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Short Description: Are all prayers answered? Or just a select few?
  
 
Dwight Nelson:

U.S. News and World Report recently conducted a survey on prayer. In this survey, 68% of Christians, 37% of Jews, and 92% of Muslims reported praying more than once a day. The same survey also asked how many of these prayers were answered. Fascinating! Only 28% of Christians, 13% of Jews, and 30% of Muslims said their prayers were always answered. Isn't God powerful enough to answer all my prayers? And if He is, why doesn't He? In just a moment, we'll talk to best-selling author of numerous books on prayer, Stormie Omartian. I'm Dwight Nelson, and welcome to The Evidence.

Stormie Omartian's books on prayer have sold more than six million copies. She's a well-know public speaker, a popular author and a song writer. Stormie, we're delighted that you're joining us today from your home in Nashville.

Stormie Omartian:

My pleasure. Thank you for asking me.

Dwight Nelson:

Stormie, in your book, and I have it right here, you talk about times when you've prayed for healing and you admit you weren't healed. Those must have been very discouraging times. How did you handle all of that?

Stormie Omartian:

Well, one specific time when I wasn't healed, I not only wasn't healed, but I almost died, and I was sick for about six months. And I kept praying, my husband and I kept praying for healing. We didn't know what was wrong with me. And the doctors couldn't find anything, and I was in emergency hospitals so many times, and they could never find anything. And I never got healed. And finally my appendix ruptured and I almost died. And they still couldn't find what was wrong for me for about eight hours before they operated. But during that time, you know, you wonder why doesn't God heal me, I mean why didn't He hear me, you know, and I trust God enough to know that when I pray, I'm not telling Him what to do, you know, I'm not just giving Him a list and telling him what to do. I'm, you know, sharing my heart and sharing my longings and my needs. And if He doesn't answer in a way I want Him to, then I know that He has a purpose for it.

Dwight Nelson:

You suggested that sometimes God may be holding off on answering our prayers. Why would He do that, especially when we're praying for something so important?

Stormie Omartian:

Well, you know, I know how hard it is when prayer is not answered, especially something that's so important to you. It's just agonizing and it makes us angry and sad and frustrated, and all those things. But I believe that God has a deep purpose in that and that sometimes He delays the answer to our prayers. A certain amount of time,sometimes He probably has to accomplish a certain amount of things before He answers it, but I think often He wants to get our attention. He wants our attention to be totally focused on Him, and He wants us to depend on Him. He's really almost in a way testing our faith. Will we continue to have faith? We will continue to believe in Him? Will we continue to trust in Him? Will we continue to depend on Him until we see the answers to our prayers? So,He'll let us go so often until just all hope is gone and until we know there's no way that this could happen unless God does it. And He has done that so often in my life, where I'll pray for something and here's no other way that it could have happened other than God answered that prayer. So I can never get too cocky in thinking, well, I did it myself, or things just turned out that way, or what a coincidence, you know, this all worked out. It's where I know that God did it. And I think that's often why He delays in answering our prayers.

Dwight Nelson:

Why do people sometimes have trouble recognizing that answers to their prayers?

Stormie Omartian:

You know, so often we pray for something and we pray specifically. This is what we want God to do, we want Him to answer in this way. And God answers in His way, and He answers in His timing. And so often we don't recognize the answers to our own prayers because they're not answered the way we prayed them. You know? We're thinking that He's not listening and here He's answered it in another way. You know, and there are so many examples of that in my own life. I remember thinking how I really would love to live in a place where the air was clear and there wasn't as much crime, and all of these things, and where I thought would be a better place to raise my kids. And I brought these requests for God about that. And God ended up moving us from one state to another.And at the time, I was very ungrateful about that. I didn't want to move. You know, I just wanted God to clear up the air where I was. Ha, ha. And I wanted Him to take away all the crime. You know? But He moved me to another place where the air was clear and there was no crime, and I did not recognize the answers to my own prayers. And so here I'm grumbling and complaining. I'm surprised I didn't get struck with lightening at the time, because I was so grumbling about it. And you think, God, "why did you take me here? I don't want to be here." And, then realizing later that God was answering my prayers. So many prayers, not just those. So many Prayers that I'd prayed.

Dwight Nelson:

You say that praise is the prayer that changes everything. What do you mean by that phrase?

Stormie Omartian:

Well, my definition of prayer is communicating with God. And the ultimate communication with God is praise, because it's pure in that it takes the focus entirely off of ourselves and places it entirely upon God. And, when you do that, when you place your entire focus on God in worship and praise, His presence comes to dwell with you. And it says in the Bible that He inhabits the places of His people, which is so exciting, because that means His presence is there every time you worship Him. And when you're in the presence of God, I'm telling you, things change. Your mind changes, your attitude, your circumstances, your heart, all of those things begin to change. And the reason for that is as you praise Him, He pours of Himself into you. It's like a funnel, you know, it's like this open funnel and when you open up to God in that way in that pure praise and worship, He pours His love and His peace and His joy,all of the aspects of Him, into your life. And that's why things begin to change in your life. The more you praise God, the more things change. And that's why praise is the prayer that changes everything.

Dwight Nelson:

Stormy, thanks so much for taking the time to share with us on "The Evidence." God bless you.

Stormie Omartian:

Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity.

Dwight Nelson:

SIn the movie, "Bruce Almighty," God, who was played by Morgan Freeman, makes the point that most people don't know what they really want when they pray. It shows how a yes answer to a prayer can really mess up a person's life. And when Jim Carrey uses his new-found God powers to answer yes to everyone's prayers, it leads to chaos and riots in the streets. The movie is fiction, of course, but it raises an interesting point. If God answered all of your prayers with a yes, would you have what you really want? Stay with us.
[break]

Dwight Nelson:

Welcome back. Mike Tucker, a chaplain who has worked in both hospitals and hospices, a pastor and the executive director of this show, now joins me. Also joining us is Andrea Bartoli, professor of International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University and a member of the Comunita de Sant'Egidio centered in Rome, Italy.

Dwight Nelson:

Gentleman, good to have you both. You know we're thinking prayer. Our conversation is prayer. So let me say that I have this friend. I pray for her. She has cancer. I ask God, please heal her. She dies. What's happening? My prayers obviously are a failure.

Andrea Bartoli:

They're not a failure.

Dwight Nelson:

They're not a failure?

Andrea Bartoli:

No, a failure, first of all, because if you are calling that person a friend, that's coming from God. So I think that to have somebody praying for a friend is already a gift, a gift of life that many do not have. Loneliness is a terrible sickness these days, and prayer is actually a moment in which we are together in the ways that is difficult for many to understand. Death is a passage. And that friend of yours was actually probably blessed of having somebody close, somebody that was able to think beyond what we can see, the body alone, or what we can see as material things.

Dwight Nelson:

And Mike, as a chaplain, you have lived and moved in and around death. Have you prayed for people?

Mike Tucker:

Oh, absolutely. In fact, I had to struggle with this, to tell you the truth, when I worked as a pastor and as a chaplain, in particular. I've attended probably 500 deaths. Four hundred of those within a span of four to five years, when I was working as a chaplain. And it seemed to me that every time they called me, it was for someone who was dying and I would pray for them and they would die. And I began to wonder what, what is up with this? I mean, is this just a formality that we're going through? Finally, when I went back to pastoral work, there was a 16-year-old girl, who came down with viral spinal meningitis. Doctors gave her a 15% chance to live two hours. A zero percent to live the night. I went in and capped and gowned up and had a prayer for her and prayed for healing. Her classmates were in the chapel of the hospital praying for her, as well. After I prayed for her, I went to tell the young people, to let them know that maybe, you know, we need to get ready for this girl's death. And they wouldn't hear of it. They prayed all night long. Six weeks later that girl walked out of the hospital.
 

Dwight Nelson:

Incredible.

Mike Tucker:

And I, all of a sudden, had to re-access my understanding of prayer. What I've come to know through that process is that prayer, first and foremost, is an opportunity to seek the face of God. It is not so much a "name it,claim it" kind of a deal. That's not where I...
 

Andrea Bartoli:

Not demanding...
 

Mike Tucker:

Precisely.
 

Andrea Bartoli:

That I need this gift and I need it now.
 

Mike Tucker:

Although we can ask for things, but the primary purpose of prayer is to know God, to know His will, and to do His will in your life. That's the purpose. And when I pray, and I know God better, or I know His will better, and I'm able to do that will, my prayer has been answered, whether or not I've gotten the specific thing that I've asked for or not is not really the issue. Do I know God better and can I do His will now?

Andrea Bartoli:

And I do believe that there is a reduction when we equate prayer with demanding things.

Mike Tucker:

Yes

Andrea Bartoli:

I think that prayer is much more than that. It's a moment which we open up to life. We open to God. We open up to something we do not know necessarily. And I think it's important not to force prayer into something that we control, that we know exactly what we think we want.

Dwight Nelson:

You take a classic illustration, Mel Gibson's global hit movie, "The Passion of the Christ." The film actually opens, as you men remember, with Christ, with this Jesus of Nazareth in the Garden of Gethsemane, agonizing for something, and yet the irony is or the enigma what He asks for actually doesn't come to pass. So, the skeptics,yeah, yeah, you're questioning, Andrea?

Andrea Bartoli:

Well, I'm just responding that what He's asking doesn't come to pass in Jesus' terms. Actually what He wanted was to have God's will done, not what He wanted. So in a way, there is an interesting paradox in Jesus' life, which is clearly crucial to the experience of faith because...

Dwight Nelson:

So apparently your own will for an individual praying, as Jesus was, your own will may not necessarily be the same as the will of God. And you can clash. You can be a saint. You can be a person in perfection and still have a will that they counter, if it's allowed to progress to the want of God.

Andrea Bartoli:

When I look at my two-year-old child, who is trying to get the book, you know, he may want to have the book,but may not get the book that way that I would probably suggest him to get it. And I think that we have too much of a sense of position when we think about my will and God's will. I think, on the contrary, there is an expectation of God that in growing in the understanding we will actually find the harmony that is momentarily lost.

Dwight Nelson:

In fact, a model prayer, gentlemen, that Jesus taught, we call it The Lord's Prayer, there's something in there, isn't there, about Your will be done?

Mike Tucker:

Sure.

Dwight Nelson:

What does it mean to submit to the will of someone outside of yourself?

Mike Tucker:

What it means is that as a preacher, such as myself, I may think that I want something, but it may not be the best thing either for me or for my family or for the greater plan, the greater, the world. It might not be the best thing, but God knows what the best thing is. And if I am truly going to live according to His will, and if I'm going to be His follower, then I have to ask that my leader's will take supremacy over my will, because His will is always best. And that was the prayer of Jesus at Gethsemane. He said, "I don't want to go through this. I don't want to face this. But, more importantly, I want Your will to be done, and that is that man be reconciled to myself. And so, I'm willing to put my will aside and accept Yours."

Dwight Nelson:

Hold that thought. With a pause button, we want to find out what happened when a group of high school students took that idea to heart. And we'll find out right after this.
[break]

Dwight Nelson:

We're talking about prayer in this episode of "The Evidence." I'm here with Mike Tucker and Andrea Bartoli, the American representative at a most unusual community headquartered in Rome, Italy, Sant'Egidio, the community of Sant'Egidio. What's that community about?

Andrea Bartoli:

The community of Sant'Egidio started in Rome in 1968 by a young man who was eighteen, a high school student. He read the Gospel, gathered a few friends, and started a life of prayers, service and friendship. Now it's 16,000 people strong around the world, all living this simple life of prayer...

Dwight Nelson:

Are they all...

Andrea Bartoli:

Service and...

Dwight Nelson:

Sorry to interrupt you. Are they all young like 18, 19, 20 year olds?

Andrea Bartoli:

Well, many, well, many of us grew up. I was 13 when I joined.

Dwight Nelson:

(laughter) Oh, I see.

Andrea Bartoli:

But I'm definitely older now.

Dwight Nelson:

Yeah, okay.

Andrea Bartoli:

But you have people who are 84. In New York, we have a wonderful lady, Margie, who is 84 years old and is a member of the community.

Dwight Nelson:

Okay.

Andrea Bartoli:

All ages, all races, all countries, and it's just based on prayer.

Dwight Nelson:

I was going to say, what's the purpose of the community? What do you do?

Andrea Bartoli:

We just try to live the Gospel. We do believe that the Gospel is given to us as a whole. And that in prayer, friendship and service we can try to live by it, to try to make our life the gospel, the Good News, today.

Dwight Nelson:

I like that: prayer, friendship, and service. You, Mike, is this, is this something of: Your Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven-kind of a...

Mike Tucker:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Who was it? It was Oswald Chamber who said that prayer does not prepare us for some greater work. Prayer is the greater work. Basically the work of Christians is to pray. It is to be together, to love one another, to love those around us, to administer to their needs, but also to pray. Because it's through prayer that we discover who God is. We discover what His will is. And, a very important part of His will that we meet the needs of one another -- that we respond to each other in love. So, absolutely. This is the Kingdom of God on earth.

Dwight Nelson:

Now, Andrea, you've been involved in some major hot spots on this earth as a negotiator, as a peacemaker. But...

Andrea Bartoli:

Sure. But that actually happened through the community.

Dwight Nelson:

Through your community. So, prayer is a part of your negotiating strategy?

Andrea Bartoli:

Well, it's more than that. I would say that prayer is the source of the desire for peace.

Dwight Nelson:

Uh, huh.

Andrea Bartoli:

But it's frequently lost in people's loneliness and fear. And in prayer we find the source of that peace that is given to us. And it's very important to remember that, because very often we believe that peace is a product of a political sentiment or is something that has to do with our own decision. And we do believe that peace is actually received. Peace be with you, is the word that was given to the Disciples. And very often we do not pray enough, and we do not receive peace enough. And prayer is perceived as this place in which we demand things instead of receiving things. And I think that actually for (indecipherable). Prayer is a moment when a vocation is given a meaning is given, a sense of dream is given, and peace is part of it.

Dwight Nelson:

So, gentlemen, I'm listening to you and you have said prayer is not just about getting and receiving. Prayer is also about responding and acting in the human journey. So, let's say I'm a skeptic and I'm listening to you and I'm saying, ah, very interesting. And, Stormie was on just a moment ago, and so we're talking to Stormie about answered prayers. So, as a skeptic I'm thinking, you know, maybe I could try this routine to God. What would you say to me to get me on this journey of moving into the experience of prayer?

Mike Tucker:

I'd say, first of all, keep it simple. Don't try to make prayer something very complicated. Attempt to talk to God just like you and I are talking to one another. Talk to Him as you would talk to a friend and tell Him the truth. Tell Him what's on your heart. Tell Him what you need, what you desire, and the fact that you're a little bit skeptical about this. I would start with that.

Dwight Nelson:

So, no fancy language. I mean, we hear people who say Thee and Thou and all that.

Mike Tucker:

No, the Old Kind James English, no. We need to talk to God in the language that we're comfortable with.

Dwight Nelson:

Okay.

Mike Tucker:

Whatever language that might be.

Dwight Nelson:

Right.

Mike Tucker:

And truthfully, if you really don't have any words for prayer, if you don't even know where to start, a wonderful place to do that is to simply get a modern translation of the Book of Psalms, and pray those words from the Psalms as though they were your own words.

Dwight Nelson:

Those ancient prayers.

Mike Tucker:

Those ancient prayers, because they were written as prayers. They were songs and they were also prayers.Sometimes sung by the entire congregation as an act of worship. So take those prayers, change the personal pronouns, and pray those, and you will find something interesting happening. Not only will you find yourself learning the process of prayer, but you will also discover something of God's will in those ancient prayers.

Dwight Nelson:

Uh Huh. Andrea, you would add something to that.

Andrea Bartoli:

Well, I would say take your heart seriously.

Dwight Nelson:

Take your heart seriously? What do you mean by that?

Andrea Bartoli:

Well, I think that God is within us. I think that Jesus is very clear that the Kingdom is within. And I think that you need to believe that God is speaking to you.

Dwight Nelson:

So does God draw on me here? Is there some sort of reciprocal movement?

Mike Tucker:

Absolutely. It was Eugene H. Peterson who said "prayer is answering language." So, God speaks to us first. He puts it in our heart to praise. The Kingdom of God within you, what you were talking about. He puts it in my heart, even before I believed in Him, even before I wanted to know Him, He put it in my heart to pray. And so I answered Him. And that's what prayer is. It's answering God.

Dwight Nelson:

Andrea and Michael, thank you so much for sharing out of your own prayer journey, your faith journey. The earth now holds six billion people. The Community of Sant'Egidio, started by a high school student, has transformed the lives of tens of thousands of people. One person, or maybe one small group of people who are committed to an idea, can transform a city, a country, the world. We'll be right back for a final thought.
[break]

Dwight Nelson:

I don't know what disappointments you've had in your life. I don't know what you've concluded about what prayer can do or can't do. But may I ask you to do this, give conversation with God an honest try? No connection you can make is more important. At first it may be just a stumbling step. "God help me." It may be just a tentative attempt to extend your trust. And even if you have given prayer a shot and didn't feel you were getting anywhere, believe me, God's listening. Remember, prayer is opening up your heart to God just like you would to your very best friend. The friendship that can develop, the trust that can grow is worth the investment. I know. And you can, too. I'm Dwight Nelson. And that's what I believe. Join us next time for more of The Evidence.








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