Prayer: Two Stories
James 5:13-20 -- Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner's soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
A year or two ago, an elderly member of our congregation was driving to visit a friend, made a wrong turn, and got lost. Her family was worried beyond worry. A Silver Alert was issued, police in three or four states were involved. They were able to track her through her credit card purchases, but too late to take any action to stop her. The whole time this was happening, our church was praying. The pastor organized a prayer vigil for those who could come to church. We prayed.
On Sunday morning, the pastor led the congregation in a prayer for Jean. During the prayer, an email was delivered to a few members of the congregation from Jean's daughter. "We've found her. She's OK. More to follow." I had never seen a prayer answered like that - with such drama and timing. It was amazing.
She and her car were found at the top of a snow-covered mountain by three men who were doing who knows what in that remote mountain location. The place was so isolated that the ambulance had to back off the mountain in reverse, and the tow truck driver determined it was too dangerous in the snow to bring the car down.
I know God was at work.
A friend of mine had cancer. She fought several years, though surgery and treatment and pain to try to survive and beat the illness. The church prayed, and visited her, and truly hoped that God would heal her. Her faith was changed by her illness - strengthened - and she seemed closer to God through her battle. She came to church every Sunday that she could. She attended Sunday school, and she said that she was encouraged by her Sunday school family, and missed us when she couldn't be there. I know that our faith was made stronger through her example. And we prayed. And, eventually, she died.
So, what do I think about these two stories? Do I think the woman’s safe return to her family was an answer to a prayer? Yes. Do I think God was convinced to help her by the sheer number of people praying for her? No. Do I think more people prayed for her than prayed for my friend? No. Do I think God was with one of them and not the other? No. God helped them both, strengthened them, protected them and healed them both. Do I have answers to every question about prayer? No, I absolutely do not, and I don't believe any of us do.