“Prayer is a waste of time,” he scoffed. “It’s like throwing pennies in a wishing well or wishing on a star. I don’t mind folks wasting their time on frivolous fantasy, as long as they do something useful to make up for it.”
The next day, as my husband and I were driving home, I was silently asking God to send me a topic for this column. Minutes later, we took our home exit and I saw someone holding up a sign. It read, “Free prayer.” I could hardly believe it.
“Stop, stop, stop, stop!” I said. My husband was wondering what was wrong, so I had to explain my instantaneous answer to prayer with, “That’s my column.”
A couple people crowded around our window, and told us they just get together and pray for whoever stops and needs it. The lovely folks prayed for us, too.
This small band is from a relatively new church in our town with a congregation of about 25 members. Their motto isn’t only to get together and talk about God, but to be his hands and feet, serving anyone they can.
On Wednesdays, they feed the poor in San Bernardino, Calif. Thursdays they have chairs set up on the side of the road with a sign explaining what they’re up to – “free prayer.” Once a month they hold church services at local parks. Occasionally, they’ll go to Skid Row in Los Angeles, where they’ll hand out tarps and moving blankets to homeless folk.
“We have Bible studies and regular church services,” said the pastor, “but we want to be active in the name of Jesus. We want to put actions behind our words.”
The foundation of their lives and work is a personal relationship with Christ, and keeping the dialogue between heaven and their hearts open through prayer.
“We believe God listens when we pray,” he said. “We’ve seen God answer prayer.”
The members of this church know that no one is exempt from suffering, and something unique they wanted to offer our town was prayer.
“We weren’t going to get weird, but people in our community, they’re hurting too,” the pastor said. “So we were wanting to find their needs and pray for them.”
There’s nothing quite like asking, so that’s what they decided to do.
And people stop. They want prayer for their marriages, financial situations, disobedient children, illnesses, and the list continues.
“You drive by and think those people don’t have problems, because they live in nice houses around a golf course,” he said. “But there’s a lot of hurting people in that community, some losing their homes….”
The faith of this small group hasn’t been exercised in vain.
Once, a man they prayed for, whose marriage was on the rocks, stopped by to exclaim, “My wife and I are talking again! Thank you for praying for us.”
Others have stopped by with similar stories.
“We know it makes a difference,” the pastor said. “God says it does, we believe, and we see the changes in people we’re praying for. We see God answer.”
I was impressed with these prayer warriors. They test God. They try Him. When they pray, God blesses their faith, and things happen.
Sir William Temple said, “When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.” Prayer brings us up to God. It’s a comfort and joy, necessity and privilege. God waits to help and to pour on us the full blessings of heaven. What an example my fellow townsmen were to us. After that experience, I wanted to do a little study about prayer.
I found that a great prayer life is more than just asking and receiving. In fact, God hearing our prayers is conditional on a few things.
First, we must realize our need of God and really hunger for righteousness, as well as not cling to known sins. Isaiah 44:3 says, "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground." This doesn’t mean if we pray for a Bentley, it will show up on our doorstep within the hour. We are often short-sighted, and God gives us things that will be for our eternal good. God doesn’t make mistakes, so if we didn’t get the Bentley, it is for our good it was withheld.
Faith is another huge element of prayer. Will we take God at His word? Hebrews 11:6 says, "He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him."
If we try to comprehend everything that is not 100 percent clear, our doubts will only increase. However, if we realize our helplessness and come to God with a humble, trusting faith, God will hear us and act in our behalf. Even though we might not see grand evidences of God's care and love, we must trust that He does indeed have infinite compassion and love for us, and our feelings will follow the thoughts we sow.
Prayer is also about praising and thanking God for all the evidences we have of His goodness.
In the end, I must joyfully disagree with my unnamed mocking friend. Prayer isn’t a waste of time. It isn’t like wishing on a star. It’s more like sharing our hearts with a best friend, a friend who sustains the universe with his power, and who loved us so much He died in our place.