Friday, July 01, 2005

Early Lessons in Prayer

Being brought up in a Christian home, I learned about prayer at an early age. And I found that you really learn about prayer not by being taught or by talking about it, but by experience.

The earliest experience I remember was when I was four or five years old. I was laying on my back on the bottom level of a bunk bed that I shared with one of my brothers. I was supposed to be getting to sleep, but instead I was thinking about what I'd heard in church about God answering prayer. I had a piece of tin-foil, and I rolled it in my hands as I wondered how prayer worked. They said you could ask things of God, and he would answer you. He could do anything, even things that were impossible for people. I squeezed and rolled the tin-foil, making a little shiny ball. I ought to try this; see if it really works.

I looked at my little ball. It looked like silver, which I heard was expensive, but I knew it was just cheap tin-foil. I heard that gold was even more expensive than silver. A gold ball like that would be quite valuable. I could ask God to turn it into gold. So I tucked my little ball into the sheet under the mattress above me, and asked God to turn it into gold by the next morning.

Next morning, I looked -- it was still tin-foil as before, and I pondered why God hadn't changed it. It wasn't because he couldn't -- after all, he had created the whole world. He just didn't want to do it. It obviously wasn't important to do; it was only for my entertainment, I realized. So I concluded that God didn't want to be a magician that entertained people with miracles. He must reserve miracles for important occasions.

The next prayer experience I remember was when I was six years old. My oldest sister had recently married, and was now living across town. My Mom and another older sister were explaining to me where it was, relative to the school that I walked to. "You could walk over there and visit her, see her new house", they assured me. "Just walk past the school, and take the next left." They described landmarks and drew a map to make it clearer to me. Finally I was convinced that I could do it. If I couldn't find the house, I would just walk home.

I got to the right street, but finding the right house was a problem. They had given me details describing the house, but it seemed to me that many houses on the street came close to fitting the description. There were so many details, and I think I forgot a few. I walked up and down the street comparing houses to the details I could remember. Finally, I gave up. I would have to walk home and confess my failure.

But I had reversed my direction so many times, now I wasn't sure which way was the way home. I had walked a long way from the end of the street where I started, and there were no side streets, just houses. It was a clouded day, so I couldn't see the sun. Whichever way I walked, I had the nagging feeling that I could be walking further from home and would only have to walk the same distance again. "How could I ask any one to help me? They don't know where I live", I thought.

So I prayed, asking God to help me find my way home. After I prayed, the thought came to me: "All I need to do is find out which way is south. People here would know which way is south." So I found some kids in front of their house, and asked them. "I'll go ask my Mom", one of them said. When they came back out of the house, they pointed down the street: "That way."

So I found my way home. As I passed the school, I thought "God does answer prayer -- when it's important."

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