by David Sisler

A few days ago, I was recounting an old prayer to a friend. I told him about the time I prayed that if God would let me win the lottery, I would give Him half of the winnings. My friend asked, "Was that going to be before taxes, or after taxes?"

"Before taxes!" I assured him.

When I shared that same prayer with my brother, he had asked, "What makes you think God will believe you instead of all of those other liars?"

A couple of years after the fact, I wonder, "What does God think about such a prayer?"

I listened as the woman said, "I prayed for more than two years, faithfully, that when the case was finally settled , our plea would be the one the judge upheld. And guess what? The judge gave the other side everything they asked for, and nothing we asked. I asked God, ‘Why have I been praying all of this time?'"

Then with a confidence born of prayer – answered and unanswered – she said, "I am waiting to see what good God will bring out of this situation."

I don't know if she has read Kathleen Norris' incredible book, Amazing Grace, but I think she would understand the statement, "prayer is not asking for what you think you want, but asking to be changed in ways you can't imagine ... People who are in the habit of praying, know that when a prayer is answered, it is never in a way that you expect."

In the middle of this summer's drought, people in the Tampa area knew what they wanted – rain. The pastor at First Baptist Church of Harney appealed to his congregation to call television and radio stations and request a moment on the air to pray for rain.

"We tried everything else," the Rev. Orville Moyer said.

I wonder if anyone asked, "Why didn't we try prayer first?"

A farmer in Walton County, Georgia, who has had to sell off part of his herd of beef cattle and whose corn crop withered under a blazing sun, has a unique prayer posture: "I go to bed every night with my fingers crossed, praying I'll wake up and have some water."

Last week, Griffin, Georgia, held a prayer meeting for rain. Four hundred people gathered in an auditorium that seats 1,000. The crowd was kept down, organizers said, because just before the meeting, it rained. Those who stayed away may have felt that since it rained without their prayers, why bother praying. And that is logical. As radio and television speaker Ben Haden asked, "If you stopped praying, and it would not radically change your life, why do you bother to pray at all?"

Officially sanctioned prayers have long been outlawed in schools and other public gatherings. Some have suggested getting around the court's latest ruling about student led prayers at football games by spontaneously chanting the Lord's Prayer. While at initial blush, that might seem like a good idea, the prayer would become a political symbol, a good luck talisman, and not an appeal or praise to the Lord God Almighty. It would not then be a prayer at all.

But you still can pray in church, right? Yes, you can, but according to a recent story in the Dallas Morning News you may run into trouble if you publically ask for prayer for someone without first getting his or her permission.

Reporter Susan Hogan-Albach says the controversy is a privacy issue: "In a few weeks, the first-ever national standards to protect medical records is expected to be finalized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The standards, designed to safeguard patients' privacy, will apply to medical records created by health care providers, health plans and health clearinghouses. The standards don't directly apply to churches." Not yet.

But even so, the Rev. Patrick Moran, the 67 year old pastor of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Gary-New Duluth, Minnesota, no longer reads the names of the sick when he prays during the celebration of the Mass. For 40 years he called the names of his flock and asked for God's mercies on them, but not any more. Legal experts predict the privacy issue will change the way prayer is conducted in public worship and on prayer chains and prayer hotlines.

"Some churches get permission from ill members before going public with prayer requests. Others say that's not necessary. After all, who wouldn't want prayer?" Hogan-Albach wrote. The first lawsuit will answer that question. But you have my permission to request prayer for me. I agree with songwriter Annie Sherwood Hawkes, "I need Thee every hour, in joy or pain; come quickly and abide, or life is vain." And I promise not to sue!


Published in The Augusta Chronicle 8/5/2000

Copyright 2000 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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