I came across a sermon illustration a year or so back about how to pray and what to expect when you pray. It goes something like this:
In the old west a community was in the midst of a severe drought. Everyone was desperate for rain. At church Sunday morning the parson told the congregation that if they sincerely prayed and truly believed, God would bring rain. He told them to go home, pray all week, believe with all their hearts, and surely the rains will come. Sunday morning as the people were coming to church, the parson was furious. He said "there'll be no church today, for there are no believers. You didn't do what I told you to do!" The people said, "Yes, Parson, we did as you said; we prayed all week and believed it would rain." The parson said, "You did not...where's your umbrella?"
Like the people in the illustration, we're in a severe drought in parts of Alabama and Georgia. Hydrologists are calling it a 100-year drought...as in it is the worst drought in a hundred years. Crops are failing, municipal water use is restricted, deep wells are going dry, it's bad.
At times like this, in our rural area, we are aware of those people who desperately need their crops to make it to harvest. For many it will make the difference between having food for the year or not. The only rain that comes is in the form of what they call "isolated popcorn showers", that is, in some areas a brief period of rain may come (typically late afternoon). With this as the backdrop, let me share our compassionate, sincere, prayer from this past Sunday:
"Dear Lord, you know the desperation of those who need your nurturing rains; you know that families need their gardens to provide for them for the year ahead. Have mercy on them. We pray that you bring the elements of your creation together for those who need it most, the families who need it most, and we trust that you will deliver. Thank you, Lord."
That was Sunday morning. Sunday afternoon, with no rain showing anywhere on the radar, a "popcorn" shower cropped up over our town. It rained! Monday, with no rain showing up for over a hundred miles on the radar...a "popcorn" shower developed and rested over our town for two hours. Tuesday, with no rain anywhere near, again it rained - over an inch - over our town.
A church member stopped by my office Monday and said: "God answers our prayers!" Monday night another member of our church commented on how special the Sunday prayer felt, and how they believed God would answer our prayer. Tuesday afternoon I was at the auto parts store and a local hay farmer came in and said, "I don't know where this rain's come from but it's just in the nick of time".
In that Sunday service, we weren't praying for relief from water restrictions; our lawns or flowers...no. We prayed that God would be merciful for those who needed His mercy the most. We didn't pray for ourselves, we prayed for others.
Intercessory prayer, even when it comes to petitioning for rain, is pleasing in the eye of Our Lord. May we all be inspired to pray for others with no thought for ourselves.
God answers our prayers when we believe He will. I believe.