it. I suspect that people whose prayers seem to be answered are those who do the sorts of things that make the outcome more likely, like working hard, learning, doing good works.
I haven't read Thomas Aquinas, and I don't know St. Augustine from Daytona Beach, but I have my own theory of what prayer should be. Prayer is about self-examination and appreciation. When you thank God for what you've got, you're recognizing the positives of life. When you ask God to help you improve yourself, you're identifying your own weaknesses and looking for ways to make them strengths. When you know people are praying to help you through a tough time, you should show your appreciation by doing everything in your power to get through that time. That may be as little as following doctor's orders to the letter or just taking as positive an outlook as you can muster. Therein lies the power of prayer.
I have a favorite prayer. It's from song from the sixties, called 'Signs”. Toward the end of the song, the guy is in church and finds his pockets empty when the collection plate comes around. So he makes himself a little sign and puts it in the plate. The sign says, “Thank you, Lord, for thinking about me. I'm alive and doing fine.”
Amen, brothers and sisters.

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