He was sixteen years old and, although he could not swim, he heard the sea beckon to him. He wanted to be a sailor. There was a problem, however. He resided a few hundred miles from the nearest ocean. But he was determined. As he saw it, the first step to reach his dream was to hire on as a driver, the lowest ranking job on the Ohio-Erie Canal. With a keen sense of foreboding, his mother wished him Godspeed, knowing well the danger and temptation of that rough life.

            The young man embarked on his adventure. Soon, after beginning his employment, he found himself alone near midnight on the deck of a boat. The other crew members were asleep, fatigued from their day’s labor. A bulky rope lay coiled and tangled near the bow. He gave it a tug, lost his balance, and tumbled into the murky channel. He yelled for help even though he knew that his ship mates would not hear him. Thrashing about, his flailing hand brushed against something. It was the rope which had caused the life-threatening calamity in the first place. He was aware that the other end of the rope was not attached to anything on the boat, but he gave it a tug nevertheless. To his surprise and relief, it held! With great effort, he scaled the side of the vessel and collapsed on the deck, physically and emotionally exhausted. He was saved! The rope which had not been secured to anything did have a knot in it, and that knot had become wedged in a chink on the side of the boat, as the rope slid overboard.

            The young man reflected: I did not believe that God had paid any attention to me on my own account, but I thought He had saved me for my mother and for something greater and better…Providence saved my life. Providence, therefore, thinks it worth saving.

            The once aspiring sailor, forsaking the youthful plan for his life, returned home. As he approached the door of the family’s humble residence, he heard his mother speaking her bedtime prayers. In her petition, she asked God for the well-being of her son, even though she did not even know where he might be. She specifically requested that God would return him safe and sound from his hazardous occupation. When the worried mother concluded her prayer, her son stepped through the door and into the cabin.

            The young man, James A. Garfield, then worked his way through college serving as its janitor, graduated, and later became president of the institution. He also was ordained as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and eventually became the twentieth President of the United States of America. (Destiny of the Republic, by Candice Millard)

            Garfield, because of the near-drowning and the overheard prayer of his faithful mother, sought a higher purpose for his life. He realized that his plan had not been God’s plan.

            Garfield’s deliverance and his subsequent insight make a salient point about purpose and prayer.

            I once heard a pastor remark that “prayer participates in God’s plan.” Garfield’s experience illustrates the truth of that minister’s comment.

            How can it be true that our prayers participate in God’s plan? It is a mystery. Like so many accounts in the Bible, the things that are impossible for us to fathom are likewise the things that are true. Afterall, it is the Christian faith to which we adhere, not the Christian philosophy. Many principles of our faith are not to be analyzed, only accepted.

            Hear the words of Christ, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and to the one who knocks, it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

            Prayer is a mystery, but it works.

            Prayer participates in God’s plan.

            President Garfield and his pious mother would attest to the truth of those two preceding statements.

            Thanks be to God!

— Pastor Ken Tubbesing