I don’t believe in the kind of God that changes the universe because I (or anyone else) pray for something. Prayers are not “magic” words to find a parking space or keep the rain away for an outdoor wedding. Almost a decade ago our local newspaper interviewed me about prayer at football games, and my answers surprised the journalist enough to upset his preconceptions … I wasn’t in favor of praying for outcomes in school sporting events … what kind of religious leader was I?
Yet prayer is vitally important to my spiritual life as well as the transformational life of a congregation. In early 2005 I wrote an article for Connections, a newsletter published by the Presbytery of New Covenant, saying:
“I have learned to never underestimate the power of prayer in a church attempting to turn-around from a shrinking, aging congregation to a thriving community of believers. Prayer is more important than programs, curriculum, praise bands, small groups or even money in reaching the un-churched public. I am convinced that if a church is serious about growing, it must be serious about prayer.”
And, while I don’t believe prayer is “magic”, my experience is that prayer is most poignant when we get specific in our petition. One spiritual advisor encouraged me, “don’t be afraid to tell God what you really want.” Another coached me, “get specific with God, it builds relationship and trust.” And sure enough, I started gathering examples of prayer answered in very specific ways: an elder prayed that God would help our congregation acquire a drum set for our newly formed contemporary band, and within a couple of weeks an owner of a local pawn shop was so moved by the generosity of our church at a free car wash, that he returned an hour later and dropped off a … you guessed it … a drum set. Later she realized that a drum set is rather useless without a drummer and soon a new teacher moved into the school at which our church music director taught. He was a drummer looking for a band … no, he was not Christian, but he was willing to learn and play for us.
My specific prayer these last few months has been that a family would move into our house in Texas before the end of 2011. And I had asked my prayer partners to pray the same. I knew the prayer was bold in today’s housing market. And when, at the beginning of December, we had no prospects, I began to doubt that it would ever happen. Less than 28 days until the end of the year, I continued my prayer. I remembered the good times we shared both in the house and in the backyard. I imagined the new family living there and being blessed in similar ways by God in that space.
On December 10, we got a call from the real estate agent … we had an offer on the house, for our asking price; the only caveat was that they needed to close before December 30! We agreed, of course, and the family moved in with a lease agreement within the week. A very specific answer to my prayer — we closed at 10:00 AM CST on December 30. But, even more importantly to me and my prayer, a family was living there, celebrating Christmas there, before the end of 2011!
I still don’t believe in a God who would force a man to lose an offer on one house just so that he could make an offer on ours before December 31. I don’t believe in a God who throws football games or makes drum sets and drummers appear. But I do believe in the power of prayer to create, to imagine, to see in new ways, to heal, to comfort and to change. And I believe that by making our prayer specific and “in tune” with the Spirit of creativity and goodness, our relationship with God becomes that much more real and relevant and personal.