The eternal difference your prayers make

“So, you were the one praying for me!  Thank you!”

In Heaven, two things will happen, I predict–

–1.  People will be coming up thanking you for praying for them.  You barely remember calling out their names to the Father, but He heard and used your prayer and they are living forever because you were faithful.  Sure makes you want to be faithful, doesn’t it?  (See Luke 18:8)

–2. People will be coming up telling you they had prayed for you. And that will answer a question that had bugged you for years:  Was it someone’s prayers that caused those wonderful things to happen in your life?  And now you know. Sure makes you want to be grateful, doesn’t it?

This was brought home to me by a testimony in Christianity Today for July/August 2014.  (I wrote about it then and still treasure it.)

In A Grief Transformed, Tara Edelschick tells of being brought up the daughter of a secular Jew and a lapsed Lutheran.  She learned to be fairly self-sufficient, went to a great college and married a super guy.  “Weaker souls might need a god,” she thought at the time, “but I needed no such crutch.”

That belief was obliterated when my husband of five years, Scott, died from complications during a routine surgery. Ten days later, I delivered our first child, Sarah, stillborn.

Talk about a double whammy.  Life suddenly took a tragic turn, blindsiding the unsuspecting young woman.

Many would never have recovered from such a blow.

However, within a year, Tara had become a Christian.  Tara: Nothing miraculous happened–no defining moments, blinding visions, or irrefutable arguments. But slowly, imperceptibly at first, I was drawn into a life of faith.

Mostly, what happened is that friends witnessed to her. One friend in particular got her reading God’s Word.

A Christian acquaintance named Tony introduced Tara to the Gospel of John.  Each Saturday morning over the phone, they would read a portion of scripture and talk. Tony was the only Christian I knew who didn’t try to explain away the loss of my husband and baby.

Eventually, Tony convinced Tara to start going to church. That’s where she made the commitment to become a follower of Jesus Christ.

On the surface, the story seems simple enough with no complications.

But this is where the story gets good.

Backtrack to the time when her husband and baby died.  Tara’s little family was living in New Jersey.  Don’t miss that.

A woman from Massachusetts named Liz stood up at her church for several weeks on end and asked people to pray for me.

Liz lived with my friend Ora, and Ora had told her about me.

In that Massachusetts church was a man named Jeff.  He joined Liz and Ora in praying that “God would take care of my body and heart.”

Tara knew none of this.

What came from it is a God thing.

Liz, the praying friend of Ora, moved off to England.  Then one day several years later, Liz contacted Ora to ask how her friend Tara was doing.

Ora happily reported that Tara had become a Christian, was doing great and had met a nice guy named Jeff, a chaplain at Harvard, and they had married.

Liz said, “Jeff Barneson?”

This was the man in Liz’s church who had joined them in praying for Tara, all those years back.

Jeff had been praying for Tara years before they would meet.

Tara goes on with her story….

One afternoon six years ago, after I finished telling this story to my friend Kathy (a member of Tara’s prayer group–Joe) she said, ‘So was I!’”

Tara said, “You were what?”

“I was praying for you, too.  Liz was in my prayer group.  She came to our group so distraught by your story that she asked us to pray for you. We prayed for weeks, and then I forgot about that story.”

Kathy continued, “When I met you, it never occurred to me that you were the same woman. In fact, Jean and Julie would have been there at church as well, so they were also praying for you back then.”

Tara spent the rest of the day crying. Jean and Julie are also in her prayer group.

Three of the five members of her prayer group had been interceding for her in prayer six years earlier when she had gone through the greatest crisis of her life, without any of them having any idea they would ever meet, much less become best friends.

Tara:  Knowing that Jeff had been praying for me before we met had always touched me.  But learning that my spiritual sisters had also prayed for me left me shaken.

Piecing it all together, I wept and wept, unable to imagine the grace of it all.

Think of it.

In 1997, when Tara was an agnostic widow living in New Jersey, a group of Christians in Massachusetts was interceding for her.  She says, “While my own attempts to find a faith never adequately explained my conversion, this did.”

I had been prayed into the kingdom.

God does not like to waste suffering.

You’ll be interested in knowing that these days the Lord is using this young mother to minister to others who are hurting the way she did. Tara has worked with middle school students whose parents had died. God is using her to counsel men and women who lose children and spouses in death.  She has taught classes at Harvard on bereavement.  She says people sometimes come up to her “in lowered voices” at parties and in grocery stories to unburden themselves of their stories of loss and grief. She says, “I pray for God’s love to do what I cannot: to bind up the wounded places, leaving their scars to bear witness of the power of both loss and love.”

Keep in mind the two big things that will happen in Heaven: people will thank you for praying and you will discover that people prayed you into the kingdom. 

At the age of 19, recovering from my freshman year of college and working on our Alabama farm, something happened that changed my life forever.  Two phone calls, actually.

The first call came from my sister Patricia to say that her young family would be transferring to Birmingham. Since her husband James would be traveling, would it be possible for me to switch to a college in that city and stay with them? Free room and board for me; security for her and the baby. I loved the idea.

The second call was to a cousin who was a year ahead of me in college in Birmingham. I asked about Samford University and Birmingham-Southern College, the two primary choices for higher education in those days.  As a result of her counsel, I called ‘Southern to ask for an application.

Near the campus of Birmingham-Southern, I began attending a great Baptist church where I was baptized, met my wife, was called to preach, married, and ordained all in a three-year period.

What part did prayer have in this?  I used to wonder.

Did I pray about these decisions?  I don’t remember.

Was someone else praying? Is my Christian life and ministry of the gospel the result of the prayers of someone whom I do not know?

We will find out in Heaven.

One of the inescapable realities in this fallen world is that most of the things we pray for, we will never know in this life whether or how the prayers were answered. We will pray that God hears, cares, and answers, and we will leave it with Him.  We will, or we will grow discouraged and quit.  (See Luke 18:8 and 2 Corinthians 4:1,16.)

Keep on praying.  Don’t stop.  When you are enjoying praying and when prayer is a drudge and you feel your prayers are going no further than the rooftop, pray.  How you feel has nothing to do with anything.  Trust God even when you do not “feel” His nearness.  Believe Him by faith.  In due season we shall reap.  If we do not quit.

1 thought on “The eternal difference your prayers make

  1. Pastor Joe,

    I was trying to find something I had written online many years ago. I didn’t find it. But I did find your beautiful encouragement to pray.

    I am the Tara about whose story you write. And you really touched my heart.

    There is a Jewish theologian who writes that, “God is not always silent, and man is not always deaf. In every man’s life there is a moment when God pulls back the veil and reveals himself to us. Faith is faithfulness to that moment.” This is a paraphrase but it captures why I love to share my testimony. When doubts come, I cannot refute what God did for me.

    Thanks for letting me hear it again through someone else’s voice.


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