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.



A Risky Business This Thing Called Faith

It I couldI recently saw this photo on Facebook. More than the child’s face, it was the words that caused my heart to sink.

Yes.  One of the risks of believing in God is when tragedy strikes, when a rape has not been stopped, we feel as though God was somehow absent…uninterested…or  powerless to stop such a heinous act.

Even Jesus questioned his faith and his God when he uttered these words, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as he hung dying on a cross.

With the shocking and tragic bombing in Boston and horrible explosion in Texas this month, I know doubts have risen up.  Believers askWhy would God let these things happen? Why, God, do innocent people have to suffer or die?  Where were you, God?”

Meanwhile, others are saying,You foolish people. Where is your god now?”

And so my heart sinks.

When the only understanding of God is that of  some kind of superhero who is supposed to stop rapes, bombings, and explosions from happening, the transformational power of faith is missed.

When my own life takes a turn for the worst, I definitely ask “Why?” (with a few expletives thrown in, believe me). But I do not question, “Why me?”   I consider instead,  “Why now, God?”  And “What now?”  I do not believe that I suffer or struggle because God was absent in my life or knowingly allowed something to happen as a form of punishment.

Believing in God means instead that I am challenged to look beyond the suffering and to ask,What am I to learnHow am I to grow from this? Where do I go from hereWhat message of hope can I carry to others? How, with God’s help, will this darkness, this pain or this loss be transformed into Christ’s Light, Spirit’s comfort and God’s grace-filled joy?”

I make no assumptions that believing in God means that my life is going to be easy and without tragedy.  My faith is not that simplistic.  Violence happens. Accidents happen. Death and loss happen.

Which brings us back to the beginning.

Believing in God is risky.

Tragedy strikes and we question, with no simple answers to be found.  Instead we discover a long journey where doubt and anger, grief and pain await us.  We fall prey to the whispers of bystanders who claim we were alone all along and we wonder why God has forsaken us.

I meet many people in my hospice work who have gotten stuck at this part of the journey.  Their faith cannot bring them beyond their betrayal of the superhero God who should have been there in their time of need.

They are unable to move through the pain to experience God’s power of transformation.

This is why I am a person of faith.

In my own life and others, I have witnessed rage melt into serenity and bitterness evolve into forgiveness. I have watched the darkness of grief transform into brilliant joy.   I have seen people’s lives take on unexplainable changes for the better…because they took the risk to believe in a God who would  not leave them in a state of brokenness. I am blown away, time and time again, when I see these transformations.

It is a risky business this thing called faith.

But I encourage you to take the risk.  Go beyond a simplistic understanding of the Holy, release all the crap that is weighing you down (anger, fear, resentment, doubt, heartache, pain), give your brokenness over to God, and discover the beauty and grace of transformation.

Spiritual Lessons from the Desert: This Too Shall Pass

I haven’t blogged in such a long time.

Alas.  So much for being a “true” blogger who’s at it unceasingly!

It seems, however, that I needed this hiatus.  Much of my energy during this break has been poured into realizing a dream to move to cooler climates.  After literally years of prayer (of asking, seeking and knocking—Matthew 7:7), a door of opportunity opened for my family and I to move to the Pacific Northwest.  As I write this I am in a climate so very different from the desert.  Eugene is wet, lush, green, cloudy and cold…and I’m loving it!

But the lessons I have learned from my time in desert have not escaped me, especially the spiritual ones.  I am so grateful for the intense spiritual growth I’ve witnessed in myself over the last 5 1/2 years in the Sonoran Desert.  My sojourn tested me physically, emotionally and, without a doubt, spiritually.

As I reflect on this desert journey, I want to pass on some of the lessons I’ve learned.  Here is the first one:

This too shall pass.

Summer in the desert can seem to last forever. It arrives early in the year and continues month after month. It is not uncommon for late March and early April to be in the mid 90s.  The month of May continues to see temperatures rise and by June it is guaranteed to be dry and blazing.  July, August and September are hot and if luck has it, humid with the wet monsoon season.  By October, with the weather still warm both day and night, it feels like cool temperatures won’t ever grace the desert land.

And then it happens.  A sudden shift occurs in the evenings.  A cool  breeze beckons you to open your windows and doors. The nights almost require a long sleeve shirt and quite possibly, for the thinner-blood, desert dwellers, a light jacket. With little warning and almost overnight, fall arrives.

But it wasn’t just the heat that I thought would never pass. There were days and weeks in the desert when I believed my depression would never lift, financial burdens would remain heavy or illness would forever be present in my life.  I could look to the future and see no hope on the horizon—only more of the same, heat and heartache.

Ever felt this way? Ever believed life couldn’t possibly change for the better?

Like the fierce desert sun that can be so oppressive, perhaps your burdens are overwhelming you right now.  You cannot find any shelter; no sanctuary seems to exist for the renewal of your spirit.  Your life has become an ongoing battle and despair is winning.  Just as cool weather in the desert seems to have abandoned the land, so too does hope seem out of reach.

If this is how you feel, if this is your reality here and now, know this: This…too…shall… pass.

This season of your life will NOT last forever.  And if you cannot believe this for yourself, I will hold that hope for you.  I have been where you are now.

Do not give up

A new season is just around the corner!










On Being Powerless


My name is Rebecca and I admit that I am powerless over anxiety.

My life has been ruled by it for as long as I can remember.  It has negatively affected my relationships, my schooling, my job performance, and, without question, my health.  There are times when I am paralyzed by it, unable to make decisions, be efficient or sometimes even to physically move. It can be a crippling dis-order, throwing all aspects of my life out of whack and into disarray. As I constantly remind myself, however, admitting that I am powerless is my first step toward recovery.

People who resist using the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to find sobriety often immediately reject the first step, “We admitted we were powerless over alcoholism and that our lives had become unmanageable.”

What do you mean “powerless?”  I’m not weak or helpless! That’s ridiculous. I just need a stronger will power to overcome my addiction. Admitting powerlessness is like surrendering to defeat. How am I supposed to create a sober life with that attitude?  To hell with being powerless!

Yea…I get that. Claiming to be powerless is intimidating…scary…humbling. It may even cause one to feel more vulnerable. I know because often I get anxious (but, of course!) when thinking that  anxiety could possibly disrupt and screw up my life forever.

But being “powerless” for me doesn’t imply I’m weak or helpless.  It doesn’t mean I’m dis-empowered either.  Claiming powerlessness means I’m admitting that I cannot rely solely on myself.  I’ve not surrendered to defeat. Nor am I leaving it up to my willpower to help me just “get over” being anxious. When I admit that I am powerless my focus shifts away from a narcissistic self-reliance.  I am forced instead to reach out beyond myself for help.

Comfort and support often comes in the form of turning to my Higher Power for guidance and strength.  Seeking help means remembering the relief I get when I actually take the herb that eases my stress.   In claiming powerlessness, I am confessing I need to reach out to friends, maintain my spiritual disciplines and experience, once again, the peace and hope in living by the Serenity Prayer.

In essence,

I am EMPOWERED by admitting I am powerless. 

In surrendering, I gain FREEDOM.

So… what’s causing your life to be unmanageable?  What behavior or addiction needs to be purged from your life?  Are you addicted to alcohol, food, drugs, or shopping? Are you addicted to being needed?  Is your life driven or controlled by a destructive emotion like mine is?

I challenge you today to admit you need help.  Stop thinking you can do it on your own.

Be open to admitting you are powerless

and let that confession lead you

to a life of freedom, peace and joy.




How are you walking the walk?

“I needed clothes and you clothed me,

I was sick and you looked after me,

I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Matthew 25:36


I can’t wait!

In September, I will be one of about 25 volunteers who will warmly welcome about the same number of women to their very first Kairos OutsideKairos Outside is a special weekend retreat designed to support the female loved ones of men and women who are or have been incarcerated.

I am so thankful that I was able to attend as a guest in 1996.  More than that, I am so blessed that my faith has grown and eyes have been opened to the power of God’s amazing grace throughout my many years of volunteering as a team member.

As a team, we work for months preparing for the retreat weekend by praying, creating, organizing, bonding, planning, and praying some more as we follow and trust in God every step of the way.  We are an interdenominational gathering of Christians whose goal is to bath these women in God’s unconditional love.  We believe the strongest way to do this is to “listen, listen…love, love.”

We want them to know that there is a community of individuals who loves them as they are.  We understand that their lives are not easy and that they are or were in the past “doing time” along with their incarcerated family member or friend.

We realize that they have dealt with isolation and rejection, anger and hopelessness.  Often they’ve been haunted by the poor choices they’ve made. They’ve have had dreams dashed and futures put on hold.  These women have been prejudged and looked down upon because they are involved with or related to someone (a spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, child, friend, or parent) who is a felon.

Our hope for our guests on the weekend is that they will find the support they need through small group interactions.  It is a genuine support that continues long after they return home as they participate in future Kairos Outside events.

If you feel called to share this same unconditional love with inmates, Kairos Inside, an equally powerful program, is for you.

Wouldn’t you love to experience this for yourself—either as a guest or as a team member?  I highly recommend you check out the  website for Kairos Prison Ministry and see what they are doing around the world and perhaps even in your very own community.

Being a person of faith doesn’t mean solely “believing.” You’ve got to walk the walk.

Faithfulness involves taking your faith and using it to transform the world for the better. (Hmmm…makes me wonder if the Westboro Congregation believes they are doing just that. See my recent WTF?!? post for more on these misdirected people.) Anyway…

Go out and make a difference in the world!

Share God’s transformational love

in whatever ministry/volunteer program to which you are guided.