Previously published on Yahoo Contributor Network August 5, 2008.
Spoken aloud or through thought alone, prayer has been credited with everything from bringing about miraculous recoveries to finding lost keys.
Whether kneeling or standing, sitting or reclining, those who deliver fervent, passionate prayers on behalf of loved ones, on behalf of someone unknown, or even on behalf of the person praying assume the existence of a God or of a Higher Power. But prayer is not just a bunch of words strung together. "Prayers not felt by us are seldom heard by God (Philip Henry)."
Through deep, heart-felt consistent prayer, and focused concentration, we anticipate a spiritual connection or communion with The One who answers prayers. A devout and earnest petition with expectations of an answer requires belief in prayer's power and trust that an answer, though it may not always result in what we expect, will be forthcoming.
We pray for a variety of reasons: to give praise or thanks or to make a plea. Sometimes we just want our suffering to end. And we wonder why, even after we ask, and even if we believe, we still don't get the answer we expected.
Prayers for a child to overcome cancer and prayers for a sick relative or friend go seemingly unheeded. Does that mean that prayer doesn't work?
Prayer circles abound and miracles occur, but despite our prayers, despite our belief, despite our petitions, loved ones die and loved ones become terminally ill. Things are "meant to be," we hear. But what about: "...whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive" (Matthew 21:22)?
On July 27, 1981, a little boy named Adam Walsh, disappeared in a shopping center. His parents' frantic search continued past hours and days to weeks and months. Their pleas for Adam's recovery were joined with prayers from others who heard about Adam's disappearance. His lifeless body was eventually found. Were their prayers unanswered or was a "grander scheme," beyond our limited human comprehension of life and death at work?
As a result of Adam's death, John Walsh, his father, decided to save other parents from the same pain and anguish he and his wife experienced. Today, America's Most Wanted (author revision – the show ended October 12, 2012) has helped to recover nearly sixty missing children and missing persons, and has captured over one thousand fugitives. God's answer was probably not the answer John expected. But through John Walsh's actions America's Most Wanted has saved many people from suffering the Walsh's torment.
At the end of his life, Jesus prayed in Gethsemane to avoid suffering his own torment, if possible. If he was meant to suffer, however, he wanted to abide by God's will. Tortured by his enemies and betrayed by his friends, in the final moments of his life, in his final prayer, Christ asked God to forgive his enemies. "But I say unto you, love your enemies...and pray for them..." (Matthew 5:44)
Forgiveness heals. It lifts the burden of resentment and frees the mind to experience the power of prayer. According to Buddha, "Those who are free of resentful thoughts surely find peace."
For those who believe in prayer's benefits, the power of prayer lies in its value: "The value of consistent prayer is not that He will hear us, but that we will hear Him." (William McGill)