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One ... snowflakes, we frantically called and texted friends asking for prayer. My ’78 Land...

Date post:10-Jun-2020
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    Prayer That Works

    June 26, 2012, was a simmering summer day in Colorado. Thermometers in Colorado Springs would report a record- breaking high of 101°F— fueling concerns about a wildfire burning unchecked in the mountains west of town. Fire crews were spread thin, and drought conditions had prepped the hill- sides like tinder. Many worried eyes were turned toward the hills that day. Then, as if on some malevolent cue, winds started gust- ing to sixty- five miles an hour. (A thirty- five- mile- per- hour blast will almost knock you over, to give you some perspective; sixty- five miles per hour is considered a “violent storm” on the Beaufort Wind Scale.) Storm winds and flames on dry mountain terrain make for an unholy trinity.

    The Waldo Canyon Fire jumped containment lines. Like the German blitzkrieg racing across Poland in 1939, it began sweep- ing east toward the city limits, unchecked and ravening. When all was said and done, 18,247 acres and 346 homes were consumed.

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    I was sitting at my desk that afternoon when a colleague walked in and said, “Have you seen this?” My instinctive reac- tion was to look to the mountains— our office windows face west— and I saw the vanguard of the fire cresting the last ridge before town. We’d been following the reports hour to hour; the fire had grown to 4,000 acres and was deemed only 5 percent contained. My neighborhood (we border the forest) had been placed on evacuation warning twice, and for days we watched the column of smoke rising over the mountains from the fire’s epicenter west of us, billowing to a height of thirty thousand feet like a thunderhead or the plume of a volcano, all orange and black and foreboding.

    But the reports kept assuring us that the fire would move north and west and bypass town, so we went on with our lives— until I saw the advancing flames crest the ridge. I grabbed my phone as I walked out the door and called Stasi. “Pack up; I’m headed home.” “They haven’t given the evacuation notice,” she said. “It’s coming,” I told her. “The fire is coming. I can see it. I’m on my way.” Like a man running before an incoming tide, I liter- ally raced the fire home as it swept ridge after ridge. We grabbed the dog and a few belongings— it’s true, what they say, how little actually matters to you when it comes down to “the moment”— and said good- bye to everything else.

    Our neighbors were the last to leave; they later told us that trees on the hill above our houses were exploding. Stuck in the traffic jams caused by the evacuation, ashes drifting down like snowflakes, we frantically called and texted friends asking for prayer. My ’78 Land Cruiser has no air conditioning, so I soaked a scarf of Stasi’s in water and held it to my mouth to prevent smoke inhalation while I made contingency plans should the fire catch up

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    to us; the winds were howling down the mountain now, driving the flames forward like the hounds of hell.

    We took cover east of town with some dear friends and watched anxiously. It would be three more days of fire and smoke and shrouded hillsides till we heard the news— our home had been spared.

    Bits and pieces of story began to trickle in, but it was the reports of the fire crews that left us speechless. A veteran fire chief and a handful of wildfire “hot shots” had gathered on our street to stand in wonder as they witnessed something they had never seen before. The one- hundred- foot wall of flame should have swept down our summer- crisp hillside and engulfed our home in a matter of seconds. But it did not. Every time the advancing fury approached our property line, it wavered, hesitated, and pulled back. The raging furnace would not cross our property line. It would advance, then retreat, advance, then retreat— though the winds were at its back and the fire had just covered miles in a manner of minutes. We realized it was at that same moment, three days earlier, that a friend had texted us,

    I saw an angel, above your house, spreading its wings and

    flapping them against the wind and the fire. I think you are

    going to be okay.

    When we finally were allowed back into the neighborhood, we found that the low- lying grass fire had burned right up to our porch. But the major assault had not crossed our property line. The aspen trees in our yard were still in their summer glory.

    I know, I know— the story raises some difficulties; it touches the raw nerve of your own longing for rescue and your history

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    of unanswered prayers. Other people were earnestly praying as the fire swept down— how come their homes weren’t spared? I don’t pretend to know the answer to that. Like you, I have my own story of prayers answered, prayers unanswered, and silence I can’t quite make sense of. This is not a story about my prayers at all. What I do know is this: every day, when I step out my door, I see up on the hill the outline of blackened tree stumps, and then, coming closer, after you cross our property line, green, living trees. One side looks like Mordor, the other, Eden. An irrefutable witness to the power of prayer.

    A Disruptive But Hopeful Truth

    Look, let’s go ahead and name the elephant in the room— some prayers work, and some prayers don’t. Why does that surprise and irritate us? Some diets work, but most don’t; no one is really sur- prised by that. We simply keep looking for the one that will work for us. Some investments produce, and others don’t; you look for the program that works for you. Some schools are effective while others fail badly; hopefully you can find the situation that is right for your child. There is a way things work. Can you name anything in life where this isn’t so?

    I damaged my elbow last summer doing some yard work. I ignored the problem for weeks until I was forced to see my physi- cal therapist. I went under the assumption that a couple visits ought to take care of my problem; after all, it was just a strain— it’s not like I broke it or something. Yet therapy took months, and I was so irritated by that. And it was irritated at me; that is, I kept irritating the muscle by using my elbow before it was healed. I

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    kept aggravating it because I didn’t want to accommodate my life- style to account for the realities of a tiny muscle in my left elbow.

    You know the irritation I speak of. Something adolescent in human nature just doesn’t like having to submit to the realities of the world around us (and within us). We want to eat whatever we feel like eating; then we are surprised and dismayed when our health collapses down the road. We want exercise or weight loss to come quickly and easily; we want it to fit neatly into our calen- dar. We want our friends to be good to us, without ever having to look at how our personalities impact them. We want our kids to “turn out” without making the sacrifices in our parenting styles that are required to fit their needs.

    And so it is with prayer. We just want it to be simple and easy; we want it to go like this:

    God is loving and powerful. We need his help. So we ask for help, as best we know how. The rest is up to him. After all— he’s God. He can do anything.

    The problem is, sometimes he comes through, often he doesn’t, and we have no idea for the rhyme or reason why. We lose heart and abandon prayer. (And we feel hurt and justified in doing so.) We abandon the very treasure God has given us for not losing heart, for moving the “mountains” in front of us, bringing about the changes we so desperately want to see in our world.

    The uncomfortable truth is this: that is a very naïve view of prayer, on a level with believing that all a marriage needs is love, or that we should base our foreign policy on belief in our fellow man.

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    That simple view of prayer has crushed many a dear soul, because it ignores crucial facts. There is a way things work.

    God is powerful, I ask for help, and now it’s up to him— it reminds me of a scene from the movie Patch Adams. Patch is a young medical student with a heart of gold; he wants to offer health care to the disenfranchised. He rallies a group of like- minded idealists, and they begin to chase their dreams. Then tragedy strikes; Patch’s girlfriend is murdered by a schizophrenic man who was among the outcasts they were trying to rescue. The scene then takes us to a cliff top; Patch is standing on the brink. The mood is ominous; it appears he is about to take his life. Patch is arguing with God. I like that part very much— he is reaching out; he is wrestling in the right place. Then he reveals his misunder standing of the world:

    [Patch is looking up to heaven]

    “Answer me please— tell me what you’re doing.”


    “Okay, let’s look at the logic: You create man. Man suffers

    enormous amounts of pain. Man dies. Maybe you should have

    had just a few more brainstorming sessions prior to creation.”

    [A pause]

    “You rested on the seventh day; maybe you sh

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