Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

For Sunday, October 26, 2003


Does it do any good to pray for the sick and dying?


          My farmer friend, Grady Watson Jr., remains in the hospital in Monroeville, a very sick man. Along with many others, I have been praying daily for Grady’s recovery.

            Tuesday I learned that Grady had suffered a stroke. Instead of getting better, he is worse. This brings up some tough questions: does prayer really work? Does it do any good to pray for persons who are sick and dying? Does God really hear and answer prayer?

            We know there are those who scoff at the whole idea of praying. One man said to me, “Pray if you want, preacher, but I don’t believe there is anybody out there listening to you.” I prayed anyway.

             He stood looking at me, apparently never closing his eyes while I prayed. He was not ugly or cynical, just honest. In my prayer I asked God open his heart so that one day he would get to know the One to whom I was speaking. Whether that has happened, I do not know. I hope that the two of them have gotten to know each other.

            Others have said to me, “I believe in God, and I pray, but it feels like my prayers bounce off the ceiling. My prayers do not seem to make any difference.” I can identify with that feeling. I believe we all can.

            However, I have known many others who seem completely confident that God is listening to their prayers, and that he does indeed hear and answer prayer. They will pray anywhere, any time, at the drop of a hat, certain that God is listening.

            How do we bridge the gap between the unbelieving and the supremely confident? One thing seems certain: it is not a matter of the importance of the person praying.

            It would too much of a stretch for me to suppose that God is more eager to hear the prayers of the Pope or Billy Graham than those of an ordinary man in Repton, Alabama.

            How we pray is not likely the key. Lofty language, crafted by a “cathedral voice,” would not impress God. That is what Jesus said. He told about a common man who got God’s attention and favor when he prayed simply, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

            What may be very important are the expectations with which we approach God in prayer. Do we expect to inform God with our prayers? Surely not. Do we expect to change his mind and persuade him to do something he had not already planned to do? Again, surely not.

            Then, if God is going to do whatever he wishes to do, why bother praying at all? Why not relax, forget praying, and agree with those who believe that “whatever will be, will be”?

            Here is why: we need to pray because of the good that it does us to talk to God. He is a Father who loves to have his children talk to him. He wants us to share our concerns, our hearts, with him. Sometimes when I pray, I think of myself crawling up into God’s lap, and being still for a while to let him love me. There are times when I can “feel” wrapped up in his love, and it makes a difference.

            We do not pray to inform God. He already knows everything. We pray to let him know how we feel about the things that are happening to people we care about and to ourselves. We pray so that he can change our attitudes, not so we can change his. We pray so that he can enlarge our understanding until we want what he wants.

            We do know that God answers prayer. Sometimes he says yes. Sometimes he says no. At other times he says “Wait” or “Not yet.” Does prayer work?  No, but God works in answer to prayer. God responds. A loving Father could not help but respond to the cries of his children.

            We pray so that, in the course of our dialogue, we can embrace his will, not insist on having our way. God is not a cosmic vendor who gives us what we ask for when we pray the right prayers. He is the Father who knows what is best for us, and whose will is for our good even when we do not understand what he is doing.

            How, then, am I praying for my friend Grady Watson Jr.? I am praying for his recovery. I am asking God for a miracle, if one is necessary. Like a child, I express to God my heart’s desire for my brother’s healing. Right now I am praying for healing for several dear friends who are seriously ill.

            Even as I make my requests known to God, however, I am asking God to make me willing to accept his will in all things. He sees the big picture. My vision is limited.

            I know so little about prayer. I am still learning. However, what I have learned encourages me to believe that God wants us to pray, and invite him to release his grace and power in the lives of our friends and ourselves.

            There may be many things that he desires to do for us that he will do only in answer to our prayers or the prayers of others.

            Will my friend Grady recover? I do not know. God alone knows. Even if he does recover, he will one day die, as we all shall. This much I know: I will continue to pray for his recovery until the Lord calls him home.

            I called the hospital and talked to Grady’s wife, Vermelle. She was encouraged by his progress. “The doctor,” she said, “is doing everything he knows to do.”

            She put Grady on the phone. I told him I loved him, and I prayed this prayer aloud: “Lord Jesus, I pray that it will be your will to heal my brother and give him an extension of time to serve you. Thank you for hearing our prayer. Amen.”

            Though the stroke has affected Grady’s speech, I heard him whisper, “Yes, Jesus, thank you.”

            In those four words Grady may have revealed the best spirit in which to pray. It may be enough simply to say “Yes, Jesus, thank you,” and leave the rest to God. + + + +