In my town, there are neighborhoods that literally have a place of worship on every corner. Many have billboards out in front to inform passersby of the services offered, to quote scripture or to share some thought provoking ideas: "Exercise for Christians: Run from Satan!"

I often find myself mulling over these messages. In front of the Christian Science Reading Room is this quote: "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." (James 5:16 KJV). This is a plug for prayer, and for me, it brings up a lot of the questions I have about prayer, particularly about prayers being answered, or perhaps not being answered, and why sometimes people have "success" with prayers, or they don't.

Perhaps, like me, you are often in your least righteous form when you need prayer the most. And, of course, "availeth much" doesn't mean "everything, always", the way we want it, when we want it. But I am definitely on board with "fervent" because it has its roots in "love with energy".

Personally, for quite awhile, I thought I had discovered the secret of successful prayer. I had given up the idea of asking for specific, material things and instead asked for "clarity and wisdom" whenever I had a problem. I can tell you that this particular prayer has been foolproof, that it has never not been answered, that it arrives like a lightning bolt and that I am instantly changed by it. It was clear to me that this was the secret to successful prayer and a no-brainer; after all, what couldn't be made better in this life with more wisdom and clarity?

No "trivial" prayers for me, ones that required God to turn focus away from matters of the world in order to provide me with a promotion or the attentions of a new romance.

A few years ago though, in a stressful period, I forgot about this rule, and prayed very fervently for a specific outcome. I had lost an important legal document and had spent a week turning my house inside out trying to find it. There was no place left to look; I was desperate and had no time for my own philosophical rules.

This time, this was my prayer: Please. Help. Me. Find. This. Now.

And I did, in about a minute.

Of course, the document did not just suddenly rise up, surrounded by light. But its whereabouts did arrive in lightning-bolt fashion, in the form of clarity and wisdom, even though those two virtues had not been mentioned at all. Instead, in blazing glory, a question appeared that I had not asked myself prior to dismantling my house: what does a Power of Attorney actually look like? Was I looking for a manila envelope, a sheath of papers with a lawyer's letterhead? Basically, I had no idea. The question didn't come with an answer; the question was the answer.

What I appreciate about this experience, besides the obvious, is that it has provided me with a larger truth that has since helped me navigate many important times in my life: Can I search for something and find it without knowing what it actually looks like?

If our specific prayer requests are not granted, perhaps there are instead, some questions posed, that need our attention first.

Clarity and wisdom. And fervency doesn't hurt.

A-K, Sous ChefComment