Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Testing Theology #3-- Prayer Works

If you abide in me and my words abide in you, then ask whatever you will and it will be done for you.” John 15:7

“Truly I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.” Mark 11

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials... But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:2, 5)

Sincere, desperate prayer works. If we are asking out of true need, for ourselves or others who are desperate, then we can be confident that God will hear, give wisdom, and meet our needs.

Although I quit my job in 1997 to work full time for the homeless, and so became homeless myself, Diane and I made the decision that we wouldn’t ask for anything ourselves.  Rather, we would take it up to God and not our supporters and allow God to move the Holy Spirit to encourage people to meet our needs, whatever way God decided.  We lived like this for fifteen years, making God our only advocate, our only financial counselor.

I will admit, living by prayer, we found that we came close to living out on the street, close to losing our water and electricity, close to not having food to eat, close to being without transportation, but none of that actually happened.  Living by faith, we learned, means learning to either live with anxiety or setting aside anxiety.  Because I believe the Holy Spirit works promptly, but people do not respond to the Holy Spirit promptly.

Although the many difficulties of living by faith, especially when it means living in poverty, still my children never lived without a roof, my household (plus many guests) never went hungry, we were able to pay our bills (although rarely on time).  When we had little income, we would have to take our trash to the dump ourselves, we would have to do our electrical and plumbing work ourselves.  When something was broken, if the Lord didn’t provide money, he would provide a person to do the repair for free.  When we couldn’t afford housing, the Lord provided someone to live with, and then he provided someone to pay our rent.  When we had illnesses when we couldn’t afford to go to a doctor (we never had insurance until this year), we prayed and God healed us, or provided other means, such as illegal antibiotics for our children from a Mexican store.

The same with our friends.  God provided housing when a person was too sick to be on the street anymore.  God provided money for our friends when they were starving.  God provided healing for those with ailments.  Every step along the way, if we prayed for it, it would be answered.  Mind you, we are careful about what we pray for.  We don’t pray for anything that someone requests.  We keep our prayers biblical and somewhat humble.  If someone asks that the police would go away, we prayed that the police wouldn’t see them.  Someone might ask for the cursing of someone, and we’d pray for their repentance from action that hurt someone.  Prayer sometimes would take time—it’s rarely an instant solution.  But to the person of faith and compassion, prayer always gets answered. 

I have many stories I could tell about answered prayer.  There are the many times that we were concerned about someone and we prayed that we would hear from them and we would, within a week, every time.  There are the times when we couldn’t pay our basic bills, and unexpected, unasked for money would come our way—Like the time that we asked specifically for 5000 dollars to pay for all of our back up bills and rent.  Two months later, a congregation member came into an inheritance (early—his father hadn’t died yet), and his tithe to us was 5000 dollars.  But let me tell you a couple specific stories in which prayer was answered in unexpected ways.

We were just starting our ministry and we were living in two different locations, about 45 minutes apart.  We couldn’t live in one space for half the week and we couldn’t live in the other space for the other half of the week.  We were all packed up and ready to drive to the other side of town, with our car in the church parking lot, when the car wouldn’t start.  I can’t fix it because you open up the hood of a car and I am automatically an idiot.  I’m lucky I know where the oil goes.

We were in trouble because we couldn’t stay another night at the church.  And we couldn’t all fit in the car overnight, so we’d be stuck outside, maybe in the park.  My six year old son, Ian, asked me if we could pray that an angel would come to fix our car.  I sputtered, because my disbelief came out.  I told him that I didn’t think God was in the business to send angels to repair cars.  Ian said, “But if you pray for it, it will happen, right?”  His eyes shined with naïve belief.  So I asked him to pray, because I didn’t believe in the prayer, and he responded that he couldn’t pray, I had to.  Sigh.  So I prayed for him, telling God that Ian wanted an angel to come and fix our car. 

It was fifteen minutes later that someone came wandering onto the church property.  He came up and asked if his daughter could play in the playground the church had available.  Ian looked at me as if to say, “This is the angel!”  I sighed again. 

“Um,” I said, “I don’t suppose you know anything about cars, do you?  Because we are stuck here and we don’t know how to get our car started.”

“I know a little bit.  Let me look.”  So I opened up the hood and he piddled for a bit.  After about ten minutes, he turned the key and it ran.

Dang if God didn’t send us an angel.  I hate being wrong, but this is being wrong in the best way.

“I don’t know what I did, actually,” the stranger said.

“Well, my son would be upset if I didn’t say that he made me pray for an angel to fix our car, so you are our angel.”

“HA!” he barked.  “I’m no angel.”

“I’m sure.”

And we drove away, the car expressing no hesitation at the long drive ahead.

* * *

One more story and I’m done for today.

What our street usually looks like.
Our house is on the side you can't see
We were three thousand dollars behind on our bills.  I know, I said that before, but it was a pretty common problem for us, and the more responsibility we took on, the bigger our prayers got.  This was before the five thousand dollar lapse.  So in our evening prayers, we asked the Lord for three thousand dollars to pay our bills, in Jesus’ name, Amen.  And we put it aside, because no amount of worrying would get us that kind of money.

That night, at 1am, my wife woke me up.  “Steve, the car is totaled. You need to come.”  What?  Did she say something about the car?  I stumbled out of bed, went down the stairs and glanced out the door.  The car was not parked in front of our house, where I left it.  That’s strange.  Did it get towed.  Diane is still talking, but I can’t really hear her.

So I go outside and there are police lights flashing in front of our neighbor’s yard.  I see a huge—HUGE—red pickup and the police are talking to a woman in the car.  She is clearly inebriated.  In front of the truck… yards in front of the truck… in front of the neighbor’s house… deep inside the neighbor’s yard… was my car.  The silver minivan was pushed perhaps fifty yards on the street which (miraculously) had no other vehicles on it, and then pushed into my neighbor’s fence and into their yard.  The back was completely smashed in, and one sliding door was completely unusable.  The front of the car was also damaged from impact on the fence.

Inside the car, there were papers and trash strewn everywhere (that was normal) and broken glass and…

I hear an officer ask a question of my wife, who clearly had been speaking to them for a while, “What is that stuff all over the back of the car?”

There wasn’t anything on the outside of the car, oh, he meant the inside.  I tried to open one side door, but it wouldn’t open, so I opened the driver’s door and one sniff told me what was dripping all over the inside of the vehicle.  “Gravy,” I said.  “I feed the homeless and there was a large pot of gravy left over and it was cool tonight so I left it in the vehicle to use it tomorrow.  I guess I won’t be using it.  I would like to get the pot, though.”  Stainless steel 20 inch diameter pot—not even a dent.
I said to my wife, “Well, this won’t help us pay our bills.”

I was quite wrong.  In fact, this was the answer to our prayers.  Insurance paid us immediately because if there was anything that was obvious here, it’s that I wasn’t at fault for the accident.  They paid us 6500 dollars for the totaled vehicle.  We were able to find a decent van to replace it for 3200 dollars.  The balance of the money paid our bills.

I can’t say much for the orthodoxy of God’s belief, but one thing is certain.  God’s answers to prayer are quite unorthodox.

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