††††††††††† In the 25 years we have been married my wife has only slapped me once -- so far.
††††††††††† She whacked me because of a prayer.
††††††††††† Not one of my prayers. Or one of hers. But because of the prayers of three women we'd never seen before, or since.
††††††††††† I should say right off that Ginny is a charitable woman. On a freezing night I've seen her strip blankets off her own bed and take them to the unheated home of a stranger she'd heard about. But living with me can exasperate the patience of even such a saint.
††††††††††† Here's what happened:
††††††††††† That Sunday morning I'd taken my family across town to worship at a service where a friend was guest speaker. This particular Sunday fell between paydays. Far between paydays. In fact the gas gage in our car read empty when we left church and I had only one lone dollar to buy more gas. This was back before the oil crisis when gas cost 37Ę per galleon.
††††††††††† Ginny and I were both anxious, worried that we would not even have gas enough to make it to a filling station. Poverty creates tension. But we coasted along on fumes and faith.
††††††††††† As we crossed Jacksonville's Main Street Bridge we saw a wonderful sight below us in the St. Johns River. An antique, three-masted,† wooden sailing ship was tied up on the waterfront.
††††††††††† We turned off Main Street and stopped to let the children see this magnificent ship.
††††††††††† The ship was named Unicorn. Naturally its figurehead portrayed a unicorn with golden mane, its horn projecting into the waves. Intriguing lattice works of taunt lines climbed the masts making a spiderweb of nautical purpose. Seamen had polished the wooden decks and rails to a gleaming finish punctuated by sparkling brass fittings. One of the men allowed us to board, and our children -- except little Eve who shyly clung to my hand --ran here and there delighted to be pretend pirates.
††††††††††† My wife minded the other kids on board while Eve and I wandered back down to the wharf to get a closer look at the golden unicorn figurehead.
††††††††††† As we walked down the gangplank, I noticed three strange women standing by a rail on the cement seawall. Two were very old, white-haired ladies wearing white blouses and billowing black skirts, the third was a much younger woman.
††††††††††† She was crying.
††††††††††† At first I thought the trio were enjoying an after-church outing to feed sea gulls. The old women had a huge black coffee-table-size Bible laying open on top of the rail; its fluttering pages were anchored open by a† loaf of bread.
††††††††††† The women would huddle together awhile, hugging the younger one. Then one would sail a slice of bread out over the river. Ever-hungry sea gulls swooped for the bread but the women ignored them. After tossing each slice, all three would wave their hands in the air for a bit, then go back into their huddle.
††††††††††† I was intrigued.
††††††††††† What in the world were these people doing?
††††††††††† Eve and I wandered closer and closer to them, curious about their bizarre behavior. I couldn't figure it out.
††††††††††† The only way to find out was to ask. So I did.
††††††††††† "We is a-praying," one old lady answered.
††††††††††† "This here child got a terrible need, and the Book say if you got such a need, then you go to the river and cast your bread on the water and God will increase it to meet you's need."
††††††††††† I realized† that none of these dear saints knew how to read; the King James Bible verse she was referring to is Ecclesiastes 11:1 which says:
††††††††††† "Cast thy bread upon the waters; for thou shalt find it after many days."
††††††††††† Many Bible scholars think the obscure Hebrew words in this verse have something to do with the import/export business. They translate it to mean,† "Send your grain across the seas, and in time you will get a return." or,† "Invest your money in foreign trade and one of these days you will make a profit."
††††††††††† Now God only knows what that isolated verse really means. But one thing is certain, no Bible scholar anywhere thinks it means that if you toss a Wonder Bread Frisbee in the St Johns River, God will send you cash.
††††††††††† But these three simple women could not read the opinions of eminent Bible scholars. They just felt that if they called on the name of the Lord and obeyed him as best they knew how, then He would not let them down.
††††††††††† Ok. Ok. I know I did wrong. I know I am guilty of promoting an ignorant superstition. I know the Bible is not a rabbit's foot...
††††††††††† But, confronted by the simple, childlike faith of these women who were praying the best they knew how, I could not -- I just could not walk away. Especially knowing that I had that dollar for gas in my pocket. I just couldn't do it.
††††††††††† I gave the old lady the dollar and apologized for not having more.
††††††††††† She hugged her friends and they jumped up and down and cried, "Thank You, Jesus! Thank you Jesus."
††††††††††† She said, "See here , Girl, I done tolt you that God answers prayer -- and He's just getting started!"
††††††††††† They went back to casting their bread on the St. Johns and praying while Eve and I joined the rest of the family back at the car. By now I'm doing some praying of my own, "Dear Jesus, I sure hope the gas gauge is wrong. Let me have gas enough to at least make it home."
††††††††††† Well, we'd driven a few blocks when Eve, now a refined young lady but then† a five-year-old snitch, pipes up from the back seat, "Daddy, why did you give those ladies that money?"
††††††††††† "John! You didn't!" my poor shocked wife cried. "You couldn't have!"
††††††††††† "Now, Honey..." I began.
††††††††††† "Don't you honey me," she said -- and popped me a good one.
††††††††††† Who could blame her? I deserved it.
††††††††††† Anyhow, we did have gas enough to make it home -- barely. Payday finally did arrive. No harm done, unless it was the harm I did in encouraging those women to treat a Bible verse like a magic charm.
††††††††††† Oddly enough, to this day whenever my own cash runs low, I remember those three women at the river and I as I pray for me, I pray for them again.
††††††††††† And I'm thankful for them too.
††††††††††† They taught me that prayer does not have to be perfect.
††††††††††† We can -- and probably do more often than we realize -- pray in ignorance. We can garble the words and misunderstand the Scripture. We can read prayers from a book or we can just sob inarticulately...
††††††††††† Nevertheless -- in spite of all the confusion I feel regarding prayer, in spite of my questioning about why my prayers sometimes do not seem to be answered, in spite of all my doubts,† I believe -- I am firmly convinced --† that if we sincerely call to Jesus for help, if we obey him to the best of our understanding, he will hear .... and he will answer.
You have been reading Chapter Seventeen of the book Why Donít I Get What I Pray For? by John W. Cowart †(IVP, 1993)
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF WORKS CONSULTED
Bailey, Faith Cox George MuellerChicago. Moody Press. c.1958
Barbet, Pierre. A Doctor At Calvary: The Passion Of Our Lord Jesus Christ As Described By A Surgeon. New York. Image Books. 1963.
Bartlett, John. (Christopher Morley, editor) Familiar Quotations. Little, Brown and Co. 1947.
Bishop, Jim. The Day Christ Died. New York. Harper & Brothers. c.1957.
The Book Of Common Prayer. New York. James Pott & Co. 1929.
Brother Lawrence. The Practice Of The Presence Of God. Old Tappan, N.J. Fleming H. Revell. c. 1958.
Browne, Sir Thomas. Religio Medici New york. Appleton-Century-Crofts. c. 1966.
Cowart, John W. People Whose Faith Got Them Into Trouble. Downers Grove, Ill. InterVarsity Press. c. 1990.
Cowart, John W. Florida Times-Union "Prayer Works" May 5, 1984.
Edwards, Jonathan. Basic Writings. New York. New American Library. c. 1966
Farrar, F.W. The Early Days Of Christianity. New York. Funk & Wagnalls. 1883.
Fenelon, Francois. Spiritual Letters. Christian Books Publishing House, P.O. Box 3368, Auburn, Maine, 04210. c.1982.
Fenelon, Francois. Christian Perfection. New York. harper & Brothers Publishers. c. 1947.
Finegan, Jack. Light From The Ancient past. Princeton University Press. c. 1946.
Florida Times-Union "This Primate Of A Different Denomination" March 2, 1992.
Foreman, Dale. Crucify Him: A Lawyer Looks At The Trial Of jesus. Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Publishing House. c. 1990.
"Forever Free".† The Civil War -- 1862. Video Vol. 3. "
Gordon, S.D. Quiet Talks On Prayer. New York. Fleming H. Revell. c. 1904.
Graham, Billy. Billy Graham Answers Your Questions. Minneapolis. World Wide Publications. n.d.
Hallesby, O. Prayer Minneapolis. Augsburg Publishing House. c.1931.
Hyman, Ann. Florida Times-Union "Exorcising Ghosts Is A Group Effort" September 25, 1991.
Kempis, Thomas. Of The Imitation Of Christ Oxford University Press. 1917.
Landers, Peggy. "An Interview With Terry Waite" (a printout from a computer bulletin board mailed to me by a friend; I do not know where it has appeared in pring although it is attributed to Knight-Ridder Newspapers.)
Laubach, Frank C. Prayer The Mightiest Force In The World. Fleming H. Revell Co. c. 1946
Law, William. A Serious Call To A Devout And Holy Life. London. I.M. Dent & Sons LTD. 1906.
Lewis, C.S. God In The Dock. Grand Rapids, Mich. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. c. 1970.
Loehr, Franklin. The Power Of Prayer On Plants. New York. Doubleday. c. 1959.
Miller, Basil. Praying Hyde: A Man Of Prayer. Grand Rapids, Michigan. Zondervan Publishing House. c. 1943.
Moltmann, Jurgen. The Crucified God. San Francisco. Harper & Row. c. 1974.
Murray, Andrew. The Prayer Life. Chicago. Moody Press. n.d.
Murray, Andrew. The True Vine. Chicago. Moody Press. n.d.
Pearce, Roy Harvey. editor. Colonial American Writing. New York. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. c. 1950
Smedes, Lewis B. A Pretty Good Person. HarperSanFrancisco (sic). c.1990.
Spurgeon, C. H. Evening By Evening. Grand Rapids, Mich. Baker Book House. 1975.
Strong, James. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance To The Holy Bible. Nashville, Tenn. Crusade Bible Publishers Inc. nd.
Swanson, Kenneth. Uncommon Prayer: Approaching Intimacy With God. New York. Ballantine. c. 1987.
Taylor, Jeremy. The Rule And Exercises Of Holy Living. New York. Harper & Row. 1970.
Tozer, A.W. The Knowledge Of The Holy. San Francisco. Harper & Row. c.1961.
Unknown Christian. The Kneeling Christian. Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Publishing House. 1945.
Bible translations consulted included:
An American Translation, J.M. Powis Smith and Edgar J. Goodspeed. University of Chicago Press. c. 1935.
The Amplified New Testament. New york. New Family Library. c. 1958.
The Catholic Study Bible
The Jerusalem Bible. New York. Doubleday. c. 1966
King James Version Of The Holy Bible.
King James II Version Of The Bible, Associated Publishers And††††††††††††††††††††† Authors, Inc. Byron Center, Michigan. c. 1971
The Living Bible, Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois. 1971
The Holy Bible: A New Translation by James Moffatt, Richard R. Smith Inc., N.Y. c. 1926
The New English Bible, Oxford University Press. 1970.
†New International Version Of The Holy Bible. Zondervan Bible Publishers. Grand Rapids, Mich. c. 1978.
The New Testament In Modern English translated by J.B. Phillips. Macmillan Co. N.Y. c. 1960
The Bible: Revised Standard Version. American Bible Society, N.Y. c. 1980.
The Bible In Today's English Version. American Bible Society, N.Y. c. 1976
The Gospel Of St. Mark: A New Translation In Simple English From The Nestle Greek Text by Edward Vernon. Prentice-Hall Inc. N.Y. c. 1952
SCRIPTURE REFERENCE NOTE:
†††† Most of the Scripture references in this book are quoted from the New International Version Of The Holy Bible, copyrighted in 1978 by Zondervan Bible Publishers. Grand Rapids, Michigan. Such references are marked NIV.
†††† Other biblical sources include:
KJV -- King James II Version Of The Bible, Associated Publishers And††††††††††††††††††††† Authors, Inc. Byron Center, Michigan. c. 1971
LB -- The Living Bible, Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois. 1971
Moffatt -- The Holy Bible: A New Translation by James Moffatt, Richard R. Smith Inc., N.Y. c. 1926
NEB -- The New English Bible, Oxford University Press. 1970.
Phillips -- The New Testament In Modern English translated by J.B. Phillips. Macmillan Co. N.Y. c. 1960
RSV -- The Bible: Revised Standard Version. American Bible Society, N.Y. c. 1980.
TEV -- The Bible In Today's English Version. American Bible Society, N.Y. c. 1976
Vernon -- The Gospel Of St. Mark: A New Translation In Simple English†††††††††††††††††††††††† From The Nestle Greek Text by Edward Vernon. Prentice-Hall Inc. N.Y. c. 1952