“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years!”
–James 5:16-17 (NLT)
As the pastor, I had just finished exchanging greetings with a new lady at church, and I could tell she was carrying a heavy burden. She definitely wanted my help, but she wouldn’t disclose any info about her problem.
After assuring her I would pray about her unspoken request, I finished crossing the empty parking lot and rather rudely hopped into my car. Revving the engine like a teenager, I sped out of there.
I was starving, and I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t give her request a second thought after that. I knew my wife would have Sunday dinner on the table, and my mouth was watering.
When I opened the door, the delicious smell was overpowering. I could tell she had made all of my favorites. But she didn’t like the fact that I was late again. Instead of a hello, she only gave me an icy stare. So I went in as quickly as I could, and sat down as though nothing was wrong.
We said grace, and we had begun to serve ourselves in silence when the doorbell rang. I didn’t feel much like answering it, and my wife just glared at me, so I initially let it go. But when it rang again, I excused myself with a sigh, and reluctantly pushed myself back from the table.
Knowing that distraught people often stopped by at all hours, I told myself I really didn’t have much of a choice, but I continued to grumble under my breath. I walked into the den, finished chewing my mouthful of food, and opened the door.
I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. A child was running away, with tears streaming down his face. I had seen him before, but I couldn’t place him for a second. Then it came back to me–I had seen him earlier that morning at church.
“Of course!” I thought to myself. “He’s the son of that woman I talked to in the parking lot.”
Instantly, I felt waves of guilt wash over me. I called out to the boy, but he wouldn’t turn around. I called to him again, and he finally slowed down a bit. I decided to look at that as a positive, knowing that my service that morning had been a sham. Bowing my head, I asked for God’s forgiveness, and it was as though my eyes were opened.
It was cold out, and for the first time I clearly saw the emaciated little boy. He looked like he hadn’t eaten in a long while. He stood at the curb, waiting for a car to pass. He was shivvering and he wasn’t wearing a sweater, so I called to him for the third time, and then ran up to him.
“Hi, I’m your pastor. I talked to your mom earlier. Wouldn’t you like to come in where it’s warm?” I asked.
For the first time, I saw his eyes light up. Knowing I was on the right track, I went on, “You can join us for dinner, if you’d like.”
“Really, mister? You’re nice. But first,” the boy said through chattering teeth, “can I ask you a question?”
“Okay, but that might take a little while, so let’s start talking while we walk to the house.”
The boy was silent for a minute as we started out, but then he nodded. Finally, he blurted out this question.
“Pastor, does God have a ring tone?”
“That’s a very interesting question,” I replied, stopping in my tracks. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, my mom says my dad is real sick, and he might die, if God doesn’t hear our prayers. I’ve been praying real hard, but I don’t see anything happening, and I wonder if God gets confused without a ring tone. How will He know that it’s me praying?”
I felt like cracking a smile, but I knew that this was a serious matter to my dinner guest. So instead I said, “Before eating, let’s go into my den and talk.”
That afternoon was quite enlightening. The lad poured out his heart to me, and I began to appreciate in a new way how God sifts through all of our prayers. I told our guest that God didn’t need a ring tone to know who was praying. I also said that while His timing is sometimes different than ours, we can always trust that our God of love will do the right thing. Finally, because He is Lord over all, and He can see everything that goes on, I’m sure He has something far better in mind than you or I could dream of.
When my new friend asked me what kind of stuff God might be thinking about, I told him I didn’t know, but I tried to asure him that God loved his father even more than the boy did. After we talked a little longer, we went in to eat.
In case you’re wondering, this story didn’t actually happen. I made it up to illustrate my point.
“That’s a nice story,” you say, “but I’m really going through something horrendous today. Why doesn’t God seem to be answering when I call?”
Many times, we all give up too quickly. If you find yourself doing that, you might ask this question: Do I have a ring tone theology?
I am not talking about God’s need for a ring tone to single you out when you pray, but the fact is that sometimes we all move too fast. Figuratively speaking, therefore, we all have a specific ring tone designated for God, which can set us off if we’re not careful. These “tones” are specific instances which, if acted upon impulsively, are dangerous.
Here are just two examples. Number 1 is the act of opening your Bible at random, and putting your finger down on a verse. Number 2 is a similar pitfall–the act of going on experience alone.
The God of the Bible loves you. He may be majestic, but He is not at all removed from your situation. The Word says that Jesus was touched with the pain that we go through, and that He has every hair on your head numbered. He also says that we are the apple of His eye, and our thoughts are precious to Him.
So for those reasons and many more, we would be wise to let Him maneuver through the traffic jams of life with us. But we can only do this by searching His Word. Therefore, next time you are tempted to go off on one ring tone or another that sounds especially inviting, take time and let God speak to you through its pages.
Thank you for reading this, and may the Lord give you a wonderful week! We are trying to reach people who are hurting, so if God lays it on your heart, please consider becoming a partner with us. If you would like to make a donation, please visit www.hcmachaplains.org and click on the Donate Now link. You can also send donations by mail to HCMA (Healthcare Chaplains Ministry Association). Our ID number is 560. The address is 101 S Kraemer BLVD, Suite 123A, Placentia, CA 92870.
Finally, you’re always welcome to join our Tuesday night Bible study. These studies are conducted by conference call, and they take place at 6:30 PM Arizona time. Our conference number is 313-209-8800. Our PIN is 8699032. We hope to talk with you soon!
If you have questions, comments or prayer requests for Timothy or Stephanie Burdick, please call 507-369-6861.