Elliot Pinero, MD, Chief of Radiology
10th Medical Group, United States Air Force Academy
Colorado Springs, Colorado
His nightmares began each day when he awoke. James Stegalls was nineteen. He was in Vietnam. Though he carried a small Gideon New Testament in his shirt pocket, he couldn’t bring himself to read it. His buddies were cut down around him, terror was building within him, and God seemed far away. His twentieth birthday passed, then his twenty-first. At last, he felt he couldn’t go on.
On February 26, 1968, he prayed for it all to end, and his heart told him he would die before dusk. Sure enough, his base came under attack that day and Jim heard a rocket coming straight toward him. Three seconds to live, he told himself, then two, then…
A friend shoved him into a grease pit, and he waited for the rocket to explode, but there was only surreal silence. The fuse had malfunctioned.
For five hours James knelt in that pit, and finally his quivering hand reached into his shirt pocket and took out his Testament. Beginning with Matthew, he continued through the first 18 chapters.
“When I read Matt. 18:19-20,” he said, “I somehow knew things would be all right.”
Long after Jim returned home, he visited his wife’s grandmother, Mrs. Harris, who told him about a night years before when she was awakened in terror. Knowing Jim was in Vietnam, she had sensed he was in trouble. She began praying for God to spare his life. Unable to kneel because of arthritis, she lay prone on the floor, praying and reading her Bible all night.
Just before dawn she read Matt. 18:19-20: “If two of you agree down here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together because they are mine, I am there among them.”
She immediately called her Sunday school teacher, who got out of bed and went to Mrs. Harris’ house where together they claimed the Lord’s promise as they prayed for Jim until reassured by God’s peace.
Having told Jim the story, Mrs. Harris opened her Bible to show him where she had marked the passage.
In the margin were the words: Jim, February 26, 1968.
Considering the significance of prayer
At first glance, this looks like your everyday, ordinary story of a faithful Christian’s answered prayer. You have a problem or a petition, you pray, and God answers. However, if you look a little deeper, you will soon realize the true meaning of prayer. You see, there were two different scenarios of prayer in this story.
In the first scene, Jim initially prayed for it all to end. And of course, it did not. Why did God not answer his prayer? The second scene places us at Mrs. Harris’ home, where it says “she was awakened in terror.” I would like you to note, that she was awakened, and sensing Jim was in trouble, she began to pray. I would like to suggest that the person who awoke Mrs. Harris was God himself. Why do you ask? Because in reality, prayer is not for seeking answers, but for seeking God himself.
If we only use prayer to get a specific answer, I am sure we would eventually stop praying. As Jim found out, and I am sure all of us have at one time or another, sometimes our prayers don’t bring any answers at all, or at least, not the ones we want. But the beauty of prayer is that it doesn’t have to. Prayer is the means to a personal relationship with God, and that is the essence of our salvation. It seems to me that Mrs. Harris had a relationship with God and it was “He” who wanted to let her know what was happening to Jim and wanted to share His plan with her. He wanted to talk to her. That is a true relationship with God.
Growing in prayer, growing in Christ
When I was deployed to Iraq the first time, I often found myself on my knees pleading with God to send me home. I found myself crying because I could not do what He had asked me to. After five long and terrible months, I finally made it home safely. Why didn’t God answer my prayer? After a very short 15 months, the answer to my prayers came to me loud and clear, and I was off to Iraq a second time. This time my prayer was not “Please, send me home”, but “Father, please be with me while I am here!” After another four months, I returned home safely once again. But with my deployment, my relationship with my God had grown and I am thankful for the experience.
Prayer is the opportunity to meet with the one Being in the universe that really loves and cares for each one of us. And He is so desperate to share this time with us. He wants to listen, talk, and share Himself with all who seek His presence. It has long been said that “Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him” (Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 95).
We have long used prayer only in times of need, with a special request in mind. I know, I have been guilty of that many times. But you wouldn’t call a good friend just to ask him or her for something all the time, would you? Yet that is exactly what we do with God. I would like to suggest that if we seek God for just “HIM”, all of our prayers will be answered, whether it is what we wanted or not. But in the long run, having Christ is really all we will ever need. I think John knew this from a personal experience when he said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3 NRSV).
Do you know who you are praying to? Well, He knows you. Isn’t it about time, you got to know Him?