Man is like the "Show Me" state of Missouri in that he questions what he is told or reads in print. Just show me and I will believe it. A picture is worth a thousand words. Let me see it with my own eyes. In other words, give me a sign. Man has always been thus inclined:
We still seek signs or miracles today. The more miraculous, the better. Although no one knows what Jesus really looked like, His image keeps miraculously appearing on screen doors, walls, the sidewalk, clouds, pieces of toast, everywhere. Of course, what we actually see is the image of Jesus we are familiar with as pictured by the artist Warner Sallman in 1924.
We generally search for complicated signs while true miracles encircle us daily. We cannot see the forest for all the trees. Go into any hospital with a maternity ward and locate the new baby viewing area. They are all little miracles! This includes those that are black, brown, yellow, white, or any combination of colors. Ask a new mother or father to describe their emotions the moment their first baby was born and they will have difficulty finding the words. This includes mothers and fathers in the United States, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, North and South Korea, or any country.
Perhaps the emotions experienced by new parents are similar to those felt when one is struck by the fact that their prayer has been answered. Some supernatural authority has intervened on their behalf. There is a God! We cannot see Him, but we can see the results of His acts.
God is a trinity consisting of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. God the Son could be seen for a short thirty-three years while He was a man living on the earth. Since that time, no one can see God. Therefore, one has faith that God exists:
What evidence of the unseen God do we have? We have the beautiful earth, nature, life, love, the universe, and other creations of God. But also, we have answered prayers:
Let me relate a few instances in my life which were certainly answers to prayer. In the year 1980, I was working for a computer company writing and installing custom software for real time computer systems. Although based in Houston, much travel to sites around the country was required. I had worked at this company for five years when an unsolicited offer of employment from a much larger computer company was presented to me. I rejected this initial offer.
While working on a project late one night in the computer room of a large oil company in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, I was contacted again by phone and offered an even higher position. The job would be Houston based and would require very little travel. I was divorced at the time with two children who lived under their mother's custody in the Houston area.
The next day I ate a late lunch alone at a Chinese restaurant at one PM. I liked to work on the computer while others took their customary noon lunch break, as I accomplished more without the distraction of others. I had debated the pros and cons of the job offer in my mind since receiving the late night phone call. That debate competed with my mind trying to solve the many software problems I was here to resolve. As I finished my meal it was not so much a formal prayer as a letting go and placing the decision in God's hands, as I said in my mind; "God, I don't have time to mess with this, tell a fool what to do." I put it out of my mind, broke open my fortune cookie and read:
I interviewed with the company, accepted their offer, and gave my current employer a two-week notice that next week. I still carry that fortune in my wallet. But that was not the end of the story. One week after accepting the job with very little travel, my ex-wife called me on the phone and said she wanted the children to live with me! That would not have been possible with my previous job due to the travel and hours of work required. Then, two weeks into my new job, the secretary at my previous employer called to say that the Houston and Dallas offices were being combined, and the Houston office was being closed!
Could all of this be coincidence or luck? Possibly, but the odds are staggering. I had not received a job offer in five years. Ten seconds after asking God to tell me what to do, I opened and read the fortune cookie. I have never had a similar fortune since that one. A week later, I was offered custody of my children. We had never discussed this. Two weeks into the new job, it was announced that the Houston office of my previous employer was being closed. I cannot be that lucky! Remember, I was not even seeking a new job, while God knew I would be needing one.
A few years later, the children and I were living in a small upper-middle class city which is basically a suburb of Houston. No obvious poverty existed in the community. After reading the Bible I had grown disillusioned with all denominations of existing churches. I felt guilty that I did not tithe, but how could I support churches which were spreading the wrong message, a message of fear?
One day while working around the house I fantasized that I could directly support someone who needed help. Perhaps they could help me with the children and I could provide food and shelter for them. Oh, what a wonderful person I would be. Yuck! Even today this is difficult for me to admit. So I got on my knees and prayed for God to send me someone I could help. My tithe would go to them. I arose feeling so good about myself. Warning, be prepared for God to answer your prayers! This time God's answer to my prayer took more than ten seconds. As I was weeding flower gardens two weeks later, a large beat up old car stopped in front of my house. In the car was an elderly couple which I tried to ignore. The old man got out, approached me, and asked, "Excuse me. Could you use any help with the yard?" Having completely forgotten about my prayer, I politely responded, "I enjoy doing it myself. It really isn't work. Thanks anyway." As they drove off I thought, "That was strange for this town. Where did they come from?"
As they turned the corner it struck me like a bolt of lightning as I remembered my prayer. I sprinted into the house, grabbed my car key, ran to the garage, jumped in and started the car while waiting for the garage door to open, then sped after them. But it was too late. I never saw them again!
I felt so small I could have slithered under the door upon returning to my house. I fell on my knees at the side of my bed begging God's forgiveness and asking for a second chance. Send them back! I admitted my stupidity and asked God to be even more obvious the next time He answered my prayers, perhaps a bolt of lightning. However, God does not typically respond in that manner:
God had answered my prayer, and shamefully I had not even recognized His answer. I returned to my yard work, but my heart wasn't in it. It was no longer fun and I couldn't get the old couple out of my head. Then I had another revelation. I was not the important link in this process, and did not have to be directly involved! If God answered that prayer, He would answer another. Quickly back on my knees at my bed, I was asking God to give any blessing He had for me to the old couple. Although I have never understood why, God had always been good to me. Why make me an unnecessary middleman? Give all or part of my blessing to them. It's a better system because then I would not sit around imagining how generous I am. Give them an increase in their social security check, let them win at bingo, whatever. Still disappointed in myself, I was certain God would answer this prayer also.
I did not receive a decent raise for the next eight or nine years. That put me in the unusual position of feeling good about that fact! God was still answering my prayer to bless that old couple.
All good things must come to an end. Regretfully, I can tell you approximately when both of them were deceased. The company where I was employed endured a series of downsizing, right sizing, restructuring, etc, as many companies did during the nineties. Near the end of those events the company was put up for sale. During this period no one dared even ask for a raise, all were simply hoping to retain their jobs. I received a nearly 14% salary increase near the end of this period. My immediate supervisor did not understand how this was possible. It indicated to me that the old couple did not need help any longer, probably they had passed away. I felt sad the entire day.
The head of the southern region for a company where I once worked gave me some advice regarding prayer which is worthwhile passing on to others. We never discussed religion at work and I'm not sure how the conversation came about. I believe I was discussing my sleeping problems with him and how my mind was constantly considering dozens of things. I would even solve software problems in my sleep. Then I mentioned that upon going to bed I would begin my prayers and switch to several other items before realizing I had never completed my prayers.
He suggested I get on my knees for my prayers. One does not get on his knees to worry about work, school, children, family, etc. You are down there for one reason, to pray. So your mind does not wander until you say amen and get off your knees. A simple, but effective solution!
What the Bible Teaches about Prayer
Prayer is the most powerful tool any Christian can use:
God desires to shower blessings upon believers:
However, one critical element is that we must believe and have faith that our prayers will be answered:
How to pray:
One of the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. Jesus' answer was:
What we call the Lord's Prayer is also in the book of Luke:
Notice that the closing lines are not included in the version presented in Luke. These last two lines in Matthew are also not included in many non-King James translations of the original Greek language. Roman Catholics do not include these lines as part of the Lord's Prayer, whereas most Protestants do include them:
The Lord's Prayer lists the items which we should always pray for. In addition, one usually has other personal requests to ask of God. We are to pray in private. Prayer should be a private conversation with God:
This is not to say that we cannot say a prayer in our head anywhere, anytime, anyplace. Although our prayers should be private and personal, look at what Jesus says regarding the prayers of groups of Christians:
Before we pray for forgiveness, we are instructed to forgive those who have harmed us:
Recall that this was also in the Lord's Prayer:
In prayer, we need to humble ourselves before God. The parable of the Pharisee and the publican illustrates this important principle:
Incredibly, the Bible instructs us to pray for our enemies! This can be a very difficult concept for us humans:
We can actually overcome our enemies by treating them well:
If you do bad things to your enemy you will create a cycle of retaliation; eye for an eye, this for that. Look at Israel and Palestine today. No one will stop the violence because one side is always retaliating for the last violent act committed against them. After they retaliate the roles reverse and the other side retaliates. They are thus caught in a cycle of retaliations.
How Not To Pray:
We are not to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the street, or anywhere else, that we may be seen of men:
The key phrase here is, "that they may be seen of men." It is not wrong to lead any congregation in prayer if it is a sincere prayer, and not for show. Those who pray anywhere to be seen of men have their reward. Their reward is to be seen and praised by men. "Oh what a wonderful Christian he (or she) is!"
What does this say regarding the school prayer debate? Any person can pray anywhere, anyplace, anytime, anyhow in their heart and mind, without anyone else being aware that they are praying. We should question the motives of those who insist on public prayer to begin school or sporting events. When Christians force nonbelievers to participate or listen to their prayers and rituals, it is an admission that their efforts have failed! Therefore, they must use their power in the government to force their beliefs on others.
Our prayers should not include vain repetitions: