Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

11 June 2008

Prayer, Part II: Does It Work?

There was a time when I got myself into some trouble. Bad trouble. Go-to-jail type of trouble. I won't go into the gory details, but it was a stressful time during which my future as a free citizen was in serious jeopardy. At the time, neither my family nor friends could help. I felt very stranded and desperate, panicked into inaction, and at my wit's end (which isn't a long trip since I am equipped with only half of the normal complement). I had nowhere to turn and no one to turn to.

So I did the only thing I knew how to do: I prayed. I believe in God, so I turned to Him. I did not ask God to bail me out of my situation, nor did I ask Him to solve the problem for me. What I asked for was simply that He help me find a way out. Every night I prayed for this help, confident that it would come. And it was odd. As d-day drew near, I became calmer. I knew...somehow just knew that God would not let me down. Instead of being scared and worrying myself into a nervous breakdown, I was able to see and think clearly, confident that things would somehow work out.

At the very last minute...and we're talking 11:59 pm here...a strange thing happened. A set of unpredictable circumstances fell into place that gave me an option I did not have before. Quite suddenly, some quick decisions and moves were made that literally allowed me to solve my problems and walk away. It was quite astounding. Looking back even now, I cannot explain the exquisite timing of the whole thing. But here I am, never having seen the inside of a jail cell.

Now, does this prove conclusively or scientifically that prayer works? No. But could you convince me otherwise? Hell, no! For me, my prayers were answered.

For most of my life I never really believed in the power of prayer. Oh, I "prayed" all right, but it was without conviction, without the confidence that God was actually hearing, and moreover cared about my prayers. I'd never seen it work first-hand, and you know that is how we humans relate to things. We can read it in a book, but it means little until we experience it for ourselves.

Anecdotally, I have over the years heard many stories of how people have had prayer work for them. Most of the time, the skeptic in me chalked it up to coincidence...even when "coincidence" was hardly the appropriate word to describe the supernatural event described. My mom can talk your ear off about how prayer has worked for her in a positive way throughout her life. (In fact, in getting my thoughts together for this post, I relied heavily on her counsel and advice.) All I can conclude is that it works for her because she believes so strongly that it will. There's a lesson there; one that took a long time for me to understand. Prayer and faith are inextricably linked (see Part I).

And so, when the shit hit the fan for me, it became a matter of faith. I believed in God, no question about that. But something changed inside of me. I had grown to a point at which I could overcome my skepticism and just...just...rely on my faith that He really does exist and He really wants to help. It may sound simplistic or silly. But when I did that, my life changed.

I pray every day now.

First of all, I thank God for letting me see this very day, for it is through His grace that I do. I thank Him for my wonderful life in general, of which I am extremely grateful. I thank Him for my family, and their continued safety and good health. I thank Him for my incredible friends, who make my life so rewarding and fun. I apologize for my sins; I ask for His forgiveness. I ask Christ to come into my life, and be my savior. I ask that He give me the strength, the courage and the wisdom to always do the right thing in every situation I encounter.

There's a little more to it, but that's basically it.

Growing up, something that troubled me was the fact that prayer does not always seem to work. I could ask for a million dollars but I could not reasonably expect to get it (at least I haven't so far gotten it). Does this invalidate prayer? No! There just may be some other unexplained reason why that particular prayer is not answered. Does this bother me? No! Why not? Because I've seen other prayers answered in the affirmative. And I don't hold it against God when my prayers are not answered right away and in the manner I desire. I know that prayer works. The fact is that we cannot petition God with our specific needs and have them immediately met, like ordering computer parts online and having them delivered right to the house in two days. The scientist might say that if prayer doesn't work one single time, then the whole process is negated.

Me, I do not focus on the fact that prayer does not always seem to work. I cannot explain it, but it does not trouble me very much. I try to see the bigger picture, that in the whole universe we are on God's time, not ours. This physical life is a mere blink of an eye compared to eternity. Nor does not stop me from praying. Nor should it stop you. We pray because we believe that God hears us. And cares.

When I pray, do I believe that I am talking directly to the Big Man Upstairs? Yes. Does that make me crazy or delusional? Could be. So far, God has not responded verbally. Then again, I do not expect Him to. But I see no harm in praying, no futility. By doing so, it helps me to utilize energies and qualities that are already within me, and to tap into supernatural forces. Could I do that on my own, without praying? Perhaps, but I doubt it, and in any case I don't want to. As I've said, my praying is inextricably linked to the fact that I believe that I'm not alone, spiritually. Praying gives me peace of mind and helps me to focus. It also provides me with some "outside" help that is difficult to document and more difficult to prove empirically.

If this is an unnecessary crutch, or an emotional or intellectual deficiency, well, so be it. I can live with that.


Redlefty said...

Great post, Bob -- that really helps me understand you better. One of my favorite things in life is to listen to other people's stories, so thanks for sharing!

Bob Barbanes said...

Well I agree, Michael. Although I can talk all day long about my faith, I much prefer to hear other people talk about what God means to them - *not* what God should mean to me, or what I should believe blah blah blah. I strongly feel that our faith is and should be in the first-person, and let us not be ashamed to testify to that. I'm not.

Thank you for your contributions to this blog, *and* for creating such an uplifting, positive, insightful and enlightening blog of your own. Your words are a pleasure to read and I eagerly look forward to each thought-provoking new post.

Anonymous said...

I have no desire to take anyone's faith from them. What I am fundamentally opposed to is dogma. My line of questioning is often viewed as offensive and disrespectful but that's only because society has conditioned us not to criticize religion the same way one can freely criticize politics, sports, etc. We have it good in this country. Real good. I'll defend the Constitution because I *believe* in it. What's troublesome is that people like me are killed in other countries for simply speaking out. It's a crazy world and I'm thankful that our Founding Fathers included the First Amendment in those sacred documents.

R1Tamer said...

Hey Bob,

Another great post and certainly generating some lively debate.

I've been in a real jam now for 12 months with a deadline fast approaching. Yet increasingly I too feel peace about the outcome. I was beginning to wonder whether I was actually just becoming detached from reality.

Interesting to hear your tale and feel reassurance again that just maybe my 'God' is readying to respond to my prayers.

I've been drafting my own episodic blog capturing a five year adventure including the present 'dark night of the soul'. I can't finalise it yet since the ending is still to be determined. Hopefully one day I'll be able to point you to it and include some reference to the encouragement I take from your writings.

Keep them coming and let's have a light hearted one next.

Hal Johnson said...

Great post, Bob.