Several years ago, in attempt to engage our kids more in bedtime prayers, we came up with a simple system for prayer requests. We ask them three things: What are they thankful for? Who is a friend they want to pray for? And who is a sick person they want to pray for? It worked well, I guess. Maybe a little too well, as I don’t seem to know how to get them to pray for anything else as they get older. Oh well. There are worse things.
A couple years ago, my daughter Maggie, then age 4, wanted to pray for a young boy named Emmanuel at the hospital that she had overheard me talking to my wife Rachel about. I was reluctant, knowing that the boy’s prognosis was very poor, and fearing having to discuss his death with Maggie. However, he got better despite my pessimism, and I saw the grace of God through my daughter’s faith.
About a month ago, Maggie and Ben were stuck on their third prayer request. They couldn’t come up with a sick person to pray for. So I asked them to pray for a young man named Claude on my service. He was 34 years old, and came in with raging meningitis in a deep coma. We started him on antibiotics, but after about three days, he wasn’t waking up, and almost just as bad, he had stopped making urine. I was worried about him, and so he came to mind.
We prayed several nights in a row for Claude, and it prompted some interested conversations about “why people are in comas”, etc. He didn’t immediately get better, but after a couple more days, he woke up. A few more days and his urine returned, and his kidney function started improving. He went home in good shape. It wasn’t impossible, but it was definitely against my expectations. I remembered Emmanuel from a couple years ago. I decided to do this more regularly.
After Claude, I moved on to the next case. Gloriose was 45. We weren’t sure if she had bad meningitis or bad malaria, but she was alternating between comatose and agitated enough to rip out her IV. It had been several days on maximal therapy without a lot of benefit. I told my students I was going to ask my kids to pray for her. The kids were fine with that. Her sixth day in the hospital, I walked in to find her sitting on the edge of her bed. She shook my hand, meeting me for the first time. I also saw her six-month old baby in the bed next to her. I sent her home today, so thankful that her baby has a mother.
“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” – James 5:16
I memorized this verse when I was a teenager. I don’t know what I thought it meant then. Maybe I thought it meant that people who followed God’s commands really well could pray and their prayers would change things more than someone who prayed who didn’t follow God’s commands as well.
And maybe that’s basically right. But it gets more complicated the more deeply I believe that the only righteousness that I have is that which was given freely to me by God because of his unmerited love. By His gift, I am righteous, so I guess my prayers are powerful.
And it gets a bit more complicated when I think about my kids. I don’t believe that they are heard because of their obedience to God’s laws. I do believe their prayers are powerful, and only partly because of what I’ve seen. Beyond that, it just comes easy to trust that their prayers are heard.
Maybe I believe that because they are my kids and I love them, and I can’t imagine not wanting to listen to them praying for someone who is suffering. Maybe God feels the same about me. Maybe that’s the love that made him sacrifice so much to make me righteous. Maybe it’s the same love that gives my prayers whatever power they may have.