I was talking to a neighbor last week, and what he said was so moving that I asked if I could share our conversation with you folks. We talked about prayer.
When I was just a kid and attending old First Avenue Baptist in Huntington, West Virginia, my Sunday School teacher was Mr. Charlie Brown, I kid you not. I can't remember everything he taught, what he looked like or even the sound of his voice, but I remember this: he did the best he could with a kid like me. Anyone who could make a difference in the life of a smart-mouth young boy was worth remembering. He asked a question one Sunday morning, "Can you tell me about prayer?"
The answers were not overwhelmingly insightful.
"Not really. I never thought about it. God doesn't seem to care about my prayers. Is there a special way to get what I want?" You know, stuff like that. I knew that God didn't answer some really needy prayers. There was the time when I received a questionable report card. Actually, the report card was awful, and I knew dad would kill me, I would be grounded forever, locked in the closet all summer and would be sold to gypsies if I were lucky. I can still remember what I prayed. "Oh, God, please change these grades to a couple of A's and a few B's, or I'll tell you what, just give me all C's, and I'll be happy and do whatever you want!"
When I gave my report card to mom, she told me not to show it to dad and she would call my teachers and see if I could do some extra credit or something. God was obviously not interested in grades or my future life.
Anyway, Charlie Brown told us to open our Bibles to page 1177 — or whatever it was in the acceptable KJV — and read from chapter 6 and start with verse 5.
"Boys, you got to be sincere. Pray in your bedroom and keep your mouth shut. God will answer your prayers."
Man! If I had only known this when I got that report card! I made the mistake of asking Mr. Brown, "How come, when the preacher prays, a lot of the older men yell out, 'Amen, brother!' or 'Oh, yes, God!' How do they know when to do that?"
"John," he said,"You'll understand as you get older. That's the way Baptists do it."
I quit asking those deep theological questions in Sunday school. I figured out that Jesus meant it when He said, "Ask, and it will be given to you!"
I also began to believe that when I got old enough, good enough and wise enough to pray correctly, then most of my prayers would be answered.
My neighbor continued, "My dad was a farmer, and he was a good one. He was a Mormon, just like me, and he saw God's hand in all of life, especially out in the fields. Nothing really happened by accident. The seed had to be planted at the right time, the right way and every acre had to have constant work in order for the crop to be at its best so he could have a profit at the end of the season. Most importantly, he had to have rain, not too much and not too little. Dad worked so hard and he always smiled no matter what. I remember the year when everything was so dry. Boy, did we need rain. Dad prayed and prayed, and one day he said, "Rain is on the way!"
He went outside and looked up and waited. These dark clouds came right over our farm, but it rained on the farm just near us. Dad came inside smiling. I said, "Dad, we didn't get a drop. How can you still smile?"
He said, "Son, my prayers were answered. We got rain, but God gave to the farms that needed it more than we did. We'll get ours when God is ready!"
That man should have taught Sunday school! That was some of the finest theology I have ever heard.
I'll never forget what a young lady told me one day. She said, "You want to know why I left this church and went to another? It was because you never taught me to pray right. The pastor over there said that if I end every prayer with, 'I pray this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ who gave me the words to say.'"
I guess she was right. I didn't know the formula.
I have always believed and taught that God hears every prayer. Some are not grammatically correct, maybe too wordy, half-hearted, outrageous, childlike, spontaneous, written out, memorized, borrowed, proud, humble, expectant and even uncertain. I also believe God answers every prayer in His time and in His manner.
And believe it or not, God knows exactly what we need!