Let it be a journey, not a place

In light of a number of international calamities in the news recently, I have been thinking again about prayer.

I’ve been wondering what people think they are doing when they pray and what they believe has happened when it appears that their prayers go unanswered.

Think for a moment about the missionary doctor, Kent Brantly who worked for the charity, Samaritans Purse, in Liberia and who contracted Ebola. He was flown to hospital in Atlanta, where he was treated with the experimental drug ZMapp and subsequently made a full recovery.

Then there was the 75-year-old Spanish priest, Miguel Pajares, who also worked in Liberia and who contracted the deadly disease. He was treated with the same drug, but died.

In the words of Kent Brantly, thousands, perhaps millions of people were praying for a miracle for him, and it’s reasonable I guess to assume that many, many people across the world were praying for a similar miracle for the priest. The question is, if the good doctor’s recovery was exclusively, or even primarily due to the prayers of his faithful friends, why did Miguel Pajares die?

Was it because there were fewer people praying for him? And if so, does that suggest that their God was sitting up in the heavenly spectator lounge with a great celestial abacus, waiting for that ‘just one more’ for the tipping point to be reached? You will agree that is absurd, although it appears to be the fond hope that many unthinking believers hold on to.

Could it be that the quality of care for Brantly was better? Or could it be because the priest was elderly, perhaps with an underlying health issue?

When my first wife died of cancer just a few weeks short of her 49th birthday, half the world it seemed had been praying for her. I spoke to maybe a dozen friends who were then church leaders to see if I could find a crumb of comfort, anything to help me deal with my disappointment, frustration and anger. One said, ‘God picks the best fruit first’ - well meaning tosh! Another suggested that I wasn’t praying ‘hard enough’ – whatever that meant. And yet another thought it might have been because there was some ‘hidden sin’ in my life – to believe that would obliterate any hope of any prayer ever being answered, for how many of us wear our sins on our sleeves?

And then I spoke to Bill, an Elim pastor. He looked at me with wise, old, saddened eyes. He had been around a few corners himself, and he simply said: ‘Adam, I don’t know’.

And a huge burden fell off my tired shoulders. ‘It is the lottery of life. Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people’.

So what then is prayer? To me it is a stroll along the beach with my Father, it is part of the process of growing ever more familiar with him and his ways. It is a conversation that brings me closer to him rather than me trying to make him see things from my point of view, or as singer songwriter Brian Houston once said, it’s feeling the warmth of his breath on my face. In other words, I have found prayer to be a journey, not a place.

Tell me what you think: adamharbinson@gmail.com