I want to tell a story that is very meaningful to me on a number of levels. I hope it is meaningful to some of you as well.
My roommate (Alexis) has struggled greatly with feelings about prayer during the time that she has lived with me. She is from an Episcopal church background, and her experience of prayer is that church leaders pray and prayer is rather formalized. I am from a Church of God (Anderson, IN) background, and my experience of prayer is that anyone who has a need goes freely to God and prayer is quite informal, though we also have formal times of prayer in the church setting. The fact that I am in seminary has been a bit confusing to her as well. I have been a person who is in a bit of a position of leadership because of my seminary education, because I am teaching Sunday school, etc. This makes it more possible, in Alexis' experience, for me to approach God in prayer than for her to do so.
Alexis speaks German quite well, and I once asked her if she thought that she could pray in German... She said, "But I'm not German." I told her it didn't matter to God what language she prayed in; and the following Sunday, I did an exercise in my class where I asked people who spoke other languages to pray one sentence in another language. It was really beautiful: we had several languages represented because several of the class members had been active in frequent short-term missions. It was very educational for Alexis.
Last week, I had requested a pastoral care visit from someone associated with the seminary prior to my surgery. It wasn't working out well, and Alexis knew how much it meant to me to have prayer before going into surgery. As I was getting ready to go to the hospital, she asked me if I would like her to pray or if I would rather have a "real pastor." I was really touched but didn't want her to feel that she was obligated. We talked about it a bit, and i realized that the problem was that old feeling of not being "qualified" to pray.
So I asked her if she knew the term "priesthood of believers." She didn't recognize it. I explained to her that we all serve each other in certain priestly functions although the church appoints people as ministers to lead in corporate worship, that when we are gathered for prayer we all are priests to each other. I told her that she could think on this while I took Loretta out, and if she felt that she wanted to pray with me it would be very meaningful to me.
So I came back and was putting on my shoes, and she said, "I'll do it, but it won't be what you expect." She asked me to have Loretta sit down next to me.
I did... She prayed in German, and it was the most heartfelt thing I have ever heard her speak. After she was done, she translated it for me. It sent me to tears. She prayed exactly what needed to be prayed: that God would help me not to be afraid or have pain at the hospital, that He would help the doctors and nurses, that He would help my dad to take care of Loretta, and that He would help Loretta not to cry.
And God answered all of those things. They pain blocked me twice for good measure; but I felt nothing--last time I felt the doctor working despite three pain blocks. The staff was exceedingly kind, and I was sitting up before they even took me out of the operating room! Dad had no difficulty with Loretta, who was good as gold and never uttered a sound. When he brought her back to see me, she did not run or become agitated. She just walked in nicely and put her nose on the bed so I could touch her, sat down when I gave her hand signals, walked out with my dad behind the wheelchair, etc.
Some of the most powerful experiences of prayer that I have ever had are experiences I have shared with people who did not speak my own language. Never underestimate the power of tone of voice in prayer! Prayer is as much about the state of the heart, if not more, as it is about what is requested.