In the not too distant past, the National Football League (NFL) had been referred to by some as the National Felons League. I couldn’t help but wonder if some found it ironic that a spontaneous prayer meeting would break out on the field of a professional football team when Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field.
I have to admit it did not come as surprise to me at all. Something potentially tragic had taken place and it was only, dare I say, natural to reach out for help. I have seen and been a part of such spontaneous events on several occasions without any media presence.
The object of the request was the same: to ask God to intervene, for the supernatural to invade the natural. In Mr. Hamlin’s first public statement he thanked all of those who prayed for him and requested continued prayer. There are libraries of books written about the subject of prayer so my observations are at best only a few grains of sand on a vast coastline of human reasoning and experience.
There are several reasons for prayer, but perhaps the most important is that it has value, or put another way, it works. The reality is that it is not just a bumper sticker; prayer changes things and more importantly changes us.
We not only have a numerous examples in the Bible, many of us have experienced or know someone who has experienced the results, often only expressed in the simple “Thank God” in a conversation about something that did or did not happen.
I will not be the first but one of many that would suggest prayer can appear confusing. I have heard people say they stopped believing in God because of a prayer that went unanswered or not answered according to their preference. I have lived long enough to be thankful that some of my prayers were answered in the negative, that God in His great mercy spared me from my desires. The idea of a “vending machine god” is the result of some really terrible theology about the nature of prayer and God.
I am not saying it has not been profitable for some who have sold formulas to squeeze things from a “reluctant god” who owed people something as a result of their magical prayers. That thinking, however, has no basis in scripture. In fact prayer appears to require effort, and if we are honest, people of faith struggle with praying. One of my favorite examples is from a fellowship that boasted several hundred people in membership. When the church announced a prayer seminar, over two hundred people signed up to attend. Unfortunately at the next scheduled meeting, about a dozen people showed because the seminar was simply prayer. There is a reason people are called prayer warriors — it may be difficult to stick with.
Some Christ followers may have felt guilt after reading what Jesus said to His disciple after He had prayed to the point of shedding blood: “Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Simon,’ he said to Peter, ‘are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?’” (Mark 14:37 NIV). Prayer is not about a time limit or a formula, it is about the kind of relationship that not only asks but listens for a response.
Bill Upton is a retired chaplain of the Tooele City Police Department.