Grace Notes: Surprised by prayer

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By The Staff

When my daughter Alison was 3, I attempted to teach her to pray. Actually, I wanted to teach her about "giving money to Jesus."

She had put 50 cents of her own in the offering plate at church one Sunday morning and then misplaced one of her shoes that afternoon.

We didn't know about the shoe until the next morning as we scrambled to get to preschool on time and turned the house upside down looking for her shoe.

As a last resort, I suggested we pray.

Alison and I knelt by the couch and in earnest pleaded, "Dear God, you know where Alison's shoe is and we don't. Please show us so we can get to school on time. Amen."

Truthfully, I didn't expect God to answer our prayer. Although I know he knew the whereabouts of the shoe, I considered it a trivial matter to the Creator of the Universe. I had prayed to set an example for my child.

After saying "Amen," Alison immediately ran into my bedroom and found her shoe under my bed - with a dollar bill in it.

"Jesus found my shoe and Jesus gave me money just like I gave him!" she squealed.

It completely and utterly surprised me.

It also fueled my curiosity. I mean, what is prayer and how does it work? (And does it really make a difference?) Is there a right way - or a wrong way - to pray? How much faith does prayer require? (And is it OK if I don't have much?)

Are God's answers merely coincidences? Would Alison have found her shoe if we hadn't prayed - and would it have had a dollar in it?

To me, prayer defies logic. Throughout the Bible, God has demonstrated that he works both independently of people and yet often doesn't act without the prayers of his people.

He bids his children to approach him boldly and make our requests known, yet doesn't guarantee that he'll give us what we ask for. There are no magic words, no secrets to be unlocked, no sure-fire formulas. We pray and God is God.

Sometimes that means the people we pray for are healed or their souls saved and sometimes that means nothing outwardly happens and we walk away scratching our heads wondering why we pray at all.

Some people are called "prayer warriors." I know a woman who prays before she goes to a prayer meeting. She prays for the meeting itself, for the people who will be praying and the prayers that will be prayed. She believes in prayer, believes there's great power in prayer, believes that God can and will answer her prayers.

That's where I fall short. I believe God answers prayer because I've seen his answers, but there's something in me that says, "Yeah, but."

Yeah, but would it have happened anyway?

Today is National Day of Prayer. I always feel guilty, or at least slimy of soul, when that day comes around because it reminds me of how little I pray and that when I do, how faith-deficient my prayers are.

I've been disappointed, having prayed for things - in great faith even - that didn't turn out like I had believed they would.

These days I know better not to demand things from God by saying, "I prayed in faith believing that this is according to your will and so you have to answer," as I've known some people to do. But I tend to go to the opposite extreme with the attitude, "Why pray? God's going to do what he's going to do anyway."

Even so, there's something in me that wants to keep believing that God hears me when I pray and that he is pleased to answer my requests.

So, I will pray for our nation this Thursday. I'll pray for our leaders, for our economy, for the uncertainty and restlessness many feel. I'll pray for my children and my friends, that they will know the mercy and grace of our great God.

The good news is, prayer isn't just for those with great faith but also for those who shake their heads in amazement when God tucks a dollar bill inside a little girl's shoe and hides it under a bed so that her doubting mother will be driven to her knees.