Pastor's Blog

Answers to Prayer

I write this, as I sit in Korea at my brother-in-law’s home. I’ve been thinking this morning about a recent event and how it may appear to some. We left the US on March 7 bound for Asia. This involved flying out of Chicago to Shanghai where we spent the night in a small Chinese hotel. The next day, we flew the rest of the way to Incheon, Korea—my wife’s hometown. The trip has been a wonderful adventure. We saw the Shanghai Bund (the picturesque financial district skyline). We rode the Maglev train in Shanghai, which reaches speeds of over 250 miles per hour. We’ve seen places from my wife’s childhood and our early married days in Korea, as well as war monuments and family. Besides all this, the food has been amazing. Wonderful authentic Chinese and Korean food. My wife also had the joy of preparing a nice meal to share with family. She loves to cook, and to share her cooking with people she cares about.

One thing happened that really got me thinking this morning. When we left the plane in Shanghai, it took two hours to get through immigration and to retrieve our luggage. We found that my wife’s suitcase was missing. She was quite upset. After filling in paperwork, we left the airport and went on with our trip. I explained that many things could have happened and she should not get her hopes up, but should just enjoy the rest of the trip.

Between then and now, the airline found her suitcase, put in on a plane to Korea and delivered it last night—about a week after our arrival here. We are grateful to family and friends who prayed. We are grateful to God. We praise God that he answers prayers. This gratefulness and the idea of prayer got me thinking about such matters and how the Church and the world sees them. I especially think of how the world sees them because I have many nonbelieving friends who have a hard time understanding our thinking on this and assume I am saying things I am not. Allow me to explain.

First, the loss of a suitcase is a very trivial matter. I agree. It is trivial indeed, especially when it is not your suitcase, and you are not thousands of miles from home with only the clothes on your back. My wife however was quite distraught by this. She had bought all new clothes for the trip—something she only does about once a decade. The suitcase also contained gifts for her family—important in a society where a visitor brings gifts. Also consider that since she had only a set of clothes here, she had to borrow one from our sister-in-law to have clothing while hers were being washed. This also meant clothes had to be washed much more often, making the trip much less enjoyable and far more difficult. So, while some might think the loss of a suitcase is a trivial thing to pray about, and far too trivial for God to bother with, for the one without the contents of the suitcase it can be far from trivial. I encouraged my wife to not let the missing luggage get her down, but I could tell it was bothering her. It robbed her of some of the joy she could have otherwise had on the trip. Yes, that is a matter of her priorities, but they are her priorities and I must deal with them.

Second, some will argue that praying for a suitcase to be returned and then having it returned is faulty reasoning. They will accuse me of committing post hoc ergo propter hoc. This is an old fallacy in which one assumes the occurrence of B after A, means (usually offered as proof) B was caused by A. If while walking down the street I picked up a penny, and then experiencing good things the rest of the day this does not mean my good day was caused by picking up the penny—no matter how many times you hear “See a penny, pick it up and all the day you’ll have good luck.” But this is not what I am claiming here.

You see, I am not saying God took time out of his day to find and retrieve my wife’s suitcase. But I am also not saying he didn’t. You see I don’t care about the mechanism. I and others were concerned for my wife. We prayed for her, that this pressure on her would be alleviated—through the retrieval of her suitcase. How it happened, and what was the cause is not our concern. We can still be grateful that it happened, and grateful to God. For one, God has encouraged us to bring all requests to him, no matter how large or small. He has also said that he cares about us—even in trivial matters. Our thanking God for the answers to our prayers should not be taken as a form of superstition. Instead, we thank him because he is God, he listens to our needs and he acts on our behalf. How things come about is his business. We are offering no proof, nor claiming any from this. My wife got her suitcase back. She is happy. And like all husbands, I am grateful to God for a happy wife.

So, before jumping into thinking I am saying something I am not, I would encourage the skeptic who deals with Christians to consider what I actually said above:

We are grateful to family and friends who prayed.

We are grateful that people lift us up in prayer. We would be just as grateful had we never recovered the suitcase. Friends who pray for us are precious and worth far more than gold.

We are grateful to God.

We are grateful to God. We thank him that we have such friends. We thank him that he cares about our needs, even the trivial ones. We thank him and are grateful that he encourages us to bring such needs to him. We are grateful that the pressure on my wife over her lost suitcase is now gone. We are grateful that she can relax and has more clothing to wear—understanding, as we do, that all good things ultimately come from God, even those which may happen mechanistically.

We praise God that he answers prayers.

God answers prayers. We are not offering this experience as proof of some cosmic luggage retrieval system, but as a simple acceptance that we asked and later received. What happened in between is his business—and the airlines. It may be that God merely allowed the airline’s system to work. So? What does that change? We asked and later received. We are grateful for receiving. We do not offer this as proof to you that you too should pray. That argument would be made much differently.

I’ll end by saying thank God my wife now has her new clothing. She is now happy, and as all married men know, “If she’s happy, I can be happy. Because, if she ain’t happy, Lord help me!” –Just kidding honey! You know I love you!

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