The Purpose of Prayer

praying handsI’ve pondered the power of prayer for much of my life.

Nearly 16 years into my work as a minister, I still question, “How exactly does this prayer stuff work?” Because honestly, I have had a good number of prayers go unanswered (or at least have yet to be answered)!

Admittedly I sometimes wonder, “Who am I to pray for a situation that at first blush appears hopeless? Who am I to challenge God’s will or to knock loudly on those divine chamber doors requesting, even passionately demanding, a miracle?”

Many Christian brothers and sisters would say, “Who am I to NOT do so?”  Are we not encouraged by Jesus to “Ask…seek…knock”?

One of my patients in Arizona was a man in his 50’s dying of cancer.

“Frank” had been battling the disease for over 2 years.  During that time, in addition to traditional treatments, Frank was under the care of a faith healer.  This healer would come to his home on a weekly basis, lead the family in scripture studies, and then pray over Frank for his healing.

When his cancer showed signs of worsening,  Frank was told his insufficient faith was at fault.  When the cancer advanced further, the blame fell on the wayward son whose reckless living, according to the faith healer, was detrimentally blocking God’s healing power.

By the time I came into their lives as their hospice chaplain, Frank and his family were spiritually crushed and emotionally wounded.  I, on the other hand,  was outraged when I heard their story. He was only on our program for a short time but I did my very best at bring peace into this family’s life and offered words of assurance to this man who felt abandoned by his God.

I have often thought of this man and his family, the promises and subsequent accusations of the faith healer, and asked “Since when did the act of prayer mean getting exactly what we ask for!?!”

Certainly there are numerous scriptures to support this.  Here are just two that speak of the promises of prayer:

John 15:7
But if you stay joined to me and my words remain in you, you may ask any request you like, and it will be granted! (NLT)

Mark 11:24
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (NIV)

I imagine that Frank’s faith healer was grounding his belief in part on  James 5:16: Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (NIV)

But I believe that the best prayer example is given by Jesus, himself, before the betrayal that leads to his crucifixion. “Abba, Father,” he pleads, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me…” (Mark 14: 36a).

Yes, Jesus prays for what he desires—to ultimately be spared his life—but in the end, though he asks, his request is not granted.

Perhaps the true lesson from his prayer is what he wisely ends it with, “Yet not what I will, but what you will” he tells God (Mark 14: 36b). He asks for what he desires, but in the end seeks God’s will for his life.

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”  Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Kierkegaard’s words couldn’t be more true for me.

What I have noticed over the years is that through prayer I am more easily able to change what I can and accept what I can’t. Prayer teaches me to surrender my own will and my desires for immediate answers and results, and to leave room for God’s grace in God’s time.

I cannot say Kierkegaard’s understanding of prayer makes the act easier or clearer—especially when there are areas in my life where years of prayer for situations or people have gone unanswered.  At times I have been left wondering why I even bother lifting up my fervent requests. But as Kierkegaard suggests, when I look back upon my life it is revealed that through prayer my very nature has been evolving.

And perhaps, just perhaps, for this alone I should be grateful.



Ready to Meet God?

ReadyI see this sign about once a month on my way to visit patients in Sweet Home. (I could have easily “met God” that day trying to take this picture on a road with very little shoulder!)

I get the message.

The concerned Christian who stuck this sign in the ground seeks to persuade folks to change their ways, repent and be saved that they will one day ascend to heaven.

I have visited with similar individuals and marvel at their theological stance.  It’s ALL about the end-game.  All life’s questions and problems are resolved through Biblical scripture about the end of times when Jesus returns.

But that isn’t enough for me.

When I am struggling, it is not enough to know that there is a place for me in heaven or that God will restore the earth and make all things new after the second coming.

Without a doubt, I believe we should turn away from our destructive ways and discover more grounded, peaceful, and loving ways to live out our lives.  I am also convinced that in doing so we are indeed spiritually preparing ourselves for death.

But what I want to know—what I NEED to know—is that in my moments of grief or sadness or pain or bitterness that my High Power, my God, my Savior has my back TODAY.

So when I pass a sign that asks if I am ready to meet God I say, “Absolutely.”


Every day I am ready to encounter the Holy.

I am seeking God in the midst of my conversations with the dying.

I am praying that a divine grace and peace fills the heart of someone grieving when I am at a loss of the “right” words to say.

I am watching for the light of Christ illuminating from the eyes of a kind stranger.

I am on the look out for God’s Spirit at work in my life and in the world.

You see, long before I reach heaven’s gate, I plan to experience this Kingdom of God that has already come*, to be transformed by grace and to walk side-by-side with my Savior—everyday.

So…How do you plan to meet God today?


 Nor will people say, Look! Here [it is]! or, See, [it is] there! For behold, the kingdom of God is within you [in your hearts] and among you [surrounding you].  Luke 17:21 Amplified Bible

Called to Pray for and Forgive our Enemies

Let’s face it.

We are a  society that has become accustomed to violence in the media.

Turn on the television, catch the latest blockbuster flick, or load up a video game and violence will be found.  Guaranteed.  We are used to it. We expect it. We even, at times, crave those blood drenched, action packed story lines.

And yet, when the real bullets begin to fly as they did early last Friday morning in Aurora, Colorado, we are shocked and horrified. Fantasy becoming reality? I cannot even begin to imagine what movie-goers that night were experiencing as a fun night out became a never-to-be-forgotten nightmare.

Image from Warner Brother’s Upcoming “Gangster Squad” movie.

It is so tragic.

Warner Bros. Pictures quickly and rightly responded in part by pulling the preview of the upcoming crime movie which depicts mobsters opening fire in, of all places, a movie theater–a preview we might not have had any emotional response to until Friday’s incident.

The sociologist in me cannot help but wonder about the impact of the vast amounts of fantasy violence on individuals and society as a whole.  What causes an individual to plan such a heinous  and senseless crime? Is there a desire to be like the brutal characters on film or in the video games?  James Holmes, the shooter did apparently declare himself  to be “the Joker”,  one of Batman’s main nemeses. Was he living out his own dark fantasy?

According to Daily Mail (, “Experts believe it is more likely that Holmes was suffering from a genetic psychotic illness which could have acted like a ‘time bomb’ set to go off any time between the ages of 15 and 25.”

I think about this disturbed man’s future.

Should he be convicted, life will not be easy in prison.  The reality is, his mental illness, if that is indeed what ails him, probably won’t be well managed once incarcerated.  Because of the nature of the crime and the many innocent victims (especially the women and children) his welcome, by both correction officers and inmates, will be less than warm and friendly behind prison walls. Solitary confinement may be his only chance of physical survival, but the 23 hours a day in a small cell may exacerbate his “psychotic illness”.

So right about now you might be saying, “So what?! Who cares what happens to that  psycho? He murdered 12 people, including a 6 year old girl, and injured dozens and dozens more.  He deserves the harshest punishment, even death!  So what if he is shanked and murdered by another inmate or ignored or neglected so long by prison staff that he takes his own life in solitary?”

But here’s the hard part for followers of Christ.

Within the Christian tradition, Jesus challenges believers to “love your enemies and bless the one who curses you, and do what is beautiful to the one who hates you, and pray over those who take you by force and persecute you” (Aramaic Bible in Plain English, ©2010). He also asks that we forgive.

For most of us, James Holmes is not our personal enemy, but we may perceive him as such.  He has brought fear into our lives.  We may feel cursed now.  Going out to the movies may draw out more anxiety than joyful anticipation.  Or perhaps we have lost faith in a secure society as a whole–we feel “taken by force” and “persecuted” by our own culture of violence acted out by Holmes.

I was moved by the peaceful response by the Amish community in October 2006 when Charles Roberts killed 10 Amish school girls as an act of revenge against God for the death of his own newborn daughter 9 years prior.  He stated that he had never forgiven God.  What amazed me the most is that at his funeral—he had committed suicide before police could apprehend him—there were more Amish people present than non-Amish folks. Talk about living out one’s faith! They were showing us all what it meant to pray for one’s enemy and most of all, to find forgiveness.

I don’t know what I would do if a family member of mine were to be murdered. I honestly don’t.  But I do pray that through my faith, I would be able to transform all hate, fear, and sorrow and move into a place of forgiveness and peace.

May we come together as a nation in this time of sorrow for the tragedy in Aurora.  Let us pray not only for the families and friends of all the victims, but also stretch our comfort zone and pray for James Holmes and his family.


When searching for a religious/spiritual place to call home…

“If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division,it were better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act. For it is clear that the purpose of a remedy is to cure; but if the remedy should only aggravate the complaint it had better be left alone.”

— ‘Abdu’l-Baha —

Acid Test of Faith

The acid test of our faith in the promises of God is never found in the easy-going, comfortable ways of life, but in the great emergencies, the times of storm and of stress, the days of adversity, when all human aid fails.
– Ethel Bell

In August 1942, the SS West Lashaway was torpedoed and sunk by an U-66 in the Caribbean. The handful of survivors, including four children, endured a three-week ordeal in an open boat with minimal supplies before being rescued. One of them would later write a book about the experience, “In Peril on the Sea: The Story of Ethel Bell and Her Children, Mary and Robert”.