In the two months since I've been at Villanova, my colleagues and I haven't prayed together once. I didn't realize just how much I missed it until yesterday, when praying was about the only thing I could think to do to support a friend and coworker who we learned is in critical care. Burt, the man who hired me and with whom I have worked every day since starting here, has been successfully fighting chronic lymphocytic leukemia for about seven years. A few weeks ago he was happy to report that he'd been selected to participate in a clinical trial for a new form of treatment that apparently provides a cure. On New Year's Day, however, Burt was admitted to the hospital not for his trial, but for pneumonia. And yesterday, his wife told us that Burt was moved to intensive care where he lies sedated in critical condition. It seems his malignant cancer cells "exploded" and the doctors are exposing him to major doses of chemo in an effort to fight back. If Burt manages to survive this, it will take months for him to recover.
Understandably, the mood was somber in the office yesterday and "I'll pray for him," was on nearly everyone's lips. I can't help feeling that corporate (group) prayer is called for at a time like this, even though I don't believe it "works" in the way we'd like.
Before you label me a heretic, allow me to explain.
I don't believe that the more people you have praying for someone or something, the better the chances are that God will listen and grant your request like some consensus-seeking genie. The God I believe in loves each of us equally; no favorites based on the number of friends or family members we have in our corner. I'm fairly certain He doesn't base His prayer-granting decisions on the number of prayers being said or on the fervor with which we say them. Can you imagine if we had a God who said "I would have healed your friend Ann again, but you guys just didn't pray hard enough this time." How many of us could believe in a God like that?
I've struggled with the concept of prayer for several years now, wondering how it can make a difference if, as we're taught, God already has a plan for our lives. Last year I read a devotional in Oswald Chambers's My Utmost for His Highest that offered an explanation that makes sense to me:
To say that "prayer changes things" is not as close to the truth as saying, "Prayer changes me and then I change things." God has established things so that prayer, on the basis of redemption, changes the way a person looks at things. Prayer is not a matter of changing things externally, but one of working miracles in a person's inner nature.I feel the need to pray for Burt, both personally and corporately, because prayer opens my heart, mind, and spirit to the One who loves us and knows us and has a plan for each of us. Prayer comforts. It reminds us that when we can no longer fix things ourselves, there is One who is and has been in control. God may answer our prayers with "yes," "not yet," or "I have something better in mind," but regardless of whether we like His answer, we can trust in Him.