October 22, 2020

Marci Alborghetti: Lessons from Jonah (and the Ninevites) on Prayer


“Oh, look!” I sneered to my husband, the Sunday paper set out before me.  “Pope Francis is calling for the world to pray about ISIS slaughtering every non-extremist in its path.  That oughta do a world of good.”

Almost immediately I was hit be a wave of shame so powerful that it swept my breath away.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit really doesn’t work in such mysterious ways.

I left the paper and went into our office.  Closed the door.  Put my head in my hands.  And tried to think.  I was horrified at myself.  When had I become Jonah?  When had I become so cynical and disgusted with the world that I’d somehow, at some level, begun to think that prayer simply didn’t matter?  Or, worse, if we’re talking about Jonah here, that it shouldn’t matter?

My life itself is a testament to the efficacy of prayer.  I’ve written entire books on the efficacy of prayer, not only its importance and relevance, but even how to do it in difficult personal situations.  It struck me as I thought about this that I believed strongly in the power of prayer … for individuals.  I believe that when I pray for God’s healing and forgiveness, God hears me.  I believe that when I pray for the healing and forgiveness of those I know or love, God listens.  And even when I don’t get exactly what I pray for, I still know that God has heard me and has given me what I need, if not what I want.  Whenever I confront a personal problem or challenge, I turn immediately to God.

But when it comes to the events of the world, something different happens.  I don’t think it has anything to do with God.
And that’s precisely the problem.  There is a part of me, and at least a part of many others if the discussions I’ve had since the Sunday paper incident are any indication, that has come to fear that maybe God doesn’t want anything to do with us.  Not us, individually, never that; but us, collectively:  the world that He gave into our care and that we’ve turned into such a teeming mess.

It may even be subconscious, this insidious notion that God has ceased to care about the world, or more accurately, its tribes and nations and economies and politics.  I would never stand up at a lectern and tell my audience that God has had it with us, that He has reached the point where if the earth is moving to vomit us off it, He will only shrug in passive empathy.  I would never tell anyone that.  But I might think it.

Ukraine01I might think it because I am ashamed, afraid, of how disappointed I imagine God must be with us.  How can He not be, I ask myself, when we have so fallen so far from the teachings of Jesus?  It’s not only the things we do ourselves to betray God, but the things we tacitly accept as a people, a congregation, a nation, a world.  As I write this, children are being deported to countries they fled because of negligence, abuse, slavery, rape.  American children in urban public schools suffer and fail because of de facto and inherent racism and its financial and social consequences.  Minority workers are not even close to pay parity with whites. Homelessness and hunger are rampant, and many of those joining the wretched ranks are veterans and young people who have no place and no hope.  We are at war in countries that many of us can’t find on a map, while we and watch quietly as other countries that we can’t afford to offend commit atrocities. And although I am no greeniac, even I can see that we have almost utterly corrupted the earth God gave us charge of.

So it’s difficult to imagine that God loves us enough to receive our prayers when we seem so utterly unworthy of His love, or our own.  Some, unwilling to address this secret fear, throw up their hands in ecstatic despair and cling to the idea that the end-times are nigh, and isn’t it fortunate that they’re among the good guys?  A very Jonah-like perception, it seems to me, and one that assumes a knowledge of God more intimate than may be possible for most humans.

But here is my, perhaps our, mistake:  God isn’t like us.  God isn’t paralyzed with fear, made nasty and petty by anger, drowning in the muck of self-absorbed human nature, greedy lest there is not enough to go around, ever determined to have a fair share even as that “fair” share grows with each passing year or day.  Sometimes I worry that we take the “made in God’s image” concept a bit too far.  After all, we were made in God’s image for about a nano-second, relatively speaking, before we screwed that up and got booted out.  Who knows what Adam and Eve, made perfectly in God’s image, looked like before the fall; we only know what we looked like afterward.  And if that idea makes your head explode, consider this simpler one: just because we were made in God’s image, doesn’t mean we can even aspire to the magnificence of God.  If Adam and Eve couldn’t hack it living, as they were, in God’s very company, we surely should wrap our arms securely around Jesus’ message of humility and hang on tight.

I have a friend, whom I mentioned in an early iMonk post, who has spent nearly two decades studying scripture, even teaching himself Hebrew to better pursue his objective.  He says that with careful study of Old and New Testament Biblical prophecy, one can know God; and not only know God but know what God will do and even when.  With all due respect to his work, I say, Baloney.  God cannot be so fully comprehended, much less described, by our little, tiny brains.  I think that mortals who try to constrain or comprehensively explain God do so at their own peril.  It is not a risk I am willing to take.

It was a risk Jonah was willing to take (and look what happened to him).  But the people of Nineveh did not take engage this risk.  They simply believed in the power and majesty of God.  No one less than God’s own curmudgeonly prophet had told them that God was about to destroy them for their considerable sins.  They didn’t doubt that God could do it. Oh no.  But they wondered if His compassion might be stronger than His anger.  They wondered and they acted upon that wonder-ing.  They prayed for the God my friend claims is unchangeable to change His mind.  Not a quick prayer on the way to beat the slaves.  Not a rote muttering before another gluttonous meal.  Not a few quiet, embarrassed words after the latest orgy.  Nineveh prayed for days, as a nation, dressed in rags, hearts and minds overflowing with repentance and, yes, fear.  Not an ounce of cynicism among these sinners.  Not a rationalization, not a reasonable doubt.

Recently, my friend Will finished a prayer at the end of an evening at our city’s homeless shelter.  It was a pretty typical shelter prayer, thanking God for the food, the volunteers, the warm space, another day of sobriety.  Not too jazzy, nothing to crazy.  As the prayer circle was breaking up, all heading to their cots, Will spoke up.

“We owe a real debt to our prayer warriors tonight, and all the prayer warriors who came before them.”

People stopped shuffling away, turned to stare quizzically at him.

“Don’t you people realize that this place, this shelter, exists because people have prayed it into existence?  Before some of you were even born, people were praying for you.  Your parents, your grandparents, your ancestors.  Church people.  Ministers.  Social workers.  Doctors and nurses.  They all prayed for you to be safe and well, even those who didn’t know you.  They prayed, and now we have this place.  That’s what prayer does.  That’s all I wanted to say.”

Iraqi Worshippers Pray For Pope John Paul IIIs it reasonable for us to pray with this kind of faith?  Is it possible to be so fervent in this day and age?  Do we believe enough not only in God’s power, because of course we do, but in God’s willingness to engage with us? Can millions of Catholics follow Francis’ lead and together pray away the rage and violent righteousness of ISIS? Or is it easier to condemn the militants as a bunch of animals?  Can billions all over the world pray for an accessible and effective cure for Ebola?  Or is it more pragmatic to close our borders and blame our government?  Can the 90 million Americans who publicly oppose the death penalty pray it to death?  Or is it more sensible to anemically hope for incremental change somewhere, sometime, while petitioning secular leaders who won’t touch the issue with a ten-foot pole?

It seems ridiculous to even suggest prayer as a solution for such things, doesn’t it?  Who among us would proclaim the need or the efficacy of such individual and mass prayer to our co-workers, bosses, elected leaders, even our own family members or friends?  Who would dare make such a spectacle of herself?  Who would put his reputation on the line in such a way?  Who wouldn’t fear being thought of as cracked?

Yet it seems to me that cracked — open — is just what we need to be.  We need to be broken open, as Jonah was finally broken open, in order first to realize that it is not God who refuses to engage with us, but we who have lost our confidence in God, and then to understand that the very fact that we can be broken is proof that God is not like us.  God cannot be broken, but God can use our brokenness to mend us and the world.

In the end, wasn’t that God’s message to Jonah?  Look, My silly child, you are not Me.

God’s judgment is not our judgment, God’s mercy is definitely not our mercy, and God’s magnificent ways are, thank God, certainly not our puny ways. The people of Nineveh knew that, and so they prayed.  From the greatest to the smallest, they prayed.  In sack-cloth and ashes.  With wailing and repentance.  In fear and in hope.  In the understanding that the greatness and compassion and very Presence of God was – and always is – so near, so profound, so powerful.  So effective.

• • •

Marci’s books are published by Bayard/Twenty-Third Publications.

Her newest release is called Healing Day by Day: Scripture, Reflections, Practices and Prayers.


  1. Faulty O-Ring says

    If prayer is effectual, then ISIS will win for sure. After all, they pray a lot.

    And since you are apparently a famous book author, no doubt you have many people praying for you right now. That means that God will help you in ways that he would not help an unloved homeless man with no one to pray for him. As we all know, God is on the side of the popular and powerful.

    • Back to the kind of post I expect from you, FOR. Yawn.

    • But in an attempt to cast a pearl to the swine, let me say that the reason ISIS prayers might not be answered is the same reason a Christian’s prayers might not be answered: God is not a magic-wand God, not a genie-in-the-bottle God, and not a vending-machine God. If He answered every prayer as WE want them to be answered, humanity would’ve been obliterated long ago.

      • Faulty O-Ring says

        Thanks for the pearl. So what you’re saying is that God does whatever he wants, regardless of our prayers. In what way, then, can they be said to be efficacious?

        • Patrick kyle says

          Way to go FOR. Take a complex multi-faceted and multi-dimensional relationship between God and His people and dismiss it out of hand because you think we treat it as a simple a simple quid pro quo AND because God doesn’t act like a candy machine.

          The Scriptures say ‘The mouth of a fool calls for blows.’ You sound like you qualify. Take your BS agnosticism and go somewhere else.

          • Patrick kyle says

            I can handle doctrinal differences, I don’t mind a good fight over social issues, However, I find the cynicism and mockery of people like FOR, StuartB , and ATW to be a real turn off and an incentive to spend my online time elsewhere.

    • Warning FOR – those who insult our guest authors will find themselves outside the conversation.

      • Faulty O-Ring says

        Comment deleted. Disrespectful.

      • Patrick kyle says

        I can handle doctrinal differences, I don’t mind a good fight over social issues, However, I find the cynicism and mockery of people like FOR, StuartB , and ATW to be a real turn off and an incentive to spend my online time elsewhere.

    • And with IHOP and other places 24/7 prayer, you’d think this world would be a paradise by now. Filled with Dominion Joel’s Army Christians wielding swords and converting all to Jesus’ name…

      • Given how complex and mysterious God’s creation and nature are, why should we expect prayer to be so cut and dried? C.S. Lewis mentions the inconsistency of those who criticize prayer: If we pray and nothing happens, then God doesn’t answer prayer and prayer “doesn’t work;” if we pray and get a result, then we can see the natural causes that led up to that result and disbelieve once again in God and prayer. I have agonized about prayer in the past but have simply resolved in recent years to obey. God said pray; I’ll pray. Figuring out how God could or should answer that prayer is not my business.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Filled with Dominion Joel’s Army Christians wielding swords and converting all to Jesus’ name…

        Converting on pain of death, just like ISIS/ISIL.

  2. The story of Jonah is a fascinating one to me. I’ve read commentaries that say Jonah probably lost relatives to the Ninevites. So Imagine during WWII a Jew being told by God to go to Berlin and preach repentance to the SS. Jonah’s reaction is totally understandable to me.

    Also curious…I believe their repentance was relatively short-lived, they soon (within several generations) fell back into their wicked ways and God wiped them out.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Nineveh is still around under another name (that’s in the news these days regarding ISIS/ISIL).
      It’s called Mosul.
      My sister-in-law (an Assyrian Christian) is a Ninevite from Mosul.
      The province of Iraq (or Kurdistan) containing Mosul is still called “Nineveh Province.

      • =*The More You Know*=

      • In fact, the tomb of Jonah himself was destroyed there just this year!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Blown up because of “idolatry”? Like how the site of Mohammed’s home in Mecca got bulldozed and turned into public toilets? (How’s THAT for respect for their own founding Prophet…)

          You’ve really got to love Islamic Iconoclasm. Destroying their own faith’s historical trace in the name of Purity. They keep this up, eventually their Pure Islam will be just another mythology, another fairy tale with NO connection to the real world or history, nothing you can point at and say “It Happened Here”.

          One feature of all three Abrahamic Monotheisms is they DO have a history. They happened in the Real World instead of some mythic “long time ago in a galaxy far far away”. They had a History — real historical events happening to real historical people in real historical places — and that History was a part of them.

  3. There is a part of me, and at least a part of many others if the discussions I’ve had since the Sunday paper incident are any indication, that has come to fear that maybe God doesn’t want anything to do with us. Not us, individually, never that; but us, collectively: the world that He gave into our care and that we’ve turned into such a teeming mess. It may even be subconscious, this insidious notion that God has ceased to care about the world, or more accurately, its tribes and nations and economies and politics.

    I have/would have had the same reaction to the call to pray about the war with ISIS as you, but for a slightly different reason – not that God is indifferent to us in general, but that He doesn’t care about our desire not to suffer. We *are* going to suffer, and often at the hands of our fellow humans. It’s part and parcel of living in a corrupt and fallen world. And it’s no use praying for that to just not happen or stop happening. We are called to endure the suffering, and to alleviate it in others where possible – in this case, caring for the refugees, or (start the “just war” arguments now) fighting ISIS.

    But the only true and efficacious prayer to end suffering is the prayer for Jesus to return to this earth and finally end this wicked old order of things. Anything else is a waste of breath.

    • I do think that enduring the suffering of seemingly unanswered prayer is something God calls us to, and is part of the way he forms us in prayer, and why we should persist in prayer even when it doesn’t get the “results” we think it should.

  4. If God expects us to alleviate suffering, then I would think he would want us to pray for the strength and wisdom to undertake such a task. If he wants us to pray for strength and wisdom to undertake the work he gives us to do, then he must also care about the goals toward which we are praying, in this case, alleviating suffering. Why would he command us to do something, such as alleviating suffering, and not support us in doing so by responding to our prayers for help in that direction? If God wants me to alleviate suffering, he must also want me to pray about it.

  5. Adam Tauno Williams says

    “Don’t you people realize that this place, this shelter, exists because people have prayed it into existence?”

    Honestly, to which I say, without shame – “Baloney”. I know it won’t be popular, but I’m standing by it. The shelter exists because someone built it, someone funds it, and someone volunteers there. It is there because someone DOES something.

    Maybe I have experienced far to much Smug-Prayer-Warrior with clean uncalloused hands standing Victorious over the result of other people’s Labors – or as often as not – with just as much Smug – over other people’s Defeat Ugh.

    I will be the contrarian on this issue every time.

    “It seems ridiculous to even suggest prayer as a solution for such things, doesn’t it?”

    That’s the rub. I do not pray as a “solution”. Because that is, exactly, ridiculous.

    “Who among us would proclaim the need or the efficacy of such individual and mass prayer to our co-workers, bosses, elected leaders”

    Define “efficacy”. That is the issue.

    • But isn’t this cynical attitude towards prayer insulting to God? Aren’t you saying that our efforts are all there is? That his intervention means little or nothing?

      • Only if you expect God to intervene in certain ways, ie, doing it all/most for us. If your expectations are more reasonable, ie, God has given US abilities and dominion and told us to do things ourselves…everything above and beyond is his reasonable intervention.

        • Side note – the more I take control back of my life and out of “God’s hands”, waiting for him to bless or do or lead or whatever…the better my life has become and the happier I’m becoming.

          Conclusion? By faith I believe that I and whoever put these ideas in my head had it all wrong before. And I wasted years…a decade or more…because of bad theology, not realizing that God wanted me to take care of myself first.

        • ISTM that the vocabulary of “intervention” belongs with ideas that God is very far “out there” to one degree or another. Years ago I began to resist trying to figure out exactly how God works, or to delineate how much of what happens is properly God’s work and how much is mine. I believe that God is always at work among people (and things, somehow), and I will never know what that entails because I can’t process God’s dealings with everyone who ever lived and the intricacies of him doing what he does without treading on anyone’s freedom. Besides that, if we believe his Spirit has been given to us, and we are humble enough, we will simply do what love requires; that, too is God, working in/with/through us, but not apart from us, and all glory for any good that happens belongs to God nonetheless. I’m with Damaris; I will pray, and trust as far as I am able in any given moment.

          This is another area wherein I am grateful to be Orthodox. It’s not customary for Orthodox to keep prayer diaries and record every little detail of “answers to prayer.” (I did that for a time in my Protestant days; overall, it just made me more anxious and feeling even more pressured as a Perfectionist.) At every liturgy we end up praying for the whole world and various subsets thereof, and the unified prayer of the congregation is “Lord, have mercy” – which is a plea for God to act in such a way that healing is worked in the people and situations mentioned. If we see the effects of that, good; if not, we can still trust that is what he is doing, because that is his nature.


      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > But isn’t this cynical attitude towards prayer insulting to God?

        Nope, not all all. But what a lot of people do – which is using Scripture as a grimoire – is. Not only insulting to God but even more so to their fellow human kind.

        The Scriptures instruct people to pray. It is a discipline. That is enough. It doesn’t spend much time on why.

        What prayer does or doesn’t do isn’t much of a concern – at least not according to Scripture – otherwise it would be more explicit about it. It is a discipline to be practiced. Once one has turned the corner and been willing to accept the claims the Scriptures make about themselves I just don’t see the dilemma here; what the specific efficacy of prayer is pales in comparison to other questions Scripture leaves nakedly open [and which in texts like Job God pointedly refuses to answer – or at least refuses to provide a ‘modern’ answer].

        But what prayer plainly does not do is feed the hungry; food does that.

        • I do understand where you are coming from, I used to think the same way, besides God has no need of my asking and my asking is so tarnished that it would not do much good if it were granted. But last year I read Dallas Willard and something he said struck me: we should believe that our requests will be heard and mean something. It was simple but completely rhymed with Jesus’ teaching, I still am cynical about much, but hopefully there is still a little of the child in me to simply ask and expect my Dad to say “yes”.

          • Yes, I’m drifting toward what you say, too, Robin. I don’t think God wants us to be cynical about our communication with Him

        • Patrick Kyle says

          ATW- “What prayer does or doesn’t do isn’t much of a concern – at least not according to Scripture – otherwise it would be more explicit about it.”

          ??? You are not getting a free pass on that one. Go back and read what Jesus said about prayer. Read the rest of the NT says concerning prayer.

          To recap: We are instructed to pray. Jesus says that His Father hears our prayers and we should expect Him to answer. The apostles say to cast our all cares upon Him in prayer. (C’mon and do the reading)

          Just as you fear that people will pray and not act, I think a far bigger concern (reflected in your comments and several others) is that too often we act and don’t pray. You slight God and His word when you elevate our actions and will above the promises He has given us concerning our prayers.

    • Ah, the mysterious relationship between prayer and God’s work vs. human action and accomplishment. In my experience, there is too little trust in both and too much credit claimed for both.

    • Baloney, Yes. And also, No.

      See the poem that I posted below.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Thing is, all too many times “I’ll Pray About It(TM)” or “I’ll Pray For You(TM)” is Christianese for doing nothing. And feeling very Spiritual because of it. Screwtape has been busy with redefinitions and semantics.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        “Prayer Warrior” is the Christian version of a Slacktivist.

        I am much more comfortable if we take out the “warrior” part of the metaphor. I am exhausted to the point of irritation by war-everything.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I am much more comfortable if we take out the “warrior” part of the metaphor. I am exhausted to the point of irritation by war-everything.

          Makes you wonder if these guys wouldn’t have been happier if they’d gotten turned on to Warhammer 40K instead of the Bible.
          The rest of us would all be better off if they had.

      • Exactly. Which is why all such rhetoric has died for me. Why I don’t care one bit what “God’s will” is. How about I work and walk in my will and God comes along or meets me there or guides me as I go?

        Huh, what a novel concept, walking by faith.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > Which is why all such rhetoric has died for me.


          > Why I don’t care one bit what “God’s will” is


    • Just a personal word: I have known many prayer warriors (and prayer can be warfare) over the years, including a retired college teacher who prayed for her former students every day and fellow choir members who prayed for my healing several years ago. I am here because of those who worked, prayed, and worked at their prayers!

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        “and prayer can be warfare”

        Respectfully, no it is not.

        Warfare fills morgues, mass graves, and hospitals. Warfare leaves men and women crippled and scarred; both body and soul. Warfare shatters economies and decimates the legacy of civilizations.

        Prayer does none of those things.

        • We have to acknowledge the metaphorical nature of the religious language we use. If there is indeed real evil in the world, and if indeed we are a part of a Kingdom that aims to triumph over evil, then warfare language is very appropriate. It can be, and is obviously, abused.

          If you know of a genuine prayer warrior or two, usually kind, quiet, older people who have seen their share of tragedy in life and yet display the warmth of Christ, you should have this conversation with them. It’s not a gig for everyone — but there is a profound seriousness to that kind of calling.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            >if indeed we are a part of a Kingdom that aims to triumph over evil,
            > then warfare language is very appropriate

            No, I disagree. Warfare language is the language of empire. Empires do not triumph over evil, they plant flags, they participate in evil.

      • Yeah, I like prayer warriors, too and don’t mind the term. It’s a good description of people who can be counted on to pray even when answers don’t seem to be coming.

        • After factoring in Adam’s comments, but recogizing the warfare/soldier metaphor is sprinkled throughout the Bible, I wonder if “Prayer Soldier” would be a better term than “Prayer Warrior”. “Warrior” does seem to feel a bit “tribal” and “war-ish,” whereas “Soldier” brings in the Biblical principles of obedience, mission and discipline.

          • The “warrior” archetype found in mythology, in OT descriptions of YHWH, and well-explained by Jungian psychology, is least of all about war/killing. It has more to do with initiating, providing security for those in your care, and as you mention Rick, discipline.

            A fantastic read on archetypes is King, Warrior, Magician, Lover by Gillette and Moore.

          • Oh, Sean, with all due respect, use what you can, but tread carefully around Jung. His Faustian explorations in spirituality included cultivating a familiar, and, in his “Seven Sermons to the Dead,” he named Abraxas as the highest god, who integrated, and transcended, the Biblical God and Satan.

          • Nobody’s perfect 🙂

            I’ve found him to be helpful on a couple of topics, reading from an academic, literary, and therapeutic lens. His understanding of the human condition, and how the psyche works, is very helpful. He’s respectful of the Christian tradition. And “Jungian” as it exists now is more an academic branch than anything else.

            But thanks for the heads up. I haven’t delved into his personal spirituality, and I’m not much interested in it.

          • Yes, Jung was a keen psychologist. Unlike his mentor, Freud, he did not reduce everything to a sexual explanation; rather, he saw sexuality itself as an expression of spiritual reality, and this gave him the great advantage of being able to apprehend human beings in something other than a tragic mode, again, unlike his mentor.

    • Adam – yes to everything you’ve said.

    • Actions may also be prayer.

      • Yes!

      • Christiane says

        ROBERT, when you said ‘actions may also be prayer’, it recalled an incident with my daughter who lives in an older part of our city . . . we were going to lunch at Panera’s, and there was an old man sitting on the ground outside for whom my daughter would sometimes buy a sandwich and coffee on a cold day
        . . . true to her habit, she said ‘go get a table, Mom’ while she paid for food and took it out to him
        . . . so she sits down at table and I am all quiet and I am looking down at my plate, and it’s
        ‘saying the blessing, Mom?’ . . . I looked at her and said, ‘I think you just did’

  6. Dan Crawford says

    Thank you, Marci, for your insightful, and to this all-too-cynical man, hopeful essay.

  7. The God who answers prayer is the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

    ISIS does not believe in that God.

    The reason that ISIS might win is because people do not hate and fight evil. But are more interested in fighting “global warming”.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And now we go into “My God’s REAL, their god’s FALSE.” Very Christianese.

    • Not mutually exclusive. Even with scare quotes.

    • David Cornwell says

      “are more interested in fighting “global warming”.

      Steve, if the heat gets turned up enough, you will be praying also.

    • Jesus said it himself. He came not to bring people together…but to divide.

      He is the dividing line. That’s just the way it is. With Jesus there is life. Without Jesus, no life.

      You got a problem wit dat? Take it up wit him.

  8. Prayer is such a tricky issue.

    Was the end of WWII due to the prayers for peace of many, many Godly people? If so, does that mean the two bombs dropped on Japan were answers to those prayers of peace?

    If I go that route, then I need to reflect on the London blitz. I imagine many Godly Germans were praying for a quick end of the war, too, and the bombings of London were (perhaps) God’s way of answering those prayers for peace.

    Maybe this is why Jesus preached about loving our enemies. Because once we begin attributing God to victories over our enemies, well…who’s to say God isn’t in our defeats, too.

  9. Marci and others,
    If you take the time to read this poem I wrote following a prayer meeting a few years ago…well, I think it fits with some of what Marci says, and shows some of the struggle, too.

    God Teaches Me a Lesson
    (R. Rosenkranz, 2011)

    The sanctuary stands largely silent; in its midst, a circle
    of sixteen sit, heads bowed, eyes closed, speaking to God.

    His spirit is electric this night, arcing through us with strong
    surges of His presence; I sense His son beside me, breathing.

    Mouths utter prayers with frequent randomness; like popped
    popcorn they fill the sanctuary for Him to smell, touch, taste, eat.

    The words are heartfelt, lifted toward a Heaven we all believe in;
    praises for His infinite love, thanks for Jesus’ selfless sacrifice,

    the healing of cancer, safe travels for a daughter, the salvation
    of the un-saved, and the needs…oh, and the great needs of people.

    It doesn’t seem possible to me that God can listen to them all.
    Then a woman’s voice echoes, tear-filled and trembling;

    “We are down to our last sixty dollars, Lord; maybe only twenty.”
    The pain in her voice hurts; I peek at her; she’s afraid, very afraid.

    Another voice speaks then, but it’s a voice only I can hear.
    “This one whom I love…she is thirsty. Will you give her a drink?”

    The popcorn prayers continue, but I’m only vaguely listening; in my
    mind I ask the voice, “The Fast Cash that I just got out of the ATM?

    Do I give it all?” The answer is silent, but filled with great clarity.
    I take an offering envelope from behind my pew chair, empty my wallet

    into it, get a sense from Him that that will do, for now. Understanding,
    I bow my head, close my eyes, feel the electricity in the prayers that continue.

    Forty-five more minutes pass in sneaky slowness, as might a large white cloud
    floating by in a cloudless sky, obviously present until suddenly it’s gone. We rise

    to leave and several people approach the woman to tell her they’ll be praying
    for her. I feel myself frown; she needs cash more than she needs prayers,

    and I’m pretty sure Jesus would have never responded to a person
    in need with a I’ll pray for you, then turned and walked away.

    I move forward, hand the woman the envelope and say, “If I know of a need
    yet do nothing about it, I’ve done wrong. This isn’t much, but I hope it helps.”

    Tears fill her eyes; she thanks me from her heart; her gratitude
    is grand. I glance around as the others chat amongst themselves.

    Why does no one else seem to “get it?” I wonder.
    Why does no one else respond to her need?

    Then that silent voice speaks to me again, in a strong and clear rebuke.
    “But…did you not answer their prayers for me?”

  10. David Cornwell says

    We say we believe Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” To believe that God has abandoned His creation is to believe in a fatalistic triumph of evil on this planet. Yes, evil is powerful and seems to be embedded in so many of our systems. But we serve a God who is even more powerful.

    Sometimes the answers to this prayer seem small and insignificant. But when we think like this we are showing a lack of faith, and a failure to see the largeness of victories that seem small to us. For instance a group of about 100 Christians recently fled Mosul in Iraq to escape persecution from ISIS. They are being sheltered St. Mary’s Church in Amman, Jordan. Ammar Zaki and his family are among those who fled. He said “”Jesus Christ told people, ‘leave everything and follow me,’ So we did….We had to leave everything and go … to be Christian, to stay in my religion.” He has a nine month old daughter named Athena.

    It might be hard for us to pray globally, but when we do we can see these kind of victories that we may consider to be small. And we can certainly pray for Ammar and Athena.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      To believe that God has abandoned His creation is to believe in a fatalistic triumph of evil on this planet.

      Or believe in Pre-Trib Dispy, clutching your Rapture Boarding Pass tight so you won’t be Left Behind(TM).

      Because what else is Pre-Trib Dispy but a fatalistic triumph of evil, with a convenient Beam-me-up-Jesus escape route before anything bad can personally happen to YOU?

      What else is spending Halloween night hiding from the DEMONS in your basement than a surrender to a fatalistic triumph of evil?

    • Yes. The Lord’s Prayer models the reason, the method, and the means for the results of prayer. The prayer allows us to recognize that we are in the immediate presence of God; that God does not need to be summoned from afar. If we take the words to heart that Jesus directs us to say, we place ourselves in submission to God, acknowledging God as the source of all. By fulfilling the Prayer’s demand that we forgive first, we empty ourselves completely to be God’s agent of service, erasing from ourselves preconditions that biased by our selfishness. And that service, yes, delivered through works, is how prayer is answered.

      Not one prayer I have prayed in almost 60 years of faith has not been answered without the work of God being realized through the concrete activity of one who either wittingly or unwittingly allowed themselves to be the agent of the answer. God has chosen us to be workers in his vineyard and to be evidence of his presence — whether we “know” God or not. Consequently, my prayer needs to be, “Lord use me to facilitate the answer to someone else’s prayer.” Or more beautifully stated, “Lord, make me, an instrument of . . . “

  11. Thought-provoking and beautifully written, Marci. Thank you.

  12. I’m pretty convinced that prayer is primary a vehicle for devotion and engaging God as a Father (or Mother/Parent, whatever works best here) — sitting with to laugh, cry, wrestle, complain, argue, accuse, take comfort in. The whole relationship thing.

    Intercession, which is what this post seems to be about, is secondary. The Giver before the gifts, the King before the tasks of the Kingdom.

    Usually prayer is assumed to be the other way around, and the subjective measure to which are prayers are seemingly answered ends up becoming attached to our worth and identity. Lots of answered prayers = God must really love me; not so many = why do I even bother?

    I’m sorry that this was backwards in my life for a long time, and from the comments, for many of the rest of us as well.

    • Sean, I hear you. This is not a new concept, but I believe it is being more widely broadcast these days than previously, when the occasional monk or nun or “saint” spoke of this type of devotion and was considered extraordinary. The teaching of Jesus that we were to relate to God as Father was extremely radical for its time and for the most part is still so today, tho I believe we have made progress. I don’t know of any other religion with this understanding other than the Native American relating to God as Grandfather. Would be glad to learn of others.

      And even beyond the relationship means of prayer, which Brother Lawrence spoke of so clearly four hundred years or so ago, there is the Centering Prayer in which we communicate thru God’s First Language of Silence. Lots to learn. I appreciate your point of view here.

      • Agreed, about the wider broadcasting. We have great access to the mystics, the quakers, the church fathers, and others who have attempted to communicate their relationship to the Father. So, so much to learn.

        Meditating on the baptism of Jesus — when the Father spoke and pronounced the Jesus’ identity as his father’s son, and how we have the same inheritance — utterly changed my life.

        It still is scandalous, and for the ways it has been abused, it needs to be recovered.

        Oh, how he loves us!

        (Apologies to Chaplain Mike)

    • The deeper the great mystics of the Western Church, like Saint John of the Cross and Saint Theresa of Avila, got into contemplative prayer, the more deeply they embraced simple prayer as well.

      • Well said.

        • I’ve mentioned it before, but what I consider the best and most accessible book on contemporary spiritual formation is “Mansions of the Heart” by R. Thomas Ashbrook. It is based off of Theresa’s writings. A must-read.

          • I have a hard time with most of the old time mystics. They were writing for their contemporaries, and their witness is true, but the hump of language and culture is a bit steep for me with more immediate teachers available. Among them I would recommend Cynthia Bourgeault and David R. Hawkins as speaking to us today, tho every day takes us a step farther along. Trying to keep up and not fall behind, and most especially trying not to get bamboozled. This is not something that should be tried without the discernment available in God’s Holy Spirit.

          • I have to disagree. It’s true that John of the Cross is difficult reading, but Theresa of Avila is very accessible, homey and welcoming. In addition, she stands firmly in the center of Christian spiritual tradition, using Christian language about the Christian spiritual life. What she has to say is as true and important and understandable today as it was in her time, though quite different from what David R. Hawkins has to say.

      • Clay Crouch says

        As for simple prayer, consider Anne Lamott’s, Help, Thanks, Wow.

    • I’ll venture this thought: herein rests a lot of the ‘practical application’ people are chasing above. Devotion and action are symbiotic. If one drawing closer to God, then in theory this should impel some level of outward action. Not with a 1:1 correspondence, and not for everyone, and one is meant to be a mere engine for the other – but they play off one another. They are linked, insofar as both relate back to relating to God’s love. A prayerful person might be expected have some kind of affect on those around him, or even to be a builder of the some practical work.

      Where intercession is concerned – surely that implies that God is in some kind of conversation with people, and that it matters to ask, although this is never really explained. But here, too, if I am truly praying for someone, my response toward them ought to be affected by the practice. If not, ever, surely there’s something wrong with the picture.

  13. OldProphet says

    Off topic: Is W gone forever?

  14. OldProphet says

    Hey W, R U gone forever?

  15. Robert, we have run the site out of reply buttons. I don’t mean to discount teachers like Theresa of Avila, only to say that I am trying to find my way out of this house of mirrors today, and I need the best of teachers available who are dealing with this third act as it unfolds around us here and now, day by day, presumably guided by God’s Holy Spirit. I recognize the potential for error and rely on God to keep me on track.

    There is truth available all the way back to the early Fathers and the Apostles and the Prophets, none of whom were infallible at the same level of our Lord Jesus, but my sense is that time is growing short and we don’t have the luxury of leisurely study extending over decades. I no longer have decades left in any case, unless I am co-opted against my desire to be done with these hard lessons here on Earth. What is important, in my view, is to get as far along in growth as possible in whatever time is left. That doesn’t necessarily imply nose to the grindstone but it does mean going for the best bang for the buck, spiritually speaking.

    Both Cynthia Bourgeault and David R. Hawkins have spoken of things that I just have to pass by as unprofitable for me, but overall I do find them the best I currently have available for growth. I am always open to a better bang for the buck in the Spirit of Jesus. I fully recognize that your path may well be much different than mine, and encourage you to follow yours as intensely as I am following mine. Not likely that our paths will cross this side, but I look forward to tipping a beverage of choice with you on the other side.