Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Gray Matter: A Book Review

Have you ever heard someone say this: God doesn't hear the prayers of non-Christians.  Or this one: You have to be right with God before you can pray for anything else.  I understand that at times our prayers are hindered by sins, but to say that God does not listen to ANY non-Christian prayers simply isn't true.  The only Scripture that might endorse such a hard-line stance is in the gospel of John.  After Jesus heals the man born blind, the Pharisees confront him about the miracle.  The man himself says "We know that God does not hear sinners" (John 9:31). But remember, Jesus didn't say this; a man he healed did.  

We have ample evidence that God does indeed hear the prayers of sinners and non-Christians.  Cornelius, although a devout man, did not follow Jesus because he didn't know about him.  He wasn't even a Jew, but he did give alms to Jewish people.  Just before Peter came to lead him to Christ, Cornelius had a vision in which an angel told him that his "prayers and alms had ascended as a memorial before God" (Acts 10:4).  God heard his prayers and answered them.

The power of prayer by people who may not yet believe is illustrated beautifully in the book Gray Matter by David Levy and Joel Kilpatrick.  Dr. Levy is a neurosurgeon, and the book chronicles his journey from an aggressively ambitious man with an ambiguous faith to a doctor who prayed with his patients and even led them in prayer.  

On this journey, he became convinced that with God's help, he could do more for his patients than plug up their aneurysms.  He began by simply praying with his patients before surgery, but he didn't stop there. If he had patients who might be holding bitterness or resentment in their hearts, he began to lead them in prayers to forgive others and ask for forgiveness themselves in order to heal their hearts. Sometimes, this would happen during a post-op visit if his patients still had complaints that medical intervention could not cure.  Other times, he would suggest these prayers if patients were to undergo a particularly risky surgery.  What struck me is that some of these patients came in saying "I don't believe in God," or "I used to be Protestant, but now I'm nothing."  He never forced a prayer on anyone; he always asked permission and respected an outright refusal. Yet many people agreed not only to listen to him pray but to pray themselves.  

The results he records in the book are overwhelmingly positive.  Patients who came in to his office with no definable faith would leave in tears with years worth of heartache lifted off their chests.  Some of them had medical complaints (such as headaches) that were healed without surgery.  Some returned for more prayers; some let him know they were seeking God and attending church; some he never saw after their surgeries.  But for most of them, prayer was a positive force in their lives regardless of whether they were faithful Christians when they walked in the door. 

Apart from making me cry (there were some sad scenes with children needing neurosurgery), the book made me think.  How have I hoarded prayer?  I pray alone, with my family, and with my church.  What if I dared to pray with someone outside the faith?  What if I were so bold as to lead her in prayer?  It's possible that a person looking at brain surgery is more open to prayer than others, but I'll never know who is willing until I ask.  Worst case scenario?  Someone will refuse me. It's possible, though, that I could use prayer as a tool in my daily efforts to reach people with the Good News.  I know God will hear a sincere prayer, and maybe He could really change someone's day or their life starting right there as I bow my head with them.  I think I'm willing to take the risk.

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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