Answered Prayers

Garth Brooks, big time country song writer/singer and part time theologian wrote and sang, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”

As an armchair philosopher of things spiritual I would like to comment. My observation is that when we say “unanswered prayer” what we really mean is, “I didn’t get the answer I wanted.” My experience has been that God always answers, but sometimes he says, “No,” or, “Not now,” or, “You go work on the problem some more, and get back to me.” One of his most generous but unappreciated answers is, “No, I have something better in store for you.” We are so often children who would sooner have a shiny bauble now than an unlimited treasure later.

My shortest prayer was answered in about seven seconds. I shouted it out without the usual formalities as my white knuckles gripped the useless steering wheel. At 75 miles an hour I hit black ice and immediately became a panicked passenger instead of the driver. The headlights swept the blackness as the truck slid semi sideways back and forth. Nothing I did with the steering wheel made any difference. If the ice ended while I was angle wise with the freeway the truck and my two singing buddies asleep in the camper and I would be splattered over the Salt Flats. I prayed with volume and gusto. The ice ended just as the truck was sliding back from a swerve. The wheels grabbed the dry pavement at exactly the right nano second. The truck was lined up straight away with the highway. My, “hallelujah” pierced the midnight sky. Answered prayers are pretty good gifts too.

My longest prayer was answered after about a year and a half. It was punctuated by night and morning pleadings with the Lord, but it was really one long prayer in my heart and mind no matter what else was also occupying the space. The prayer was that my beloved wife, the mother of our fifteen children would overcome the cancer that was destroying her from the inside. The answer was no with an asterisk. The asterisk was expressed beautifully by Phillips Brooks, a 19th century Episcopal bishop. “Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.”

I am not a miracle, but I felt my Father in Heaven giving me strength for the burden I would bear. “God is not a cosmic bellboy waiting to bring us room service with our latest request,” my philosopher friend Truman Madsen once told me.

The most famous prayer in Christendom begins, “Our Father who art in heaven.” I appreciate knowing the Lord’s address and I’m convinced he knows mine. I’m also grateful to know my relationship to him.

I know a little bit about fathering. It’s a piece of cake when you are handing out pieces of cake. When you have to say, “Eat this it’s good for you,” you may drop a few notches on the popularity poll. Comes with the territory.

On the receiving end of my Father’s answers sometimes I am overjoyed to see my cup of blessings overflowing. Other times his gifts are more difficult, scary, discouraging or strenuous than I would have preferred. But always my prayers are heard and answered, and always they are the greatest gifts.