I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me.-C.S. Lewis
And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.-John 14:13
Before going to college, I took a year off and headed to West Africa. I was volunteering with a Christian organization called Mercy Ships in the country of Liberia. Mercy Ships is a floating hospital that travels up and down the west coast of Africa to provide healthcare for the poorest of the poor.
I had left the States in hopes of a deeper relationship with Jesus. This was my hail-Mary pass, my attempt to push in all my chips, my last desperate stab at knowing God like never before. If I don’t experience him out here, I figured, then I probably never will. You see, I knew I was a Christian, but I also knew I wasn’t a very good one. Chronic sins plagued my life and I knew if ever I was to experience the freedom of God I longed for and read about in the lives of his saints, I had to do something drastic.
It was going pretty well. I was working faithfully in the ship’s kitchen to help feed the crew, serving in local orphanages on my days off, and spending a ton of time reading in the ship’s library due to the dullness of life spent docked in a port. But after three months, things were starting to get really stale. The awe-factor of being in a third-world country was wearing off, routine was setting in, and although I was no longer stuck in a sinful lifestyle like I was back home, I had yet to experience God the way I had hoped.
In the ships library I found a little book called The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk who lived a simple life working in a kitchen and yet sought to be in communion with God every second of the day. He wasn’t always asking God for things or reading ritualized prayers, he simply sought to stay in communion with him at all times.
Something about him resonated with me. I didn’t want to be a monk, and I didn’t want to work in a kitchen my whole life, but I did want to know God like he did. And so I started to pray. I tried to “practices God’s presence” like this old, dead monk had centuries ago. I failed often but I continued to try nonetheless. I prayed like never before. I prayed in the morning, I prayed while I worked, I prayed on my lunch break, I prayed late into the night, I prayed as much as I could remember to pray.
One evening I was jogging up and down the pear after work. On the outside it looked as though I was simply trying to get some exercise like the rest of the crew members out that night, but I was actually in a wrestling match. I was speaking to God, respectfully pleading with him in my spirit. I was telling him how alone I felt, like my efforts in going across the world were worthless, and that I had deserved a sign from him. I pleaded, “Please, do something where I know it’s you!” Over and over again I prayed for this magical sign.
After the running and praying were over, nothing had really changed on the outside. But on the inside I felt better because I somehow knew in my spirit that even if I never saw chariots of fire coming down from heaven or some miraculous healing of a sick person, I was content to follow Jesus anyway. And then, as I was relaxing in my cabin later that night, I heard the phone.
Having already forgotten about the content of my prayers prior that night, I jumped out of bed to pick it up. To my surprise it was my best friend, Scott. This is the same Scott who later became a Craigslist junkie like I talked about in Chapter 6. Scott was doing some soul searching of his own at this time. When I left for Africa, Scott sought refuge from the doldrums of Cleveland by getting a lifeguarding job at Disney World. We couldn’t have been in more different of places, but God was working in us both. To really appreciate what happened next, you have to know that Scott grew up fatherless. His dad left so early in Scott’s life he never had one memory of him. He just up and left one day. Scott’s mom didn’t know where he went and she never made any effort to find out.
I had been having chats on the phone with Scott since I was eight-years-old when he first called my house to talk with my older sister. When I’d pick up and we started laughing and giggling about some disgusting joke only boys could appreciate, it pretty well ruined his chances with her. But from then on he and I were basically in separable, so just from the sound in his voice I knew something was off.
“Dude,” he said with a little quiver, “something crazy happened a few days ago.” As the story unfolded Scott began to explain one of the oddest, most miraculous stories I have ever heard. One day on his way back to his apartment, Scott decided he better open up a bank account to cash the checks he was getting from sun-bathing . . . I mean working at Disney World (I couldn’t resist). For whatever the reason, he decided to open an account with a bank a few blocks away even though there was one closer to where he lived. What Scott didn’t know was that someone who worked at that bank was about to change his life forever.
One of the bank tellers there liked to keep tabs on her husband’s account. As she searched his name, “Scott Nason,” there were suddenly now two accounts under that name. She pulled up the new account and after looking at the date of birth, she began to put it all together. She knew her husband had a son from his previous life in Cleveland and he was about this age. She told Scott senior what she found and he finally worked up the courage to do what he had wanted to for years but was too ashamed to try. He got the address and went to apologize to his son. When Scott got home one day, his roommates told him he better sit down. When they told him who was in the next room, he went in, heard the story of how his dad found where he lived, listened to his father’s tearful apology, and then hugged his dad in forgiveness for the first time in his life.
As Scott was telling me this story, we both knew this was one of those “God things” you only experience a few times in life. What were the odds Scott decided to go to Florida of all states, to Orlando of all cities, and to that bank of all banks? What were the odds Scott’s step-mom, who he didn’t even know existed, was as nosy as she was? What were the odds she had the opportunity to keep constant tabs on her husband’s account? What were the odds Scott’s parents named him after his dad so his name would pop up in the search? What are the odds any of the other million random “coincidences” would actually happen the way they needed to for this to turn out the way it did? And finally, what are the odds of Scott telling me this ridiculous story just hours after I had been crying out to God for a sign even though this had actually happened to Scott a few days prior to him telling me?
As I hung up with my mouth gaping open, I realized God had given me my sign. But as the months and years progressed, I realized my heart was not changed by this sign or by any of the other signs God has given me. What changed me most was the praying itself.