Prayer is not a stand-alone. Like love, "pray" is a verb. An action word. Prayer is the prelude to doing something. Prayer, well-conceived, leads us to go on God's errands. In God's economy, prayer is the means to an end. And we don't always know the end.
Our good friend Janet Lui was shopping on a very hot afternoon on Market Street in San Francisco recently. She had just a couple of things yet to pick up at Macy's, but as she approached the store she noticed a homeless man sitting on the curb. She remembers thinking he had to be one of the most dejected and hopeless appearing people she had ever seen. As she walked by she heard him mumble something about, "Please buy me an ice cream." Shopping for ice cream really wasn't on her agenda. Besides, they don't sell ice cream on the sidewalk in front of Macy's.
But there was a hotdog cart. "Come on," she thought, "they don't sell ice cream off of hotdog carts." But just on the off-chance this one did, she approached. No, they didn't sell ice cream; but they did sell frozen fruit bars. Hmm, maybe that would help cool off the old man on the curb. What flavor might he like? The hotdog man said he sold mango and strawberry. She opted for strawberry.
She paid for the bar and went back to where the man was still sitting, now looking more despondent than ever. She smiled at the man and handed him the strawberry bar. "Oh, thank you," he said, "you even got my favorite flavor." Then, "God bless you!" "God bless me?" I thought. "I should be giving you my blessing. Janet turned and hurried back to her shopping errand.
She navigated the crowds toward home, then supper and bedtime. But a few minutes into her evening prayers, as she was reflecting on the events of the day she was sure she heard the voice of God whisper to her soul, "Thank you for the ice cream." "But God..." she responded. "If you've done it for the least of these" the whisper continued," you've done it for Me, remember?" She remembered.
Knee-time shapes us into givers. We are in training to hear the heart of God and to respond at the impulse of His will. Prayer makes us available. Imagine a whole church full of knee-driven givers! How it would change our world. And us.