Does God Really Answer Prayer?
By Tamara A Coleman
God responds to crisis prayers in surprising ways.
The year was 2006. I was at an all-time low, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. My thoughts and my heart seemed dried up within me. I tried to pray, but the words just wouldn’t come. I couldn’t cry, even to God. I was exhausted by life. I was caring for my elderly mother, burdened by various ministry activities, and dealing with everyday drama. I wasn’t just burned out—I was bone dry. Each night I would fall into bed exhausted, but often sleep wouldn’t come. I felt lost.
After a long day, I fell into bed about 11 p.m., utterly spent. The phone rang. It was my friend Phoebe. I will never forget her call that night. It was late, and she was hysterical. She was sure that her daughter, fourteen-year-old Caiti, had run away. Caiti had just come to live with Phoebe a few months earlier. Phoebe worked nights, so Caiti was left to her own devices for much of the day. When Phoebe woke up and found her gone, she immediately called Caiti’s friends and family, but no one had seen or heard from her all day.
Phoebe didn’t know what to do. She was a new Christ-follower and didn’t think to pray and ask for God’s help. I prayed with her and she calmed down enough to tell me the whole story. When Phoebe had gotten home from work, she and Caiti had a huge argument about her staying home while Phoebe slept before work. She could have one friend over but couldn’t leave the house. Those terms were totally unacceptable for Caiti. She had a meltdown like only teenagers and toddlers could have. Phoebe went to bed, reminding Caiti of her restrictions. Phoebe thought that was the end. But she woke up and Caiti was gone.
I suggested first calling the police, then the church, our pastor, and others who would pray for the situation and be on the lookout for Caiti. Prayer began to happen on a larger scale, but still no word from Caiti. No one had seen her either.
On the second day, the whole church came together for a marathon prayer session for Caiti’s safe return and to strengthen the family. Later that night Caiti’s grandmother got a call from Caiti, but she wouldn’t tell where she was or when she was coming home. Her grandmother dialed “star forty-six”, which allowed a caller to check the number of the last person who called her. It was a payphone in Chicago in front of the Rock-and-roll McDonalds. She was only forty miles from home.
Phoebe’s ex-husband, Keith, rented a hotel room in Chicago near the McDonalds so that he, Phoebe, and their two sons could look for Caiti and have a place to rest and reconnoiter. Phoebe went to the local police precinct to report Caiti as a runaway. They started their search on foot, showing pictures of Caiti to everyone who would look. Back home, the church continued to pray.
Phoebe and family searched day and night, through Grant Park, the Magnificent Mile, Millennium Park, any place that people told them to look for runaways. Phoebe called me very dispirited and tearful. She didn’t know what else to do. I prayed with her, asking God to please help them find Caiti even if the help was just another clue as to her whereabouts.
I was getting frustrated. I passionately believed that God answered prayer. With our church, other churches, and other people praying, I couldn’t understand why it seemed God was silent. I remember praying and crying out to God, “God, it seems like I’ve been praying the same words over and over and there don’t seem to be any results. What am I doing wrong? Is there another way to pray for this situation that I haven’t thought of?” I waited. I listened. Finally, I heard a quiet voice in my spirit suggesting that I pray specifically for the search and for Caiti. I immediately began praying for all the areas in Chicago that I thought she may go. I prayed that just the right people would see her. I felt a strength in my prayer that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I started to see that God was at work, after all.
Phoebe would call me from time to time with updates. She told me she was getting ready to go into Cabrini Green, a notoriously violent and dangerous housing project that was rife with gang activity. She said she had a feeling that Caiti was there. He wanted to let me know where she was going in case something happened to her. I couldn’t dissuade her from going in there. She was one determined mom! I started praying immediately, “Lord, if Caiti isn’t there, please somehow make it obvious to Phoebe, and help her get out of there quickly and safely.”
Phoebe called me fifteen minutes later saying that the people were “really friendly and helpful at first, but suddenly they started looking at me strangely and wouldn’t even listen to me. I felt really uncomfortable and got out of there as soon as possible. I didn’t know how I was going to get away fast enough, then I looked up and there was a taxi about halfway up the block, like it was just waiting for me.” I started laughing and told her what I’d prayed, and we both marveled at what just happened. The taxi was a miracle because even EMS didn’t go into Cabrini Green without police help. Cabs quit going there because the cabbies were robbed or murdered. That Phoebe came and went unscathed was clearly God’s protection, a direct answer to the prayer I’d just prayed.
After searching for three days, time and resources were running out. Phoebe and Keith didn’t know what else to do. They went to Grant Park again, but their search was fruitless. Phoebe called me, distraught because they had to leave the next day and only had about twelve hours left to search. I distinctly remember praying that God knew the urgency of the situation and that Phoebe would literally trip over Caiti on the sidewalk wherever she was.
Phoebe went to the police station to talk with the officer with whom she’d filed Caiti’s Missing Persons Report. He had no sightings or news about Caiti so she left the station. She started walking down the sidewalk and Caiti called out, “Mom, what are you doing here?”
Phoebe grabbed Caiti and hugged her, then dragged her into the police station to face charges. Caiti had to spend a few days in jail until they could get her transferred back to Indiana, where she was placed in a juvenile detention facility under court supervision until they could find a better placement for her.
Today Caiti is a college graduate and a great mom to a seven-year-old daughter. She laughs about that time she thought nobody could find her. God knew where she was all along. And when we truly trusted God and partnered with God for the direction of our prayers, God led her mom right to her.
Phoebe had to admit that she was changed during that time. Her faith increased because she had no other resources but God. The multitude of people who were praying for them encouraged her. She didn’t know that God really answered prayer until she experienced it for herself. These days Phoebe is a vibrant Christian involved in lay ministry.
As for me, I marveled at God’s goodness for answering my prayer. I learned God was experiencing the entire ordeal at the same time it was going on. The prayer direction that I felt in my spirit was God encouraging me to pray for what was most needed. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was cooperating with God in doing God’s work. It has changed the way I pray. Instead of just reciting a list for God to answer, I pause and ask God what God wants me to pray for. I ask for specific ways that I can be God’s partner.
Question: How might this story influence you to become more open to partnering with God in your prayer life?
Tamara A Coleman is an ordained minister in the Church of the Nazarene. She earned her MASF from Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho. She is currently a Doctoral student of Open and Relational Theology at Northwind Seminary.
To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Partnering with God: Exploring Collaboration in Open and Relational Theology.