By Aaron Warner, Good News Training
The percentage of people in America who believe in a “higher power” remains a solid 90% according to the most recent Pew Research. Regardless of religious affiliation, the vast majority of Americans believe in some form of higher power with Christians and Jews reporting belief in the God of the Bible, and black “nones” recording a solid nine out of ten believing in God but lacking in prayer or attending worship services. With such instincts in connecting to a powerful spiritual being it makes one wonder just what type of being are we talking about, and, more importantly, is this being available to talk to?
Prayer is simply the act of talking to God, however the opportunity for a response is implied. The simple act of talking to a higher power seems to border between mystically hopeful and maybe you’re crazy. Though I know people who talk to themselves, and I’ve met people who talk to something or someone, I have never been either. The thought of talking to myself seems to beg the question “How far am I from Crazytown”? Talking to someone or something that has no identity nor is inclined to hold up their end of the conversation seems a monumental waste of time, especially if there is no reciprocity. What’s the difference between that and being ignored? Who has time for carrying on a one way conversation with…who knows what? I don’t.
Now, this may not seem like much of a case to pray, but the difference I’m about to illustrate is. Like the 90% of my fellow Americans, I believed in a Higher Power ever since I was a child. Despite growing up in awful circumstances in the inner city in what can easily now be called Crazytown (Portland, Oregon), my Roman Catholic family had the good sense to share their faith with me. Even as a young and dumb child that same instinct to believe in a Higher Power, who is responsible for the universe and world where I lived, was strong. It may be the result of hope, or perhaps a hard-wired effect of conscience, but either way, even as I drifted away from a faith in God, I could never shake the notion there was too much order and beauty in the world to accept a random and chaotic source of it all. Even atheistic scientists know chaos never produces order.
It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties when I had, through a series of horrible life choices, found myself homeless living in a friend’s garage having to accept living by my own chaotic, immoral code, that perhaps I should surrender to that childlike instinct to see if the Creator was indeed there and, even better, was able to help me get out of the mess I’d made. It wasn’t from a lack of reaching out over the years, nor a lack of seeking. I had sought the various wisdom of the Dalai Llama, Bhudda, Mohammed, Zoroaster, the Oglala Sioux, Brahma, Vishnu, the Illuminati, Steven Weinberg and L. Ron Hubbard, only to find a consistent lack of meaning, direction and results. Though the Catholic church that first revealed the notion of God to me was my early favorite, my absent father and the church’s absent teaching for how to relate to a Fatherly God seemed to create a gap more than the bridge I’d needed. Roman Catholicism, for all its power to persuade, had not provided the power to convince my prayers would be heard, given much of my time in prayer as a Catholic school boy was repetitious recitals with a rosary that left me feeling like God was a bean-counting deity who was more interested in reminding me of my failures rather than rescuing me from them. If there was a Higher Power, how come It seemed powerless to save me from me?
Cue the evangelical Christians…
At precisely this time in my life I found myself strategically surrounded by several “born again” Christians, all of whom were offering the same solution to my problems – prayer. However they weren’t suggesting I pray to Allah, or meditatively center my chakras, or take a bundle of dried sage and present it as a burnt offering to the Great Spirit, none of which had worked when I’d tried anyway. No. Apparently, there was a God I hadn’t reached out to for help yet – Jesus. Now if you’ve ever read the stories of Jesus in the Bible it’s hard not to like the guy. In every one of them He is the hero, and in every story, He somehow acts in a way no other man would act: loving His enemies, casting out demons, showing mercy to prostitutes, and even giving sight to the blind. Who isn’t struck at the awesomeness of the desert hippie, who can calm a storm AND raise people from the dead? I wasn’t sure I believed in Him, because I’d spent the past five or so years reading things like the Da Vinci code and Holy Blood Holy Grail, which question and even malign His divinity. Like Thomas, I was a doubter.
Luckily Jesus presents those who doubt with the chance to find out if He is who He says He is, God. He is explicit about this:
Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete. (John 16:24)
So I did. As crazy as it seemed to me, only a brief look around the garage I’d landed myself in caused me to wager – what have I got to lose? I asked invisible, sandal shod, two thousand year-old Jesus to help me get my miserable, drug addled, crime infested life headed somewhere other than where I’d led it. Without so much as setting foot into a church, picking up a Bible, or ringing up a pastor or priest I started asking Jesus for help with my immediate situation, and almost as immediately that’s what happened. Of course, like most rational people, I assumed my good luck was just that, luck, but the precision with which my prayers were being answered, and the subsequent timing, I was having a difficult time chalking them up to coincidence after a while. So I persisted, and kept asking…and I kept getting positive affirmation with direct answers to specific prayers. I’d list them but they were (are) too many to recount really.
Oddly, I had prayed before, many times, but I didn’t know who I was talking to. Worse, I didn’t ask with an ounce of humility but rather with expectancy that the “Magic Sky Daddy”, as my atheist friends are wont to refer to Him, would act like a genie and grant my wishes. What self-respecting person, including God, would submit to such presumption? I wouldn’t, why should He? Which led me to this passage:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord…”
This was my mistake, and I imagine the mistake of many others who petition God from grievance rather than from gratefulness.
Not many signing up for humility classes, myself included.
This one small act, though painfully large for one’s pride, was the key to getting His heart. Knowing who’s ear I was speaking into was the other.
Here I am twenty years later, and He hasn’t stopped answering them with astonishing precision on a regular, if not daily basis. What’s more, I can’t honestly say I’m a better person today than I was back then.
Yet, that’s not why He answers prayers. Not because of our goodness, but His.