Harper sat for some time soaking it all in. She knew God had touched her, and that lifted her spirits, for sure; but it was hard to understand it all. She had felt presence before, years past, but never anything like this.
As a child, she remembered her mom had put a wooden plaque above the buffet that read “Prayer Changes Things.” But to be honest, as she grew older and experienced more of life, even though she still believed we should pray, if she had to be honest, she wasn’t sure it changed anything. On Facebook, when people said they were praying for a situation and sending “thoughts”—whatever that meant—she hesitated to participate. She would pray, but not ever write “Praying” or “Just prayed” to prove it. She knew that response probably was real and genuine for some; but for her, it would be an artificial response to someone’s painful situation. Sending prayers and thoughts seemed more about compassion and empathy than actual spiritual power to change an outcome, so when Blaise asked if he could pray for her, she didn’t hesitate, but she took it more as an “I’m sorry” than a real attempt to have God intervene in her pain.
And yet He did.
In the Bible, most often it was people’s faith that was rewarded, but she certainly had not had faith for this. It was humbling to think God would meet one so weak and full of conflict. All of a sudden, she jumped up from her chair and headed for the shower. Though she would be late, she decided to go to the meeting and see how they were doing.
She parked on the street and quietly opened the front door. The shop was dark all but for the light coming from the partially closed door to the back meeting room. On the drive over, she had decided on a stealth approach. She would listen without making her presence known, then exit undetected—hopefully.
Blaise was just visible through the narrow opening in the door. As long as she had known him, his greying auburn hair had been tied back in a ponytail, but tonight his hair framed his face, falling loosely in waves around his shoulders. He was reading a scripture from the Psalms aloud, and the people responded periodically with “Lord, have mercy on me” and some other responses which they must have had in print. It sounded formal and was quite unexpected for Harper who had assumed the meeting would be more hippy and less liturgical. After the reading, the whole group recited the “Our Father.” Harper could not imagine the service being conducted this way in the coffee shop, so maybe this was new to the group, as well, though all seemed to be participating by the sound of it.
Blaise then presented a short verse by verse study in I Thessalonians, but she couldn’t always hear clearly. So, she carefully took her chair and sat a bit closer to the door, but still out of sight. After the preaching time, Blaise asked if there were any questions about what he had said. No one spoke for a time, but he patiently waited. He was much more comfortable with silences than Harper, and probably anyone else she knew.
Finally, a quiet voice near the back of the room asked, “This isn’t exactly about your sermon, but I need to ask why we pray? If God is going to do what He chooses anyway, I don’t see the use of praying.” The voice rose in volume and intensity, and that was when Harper recognized that it was Ava speaking. “Kierkegaard wrote that prayer isn’t about influencing God or changing His mind, but it’s about changing the one who prays; but when I pray—and when those I know best pray—it’s not about wanting to be changed as the pray-er, but to actually get an answer from the pray-ee—God. So, my question is—and I am sincere in this—why? Why do we waste time praying when things are all scripted?”
Where Harper was seated now, she couldn’t see Blaise anymore, but she heard him respond in his sure, calm voice. “That is an excellent question, Ava, and one that many people ask. It does seem at times that we are speaking into a void, that prayer is just a useless exercise. And if we do not see an answer to our request—immediate or otherwise—it certainly might feel that it’s useless. This is a whole sermon in itself, of course; but let me begin by saying that we pray because we are asked to. When we get to I Thessalonians 5, we’ll get to the verse “Pray without ceasing.” But throughout scripture, we are commanded to pray, and we see the examples of other godly people who were examples for us of vigilant prayer. So, we pray sacramentally—as part of our worship, as an act of obedience.”
“So, we do it just as a ritual without expecting results?” Ava interjected abruptly.
“Not exactly, though at times it might feel that way. I think this seems to be touching a nerve with you all, right?” There were murmurs of assent. “Okay, so next week, I’ll give an in-depth teaching on prayer, and I would like you to bring any other questions and perhaps examples in your own life of when prayer seemed effectual or ineffectual. Let’s hash this out and seek some clarity. In the meantime, let me give you something to chew on: There are other fine Christians who believe differently, and you are free to embrace their teachings; but as for me, I do not believe we are rats in a maze with prescribed twists and turns till the end. I believe this rat . . .” And at this he smiled large. “This rat is in a big, broad beautiful meadow. The meadow is provided by the Creator, but where I go and what I choose to do is within my free will to decide. If I walk alongside the Creator in real communication, I can ask for His guidance and intervention, but there are also hawks and foxes in the meadow who seek my doom and are at odds with the Creator. Okay, I might be taking this analogy a bit too far.” There were some snickers in the group, but they seemed to be getting the point. “Like anything in doctrine or practice, things are complex and not as easy as some would have you believe. ‘Specific sovereignty’, though in some ways a comforting doctrine, for me, does not allow for this war zone we live in on this side of heaven. There is a constant push and pull in life that requires close communion with God to successfully navigate, and faith-life also functions better when you have a community with folks to come alongside, walk with you, and war with you when you feel weak. That’s you guys. Does this make sense?” Again, the murmurs of assent sounded like Blaise was speaking their language. And Harper felt like someone had been reading her mail. Blaise continued, “So, come next week, and we will take a deep dive into the importance of prayer. Before we close, let us take the bread and grape juice, remembering what Christ has done to secure us a relationship with Him, free and forgiven. Max, would you and Jan hand out the elements?”
Harper decided that this would be a good moment to make her exit. She left her chair where it was so as not to make any unnecessary noise. She gently fiddled with the deadbolt on the front door and finally managed to get it free. Just as she started to step out, she heard, “Harper, is that you?”