Members of our church recently posted a series of prayer requests for friends of theirs who just went to Russia to pick up their newly-adopted daughter. They also have a son who stayed with his grandparents in the U.S. While traveling in Russia, the father had a medical emergency and was in the hospital over there. They waited for him to be well enough to be transported back to a hospital in the U.S. He was able to return to the U.S. but, unfortunately, his condition deteriorated.
This morning, I caught up on some of the latest posts about his condition. Things didn't look good, but there was still hope. I felt a prayer well up inside me that I had to voice to God. Afterward, I emailed a friend of mine with the following comment: "When I just prayed for him, I had a different feeling inside than usual when I pray - like it was a real, genuine, in the depth of my soul yearning for him to be able to be with his family again and see his new daughter grow up." It really was an intense cry to God. My friend responded, "Me, too - it was like a connection to a much bigger force than just my own prayers - like tapping into a huge network of prayers for him - I haven't experienced that before. It felt like the prayer came from really deep inside of me - not just from my head." Yeah, that's exactly how it felt.
I thought how cool it was to be able to experience that, and I knew that it must mean something big was going to happen in this man's life. I wasn't expecting the latest update that I just read. "Bill now knows what the face of Jesus looks like." He passed away. Without seeing how his daughter is growing into her new family.
So what was that feeling that we had while praying for him to recover? Was that just for us? I've heard prayer described this way before... When a person in a small boat pulls on a rope attached to a cruise ship, the cruise ship doesn't change course, but the small boat is drawn toward the ship. Likewise, when we pray, we are pulled closer to God, he is not pulled closer to us.
According to this theory, prayer is not about the person we're praying for at all - it's just for us, the people who are praying. It doesn't change God or his actions - it changes the attitude, course, and/or actions of the person praying. If that is the case, then why do we ever pray for other people? Why not just pray for ourselves?
It's true that when I pray for my enemies, I feel less like we're enemies. I feel more compassion toward them and that is a change in myself that comes from those prayers. That is a reason to pray for other people. But when it's not for someone who is my enemy, then what is the point? I prayed for this man, Bill, to recover. I truly felt that is what God put inside my soul to request for this man. Where did I go wrong? Did I misunderstand what I was supposed to pray for? Quite possibly, but it sure didn't feel that way at the time. Do I misunderstand what the purpose of my prayer was to be? That seems like the only answer. What was the purpose? Why did that prayer feel so different than all the prayers of the past few years? And why did my friend have a similar experience?