Rev. Bobbie McKay, Ph.D., is a UCC minister, author, and licensed psychologist. Rev. McKay co-created The Spiritual Health Center, NFP and conducted a research study on Spiritual Life in the United Church of Christ. Based on the findings of this study, “Spiritual Life Teams” were born and the study has been extended into the Episcopal Church, the Catholic Church and the Reform Jewish Community in the greater Chicago area, as well as to Islamic populations in New York, Illinois, and Florida. Rev. McKay currently works as Pastoral Associate in Spiritual Life at the Glenview Community Church in Glenview, Illinois.
Sometimes, God simply walks into your life and says, “Surprise!”
It was on one of those occasions that I found myself asking a question. “What happens to people who pray for other people?” Does anything happen to ME when I’m praying for YOU? The question intrigued me. We speak so much about the power of prayer to heal or to change a situation that needs prayer. But what about the “pray-er”. Does anything change in me when I’m praying for someone else?
Now it just so “happened” (read God in action again) that I had the opportunity to meet with two very different groups in two very different churches. Church A was a large suburban, non-denominational union church with many hundreds of members; an active women’s prayer group and an affluent congregation. Church B was a Christian Science Church with a small active membership in a neighboring community where everyone prayed.
When I met with the prayer group in Church A, their response to my question: “What happens to you when YOU are praying for others?” was somewhat indignant! “Nothing happens to me, I’m praying for person X”. Or, “I don’t even think about myself when I’m praying for others”. Clearly my question aroused some strong emotions. Praying for others was a total experience which didn’t include my own personal response. In fact, they “kept score” on those whom their prayers had helped. It was impressive.
When I met with Church B, the entire congregation gathered in the sanctuary to listen to my question. Their response was quite different. First, they thought about my question: What happens to YOU when you pray for others?” A thought-filled silence followed my words. Then they spoke as if in one voice: “When I pray for other people, I am acknowledging the Presence of God in the world as a force for healing and change”. “Each prayer I speak is a direct affirmation of the Reality of God in the world.” “I am affirming that God is grounded in each moment of our lives”.
But it was the God Affirming Joy of the question that was such a striking difference between Church A and Church B. God was present in the discussion; God was part of every statement; God was being acknowledged as a Reality in everyone’s life. God was with us in that room. The outcome of a particular prayer was not nearly as important as the acknowledgement of the existence of God. In this strange, new “David and Goliath” situation, David’s trust in God’s Presence was the dominant theme.
Clearly an investigation conducted in only two churches would lead to questions about the validity of such a study. But the underlying question is a powerful tool in understanding God. What does happen to the “pray-er” in the process of praying? When we shift our focus from outcomes to the experience of praying, where are we led? What do we discover about God? What do we learn about ourselves?
You might test it out for yourself! Next time you stop to pray for someone, or pray about something, remind yourself that you are actually acknowledging the Presence of God in the world by this very act of praying and see what happens. You may be surprised.
Prayer is an acknowledgement of God’s Presence in this world. When we are asked to pray unceasingly, we are filled with the power and reality of God in all situations. And that changes everything because God Becomes Real everywhere.