This week the Associated Press carried a moving story about Kaia Jorgensen, a basketball player at David Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. Just before the season started she became critically ill with a form of bacterial meningitis. As her condition worsened, her family asked for prayer and students at the Christian school set up an around-the-clock prayer chain. A week later surgeons were forced to amputate both legs below the knees. Her plight has become a major test of faith for many students. They prayed as they had been taught to pray since childhood, believing that God would heal Kaia and that she would walk out of the hospital, whole and healthy, a testimony to an unbelieving world that God does indeed answer prayer. Many students were crushed by the amputations and began to ask themselves if prayer really does matter, and if it does, how does it work?
One theology professor noted a change in his students. Before the tragedy, they seemed ready to give simplistic answers to hard questions. “They used to think they were in control of their life. They have had to come to terms with the fact they aren’t.” Then he added that “these issues no longer have a nameless face. Now when they ask themselves these questions, they think of Kaia.”
Friends in the community joined with the university to raise $130,000 to cover the medical bills. Kaia’s family reports that she is conscious now and slowly improving. And the students? They continue to wrestle with the reality of faith in God and the mystery of unanswered prayer. The students continue to pray that Kaia will recover and that she won’t be bitter at God and will find a fruitful life despite the loss of her legs.
There are few easy answers in a situation like this. Not long ago a respected Christian leader asked me if I believed having more people pray for someone in a crisis makes a difference. The answer is, it all depends on what you mean by “makes a difference.” The God of the universe doesn’t count noses before he grants answers to prayer. There isn’t always a direct correlation between the number of people praying and the nature of God’s answers.
Having said that, united prayer in a time of crisis has many benefits. It calls us all out of our narrow, parochial concerns and focuses us on the needs of others. Praying together builds our faith as we hear our brothers and sisters cry out to God. And it reminds us again that we are entirely dependent on the grace and mercy of God for everything we receive.
Perhaps the right way to say it is that if we were truly in control, we wouldn’t have to pray at all. Every time we pray, we are reminded again that he’s God and we’re not. The sooner we learn that, the better off we will be.