God's World

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Letters to God found in the Ocean

Lately, my posts may sound a little like rants, but I keep reading stories that leave me somewhere between flabbergasted and irate. The story of the prayer letters found awash in the surf off the coast of New Jersey is one of them. The story was written by Wayne Parry for the Associated Press. It goes like this.

Last week, Bill Lacovara, an insurance adjuster from Ventnor, NJ, found a floating bag containing about 300 letters. Some were addressed to Rev. Grady Cooper, a deceased Associate Pastor at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Jersey City. Others were simply addressed “altar.”

They were prayers to God. It is heartbreaking to hear of some of them, and even more heartbreaking that many had been unopened.

People had poured their hearts out in these letters. Although there has been speculation, nobody knows why they were left unread, and nobody knows how they came to be floating in the ocean.

The story made me sad, and caused me to reflect on my own life and ministry. Hardly a day passes that I don’t receive some request to pray for a person or situation. How many times have I responded, “I will pray for you,” and then forgot to follow through? I try to be diligent about remembering prayer requests, but I’m sure I have missed a few. And for that, I ask God’s forgiveness. I also ask God’s help in growing to be more disciplined about honoring every prayer request I receive.

What shocked me most, though, about the story, was the callous cynicism of Mr. Lacovara. He remarked, “this is just a hint of what really happens. How many letters like this all over the world aren’t being opened or answered?”

Mr. Lacovara, I want to tell you a couple of things. I know a lot of people who pray all the time. I know a lot of pastors who pray all the time. The people of faith that I know are very conscientious about bringing prayer requests before God. Your assumption that persons of faith are as a rule false and uncaring is insulting.

This morning, our email prayer-team, “PrayerWorks” prayed for each of the unknown people whose letters are represented in the floating bundle. We prayed that the writers might find the peace of knowing that God was present with them in the writing, in their life situations, and even now, and that their faith might not be harmed by the letters’ discovery. You can find the blog version of our PrayerWorks prayer request log at PrayerWorld: www.prayerblogworld.blogspot.com.

Another thing: I want you to know that God heard each and every one of those prayers, unopened or not. God is present with us even in the asking. God was present with each writer even as they set pen to paper. God hears us even when words fail us.

Jon Hurdle, writing for Reuters, writes that Mr. Lacovara apparently cared so much about the hurting persons who wrote the prayers that to ensure they got read he graciously offered to sell the letters on ebay. There, he was sure he could get up to $15,000 for his selfless act.

Thankfully, he was dissuaded by the offense expressed by what he termed “a lot of religious fanatics” who said they were disappointed in him, urging him to either burn them, put them back in the ocean, or give them to a church.

Listen, it doesn’t take a religious fanatic to realize that selling people’s prayers for profit is wrong. All it takes is a shred of conscience and a tiny slice of moral integrity.

I am cautiously glad that Mr. Lacovara has decided to do the right thing. He says he is evaluating his options “to make sure the letters don’t fall into the wrong hands.” Sorry, too late.

Mr. Lacovara, I pray for you, that God will bless you and melt your heart, bringing you wholeness and peace. May finding these letters be a turning point in your life, and draw you closer to God.

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