God’s School of Prayer

Rev. Matt W. Leach tells how God taught him about prayer during a miraculous trip to the Israel while he was serving in the U.S. Army.

In Psalm 37:4 God tells us He delights in giving us the desires of our hearts. This raises two questions. The first is why? The Bible tells us we are His family, His kids. It blesses Him to bless us. If that is true it raises a second question. Why aren’t we getting the desires of our hearts? All of us, if we are honest, must admit that God has blessed us in many ways. However, those blessings are not what Psalm 37:4 is talking about. So the question is why aren’t we receiving our heart’s desires?

I wish I had all the answers, but I don’t. What I can do is tell you a story that may give you some insights. As I’ve reflected on my story I’ve drawn the conclusion that God requires three things in order to answer our prayers. He used this experience to teach me.

A Dream, Courtesy of Uncle Sam

The year was 1954. I was invited to take an all-expense paid trip to Germany. My Uncle Sam made the offer, and it was an offer I could not refuse. I was drafted. That meant Uncle Sam told me to either report for basic training at Fort Knox or go to jail. I opted for basic training.

After basic I was sent to Straubing, Germany near the Czechoslovakian Border. Russia still occupied Czechoslovakia and had troops stationed along the border. Our job was to protect and guard the border with our lives.

I made friends with Ferris Liske, the Chaplain’s assistant. He told me there was an interfaith religious retreat center in Berchtesgaden, Germany at the foot of the Alps. If we asked, the Army had to let us go. We asked and went in March 1955. We didn’t know it, but God was setting us up to teach us what we needed to do to get a prayer answered

Our speaker was an Army Chaplain who had been stationed in the Holy Land. The Chaplain described the villages and countryside where Jesus had walked and taught. He told of floating down the Jordan River on a rubber raft. He told of the Sea of Galilee, and how the sudden storms come up. He described the ancient city of Jerusalem where Jesus hung on the cross and rose from dead. 

Ferris and I listened, caught up in the wonder of the places he described, walking each step with him, looking into each old ruin through his eyes. “Wouldn’t it be great to go to the Holy Land!” we exclaimed. “Could we do it? The Air Force has planes flying all over. Maybe we can catch rides and fly there.” 

The more we talked the more excited we got. So we prayed. “Father, may we go to the Holy Land? Would you work it out so that we can go? We don’t have the money, and we don’t have very much leave time coming. So we’ll need Your help. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.”

The First Step: A Declaration of Faith

God was silent. But we were excited and decided to act as though God had said “Yes”. Unknown to us God used the Army rules and regulations to teach us and guide us on prayer through the process. The first part was to proclaim we were going. So we began declaring that we were going to the Holy Land and applied to go in August.

We told everyone who would listen that we were going. Some thought we were whistling in the dark. But we were determined to be standing there with our bags packed if the door opened.

The first step had been to confess that we were going.

The Second Step: Act Like You've Received

The second step was to prepare for the trip which meant to act like we were going.

Actually, we had to because we had to apply for permission to go. The Army said to list every country we might visit. We did. 

Next, we talked. We read books. Opportunities for discouragement abounded. First the paperwork, then the red tape, the passports, the clearances, the visas, and last-minute guard duty the night we were supposed to leave. We finally left and headed to Frankfort, Germany.

During all this time of preparation, God was silent.

In Frankfurt, we were ushered into the Secretariat of the Egyptian Consulate to apply for our visas. Frankfurt is the only place where Frankfurters eat frankfurters! (I threw that in for educational purposes.) 

The Third Step: Trusting Him

Now came the third step, trust. The hardest step of all. With passports and visas tucked safely away, we headed for the Rhine-Main Air Force Base. They gave no encouragement. We caught an Air Force bus to Wiesbaden Air Force Base. Here the people at least tried to help us. We put our names on the waiting list for a plane going south. 

We wanted to catch a ride on a plane going south – south to Africa, across Africa to Egypt and the Holy Land. Nine p.m. came and went. We called it a day and checked into a hotel. 

We returned to the Air Base the next day. We waited and waited and waited and prayed. No answer. No plane going south. Finally we prayed, “God, we are all prayed out. You are silent. If there isn’t a plane going south by six pm, we will take the first plane going north to England.” 

With that prayer a sort of peace settled over us. About 7:30 pm we caught a ride to London. It was late at night when we landed. The bus took us to the Servicemen’s Hotel. In the lobby of the hotel was a bulletin board. On it were listed the departure times and destinations of Air Force planes leaving London. Seeing nothing of interest, we went to our room. God was still silent. We were facing a tough decision. Would we give up our dream after coming so far? Even when it seemed the only thing we could do was go in the opposite direction? No! We did one of the most difficult things there is to do – we had to trust God.  

The next morning we rose early, ready for a good breakfast and a full day of sightseeing. As we passed through the lobby on the way to breakfast we looked again at the bulletin board. There it was! A plane was leaving the next morning for Nouasseur Air Force Base in French Morocco, North Africa. The moment I saw that sign I knew that I knew that I knew that God had given us our trip to the Holy Land.

It seems there was a man part we had to do before God could do the God part. Using the Army rules and regulations He forced us into doing the man part. It was a soul’s sincere desire. The Army forced us to confess we were going because we had to in order to go. The Army also forced us to act, to put our faith into action. These were easy to do. It was the third part, trust, that gave us fits. That plus trying to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance when it wasn’t logical. God was teaching us that sometimes we have to go north in order to go south. “Trust Me,” God says. “Trust Me that what I said I will do I will do.”

God Goes Beyond Our Dreams

When God did His part He went far beyond what we had asked or imagined. He arranged for the Air Force to give us room and board, transportation, entertainment, a swim in the Mediterranean Sea, and then deposit us safely in Cairo, Egypt, all for free.

God’s next surprise happened at the airport in Cairo. We had just cleared customs when a man stepped up and asked if he could share a taxi ride into Cairo with us. “It will be cheaper if three share it,” he said. Imagine our joyous surprise to discover that this man, Charles L. Benton, Director of Business and Finance for the University of Maryland, was going to Jerusalem too! 

Mr. Benton was an experienced traveler. It was agreed to do everything together because it would be cheaper for all of us. God provided two naïve soldiers with an experienced companion who would help us see much more and do much more than would have been possible by ourselves. 

Arriving in Jerusalem a couple of days later we hired a guide who helped us see as much as we could in our short visit. One of the people we met in Jerusalem asked us if we had been to the Garden Tomb. From her description, we quickly decided to visit it. That visit turned out to be the greatest blessing of the trip.

Our guide led us to a door in the wall just outside Damascus Gate. We rang the bell. A key turned in the lock and the door opened.

A Divine Encounter

“Come in. Wait just a minute and I will call my father,” said the smiling, charming, and pretty young woman who stood in the doorway.

We entered. Out of all the noise and hubbub of the city we had suddenly stepped into a beautiful garden – quiet and with a peace we had not found in all of Jerusalem. Not even in the Holy Sepulcher.

The sun warmly and tenderly caressed the trees and flowers, playfully darting in and out of the shadows, now darting across the little bridge, now hiding in the crevices of a rock. In the trees, the birds echoed a soft music.

I turned, and in front of me lay stone steps leading down about four feet to a lower level paved in stone. My eyes followed the worn stones which led but a few steps to a tomb hewn out of the solid rock wall. Standing in front of the tomb was a man talking with two women and their children.

“What do the Catholics believe about this tomb? Do they think it is Christ’s tomb?” one woman asked.

“No, the Catholics do not believe in this tomb. Ma’am, it doesn’t matter if this is Christ’s tomb or not. That is unimportant. It is what He did. Christ came into this world and suffered on the Cross to pay the penalty for your sins and my sins. He died to set us free. We worship a risen Savior. It isn’t relics or a spot or a tomb we worship – it is the Risen Lord.

When Mr. Mattar had finished showing his guests through the Garden he came back to talk with us. We began to ply him with questions and patiently he answered them.

Several years ago General Gordon, a man of prayer, a great Bible student, and a very humble man, when he was sure of his facts, spoke his convictions: that this was the real Calvary. General Gordon’s convictions were based on the position of the North Wall of Jerusalem, the Damascus Gate, and the statements in the Bible.

While Mr. Mattar spoke to us I felt a sense of adventure as I explored the Tomb and found each thing to be true. “There is no proof,” he said, “that this is the tomb of Christ, but here we can see how it must have looked.”

From the Tomb, we walked to Golgotha. My mind swept back 2,000 years. The murmuring in the city seemed to cry out, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.”

Back at the entranceway, we talked more with Mr. Mattar. He told us the garden was very beautiful in the moonlight and invited us to come back in the evening. We left the Garden Tomb feeling satisfied for the first time since we had come to Jerusalem

That evening we again rang the bell and again Lydia opened the door for us. We were ushered into their home and made comfortable. There was no question but that this house belonged to God. 

As Mr. Mattar talked, before us unfolded a story of great faith and Christian living. 

“I have made enemies of some of the charities.” he said. “They give things away and help but they do not tell the people about Jesus. I ask them why and they say that their lives are their testimony. How can the people hear unless someone tells them, I ask. With all their charity they lead no one to Christ.

“I was a banker in what is now Israel, and I had much property. I had enough to educate all my children and set them up in business. And then when the Jews were given Israel I lost everything, and we became refugees. One day all our food was gone. I had no money or way to buy food. I wasn’t going to steal. I wasn’t going to borrow.

“Oh, I had believed in Jesus before, but I had never really given my life to Him. Now I had my wife, children and I kneel down to pray. We put everything in God’s hands. An hour later a man came with money for us. I have never been in want since then. God hears and answers our prayers.”

From the house we stepped into the Garden, beautiful in the moonlight. Peace lay all around. Silently we walked to the place of a skull. Softly and tenderly the moon bathed the Garden in radiance. Even Calvary seemed to reach towards Heaven. Caught in the beauty, the peace, His Presence, I paused. “He bought my soul at Calvary. Oh, Lord forgive me. You have done so much for me, and I do so little for You. Such amazing Grace. Thank You, Lord.”

The tomb, meant to be a place of death, cold and unfriendly, gave forth a warmth and feeling of welcome that beckoned me saying, “Come, look, He is not here. He is risen.” I looked and the tomb was empty. We sat on the stone trough in front of the Tomb that 2,000 years ago had guided the stone that had sealed the Tomb. Softly we talked about our God, Our Lord. In silent fellowship we breathed His presence.

“It doesn’t matter if this was Christ’s Tomb or not. It is what He did here. We do not worship relics or places; we worship a Risen Savior.” With a fervent prayer that reached from the depths of his soul to encircle the world, Mr. Mattar brought our thoughts back to the present.

“Good night my friends. You are always welcome here,” said Mr. Mattar.

“Good night and thank you. Thank you for everything. Thank you very much.”

In silence, the light of the moon softly radiant upon us, and the Peace of God flooding our souls, we left. Behind us, the door closed. And yet, it didn’t close, but a greater door opened. Heaven was close. Walking with us, more alive than we ourselves, closer than hand or foot, walked the Master.

Getting Back Home

We had told our guide that we needed to leave on Monday. He learned that a Catholic Nun was going to Beirut, Lebanon by taxi on Monday morning and arranged for us to share the ride with her. Another unexpected blessing from God. We traveled all day through that countryside, passing through Damascus, and on to Beirut.

We had no specific destination to give to our cab driver. All we could tell him was we wanted to get out in Beirut. He suggested letting us out in the center of the city where it would be easy for us to get directions. 

We stepped out of the taxi, unloaded our bags, and the taxi driver drove off. Before we could even ask ourselves what to do next, a man had his car do a “U” turn and screech to a halt in front of us! He explained that he was a hotel owner and wanted to take us to his hotel. 

We explained that we wanted to catch a ride on an Air Force plane heading towards Italy or Germany. He explained that the pilots of an Air Force plane were staying at his hotel, and he would introduce us. 

Imagine, God had arranged for the pilots of an Air Force executive plane to stay at this man’s hotel, and then sent this man out and arranged for him to be driving by at just the exact time when we arrived. The hotel owner took us to his hotel, introduced us to the pilots, and gave us each a single room, a delicious supper, and breakfast in our rooms, for practically nothing.

Leaving at six the next morning, touching down in Athens, Greece, we landed in Rome, Italy. We toured Rome and returned to our base with money in our pockets.

Learning To Trust God

In many ways our trip could have been called miraculous. Hearing our story your first response might be to say, “That was you. It’s not me. God has never done anything like that for me.” That raises a serious question. Would God do the same for you that He did for a couple of soldiers?

In Acts 10:34 Peter said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” If God is no respecter of persons that means He should be doing for you the same kind of things He did for us. So why hasn’t it happened?

My hunch is that it is all tied up with trust, faith, and belief. While these are three different words there is something common to all of them. Take trust, for example.

We all know people we wouldn’t trust as far as we can throw a car. On the other hand, most of us know someone with whom we would trust our lives. What’s the difference? Experience. Trust has to be earned. Through experience, we learn who we can trust and who we can’t trust.

Trusting God is where we fall short. Do we actually know God well enough to trust Him, to believe that He will do what He promised to do? Do you know God well enough to trust Him? Do you trust Him enough, do you have faith enough, do you believe His Words enough that when your world comes crashing down around you with no way of escape and no answers, you know that you know that He will turn it into a blessing?

How do you develop that kind of trust? To trust God you must know God is trustworthy. The first step is to look at Jesus. Jesus told us that He and the Father are one. What He is like God is like. Then study the Bible and the plan of salvation so that God’s love begins to overwhelm you. Make a decision to trust regardless of outward circumstances and words of doubt and worries that try to overwhelm you. Trust is a decision you make.

Take time to sit and talk with God. Don’t do all the talking. Be quiet and listen. You cannot know Him without taking time to know Him. He is your Father, your Daddy. Give Him love and respect and take time to enjoy His company. Know that He enjoys your company.

Dare To Trust God With Your Prayers

Glenn Clark suggested that we think of our soul’s sincere desires, the desires of our hearts, as eggs. Chickens take 21 days to hatch their eggs. Cut out a bunch of egg-shaped pieces of paper. Write down each soul’s sincere desire on a separate egg. Place your prayer eggs in your Bible among the Psalms such as Psalm 21. After 21 days look at your eggs. How many have hatched? Which ones do you need to incubate longer? Which ones turned rotten, and you need to toss out? 

During this incubation process be sure you consistently apply the three laws of prayer. Words of doubt make eggs rot. Be patient. Think of all the time schedules God had to line up in order to answer our prayer.

There are many other kinds of prayer besides Psalm 37:4 prayers. Each has its own rules and laws. For each kind or prayer you are praying you need to study the scriptures to find the different laws that apply to each. 

This is my challenge to you. Find the laws and rules for each kind of prayer, apply them, and be amazed. God is more ready to give than we are to receive

Ephesians 3:20-21, from the Passion translation, reads: “Never doubt God’s mighty power to work in you and accomplish all this. He will achieve infinitely more than your greatest request, your most unbelievable dream, and exceed your wildest imagination! He will outdo them all, for his miraculous power constantly energizes you. Now we offer up to God all the glorious praise that rises from every church in every generation through Jesus Christ—and all that will yet be manifest through time and eternity. Amen!”

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