Reprinted from "Mama Made the Difference" by arrangement with G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Credit: Russ

My mother was a woman of faith and conviction. She definitely helped to secure my belief in God. But she was not a sweet, sappy, super-spiritual saint who carried her Bible everywhere she went and greeted people with “Praise the Lord.” No, she was a real person with real challenges–and she had a real faith in a real God.  She had a relationship with Him in the deepest part of her being. It was like bedrock beneath every obstacle she ever faced, every emotion she ever felt, every decision she ever made, and every victory she ever gained. She did not flaunt it, she did not spiritualize it, she simply lived it. 

In teaching me to pray, my mother never sat me down at the kitchen table and said, “Now son, this is how you pray. First you say this and then you say that…” No, she taught me through exposure. Now, many of us may have been exposed to prayer through various contexts throughout our lives.  We have heard people pray in our churches, and in our schools if we are of a certain age. We may have grown up in a family that paused before mealtimes to thank God for you food. We may have seen people pray on television as we watched state funerals or events such as a presidential inauguration.  We may have found ourselves in situations so desperate that we have uttered almost a primal cry to God for help or relief.  Then again, we may be people who live by prayer, having plumbed the depths of relationship with God, through the communion of prayer.  Nevertheless, like a first kiss from a secret crush, we never forget our first awareness of what it means to converse with God.

My own exposure began around the table. I suppose that is where I first became aware that people talk to God.  Of course, growing up in church, I heard people pray in my Sunday school classes and in church services. At times those prayers stirred my soul and at times I did not really understand them.  I did, though, believe God was listening and I knew that He could answer. But there came a point when my exposure to prayer solidified into a concrete commitment to heavenly communication


My sister became sick. In her early twenties, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking situation, one our family could do nothing about. Of course, we could feed her, and take care of her and ensure that she received the best medical care we could find, but at the core of the matter, we were powerless to heal her. We were helpless when it came to being able to ease her pain or relieve her symptoms. All we could do was pray. My family’s prayers became urgent, fervent, passionate, desperate, and unceasing, as they went forth from our house with the speed, focus, and force of a steady stream of bullets aimed at the throne of God. My mother led the charge. 


And let me tell you, nobody can pray like a mama whose baby is deathly ill–even when her baby is an adult.  I had never heard anybody pray the way my mother prayed when my sister was sick. I had heard plenty of people pray, but never like that. She would not back down, she would not let down, she would not calm down.  She would not get up and she would not shut up as she literally bombarded heaven on my sister’s behalf.

She became a warrior far superior to any epic hero. She became a giant on her knees. With a sword in one hand she battled the enemies of death and disease, and with her other hand stretched toward heaven she kept beseeching God’s help and His mercy.

Have you ever heard the sound of desperation in another person’s voice? I heard it during those days. I am sure the halls of heaven shook with the force of her intercession. She meant business–and she knew how to do business–with God. Though my mother’s prayers were intense and emotional at times, they were not based on emotion; they were based on faith. Her passionate pleas were built on her deep and intimate acquaintance with God, her years of relationship with Him, her knowledge of His Word. She knew who He was, she knew what He could do, she knew what He had promised–and she went to war for those things to come to pass in my sister’s life.

“What happened?” you ask. Let me just say that today my sister is a strong, healthy, beautiful mother and grandmother. She had an excellent education and a distinguished career in her profession. She has authored books, she is a public speaker, she is a delight to our family, and she is a trophy and a testimony to the power of prayer....

Like so many other lessons, I believe prayer is best taught by example, and I encourage you to begin passing along a prayer legacy to you children if you have not already started. A child who sees and hears you pray will learn to pray in his or her own way. You can provide guidance by encouraging children to pray before meals, when they have a test to take at school, when someone is sick, or when their feelings are hurt.  You can remind them to thank God when prayers are answered.  The point is to help them realize that they are not alone in life and that they can appeal to a source of help beyond their parents or any other human being.  They need to know that God loves them, cares about them, wants to be involved in their lives, is cheering for them, has a great plan for their future, knows best, can be trusted, and loves to hear their voices.  Teach them to talk to Him often. Tell them that they need not bow their heads, close their eyes, and fold their hands in order to be heard, but that they can commune with the Maker of the universe in the privacy of their own souls.  Let them know that if they will only turn their thoughts toward God, He will listen and respond.

There will always be situations and circumstance that you cannot change for yourself or for your children. There will always be something over which you are utterly powerless–and it may be something potentially devastating. In such moments of crisis, there is no substitute for prayer and there is no source of strength and comfort like prayer. I am reminded of a line from an old song I have known for years: “King Jesus is a-listening when you pray.” Let your voice be heard in heaven–and let me assure you that God is listening when you pray.

Homework for the heart: When did you hear your mother pray? On what occasion would she talk to God? What did she teach you about prayer and communicating with Him? How does this affect the way you pray today? What would you like to tell God that you’ve been reluctant to say to Him? I encourage you to open your heart to Him and listen for His voice.

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