Does God listen to prayers and change nature or circumstances to answer them?
Consider this: From Dec. 1 through Jan. 29, the Modesto Irrigation District recorded only one day of rain, for a total of 0.28 inches. In the third week of January, Catholics and Muslims held special days to pray for rain, and blue-and-white signs began appearing in yards, urging people to “Pray for Rain.”
In the last two days of January, MID recorded 0.54 inches, and in February through Friday, we added 0.78 inches more. That’s 1.32 inches in 16 days, more than four times as much as the previous 60 days.
That small anecdotal evidence doesn’t prove anything, and only brings us up to about 25 percent of our average rainfall, of course, but more rain is in the forecast, along with a communitywide prayer gathering to ask God to pour out his blessings on our parched state.
That gathering will begin at 6:45 p.m. Feb. 24 at The House/Modesto. Senior pastors Rick Countryman of Big Valley Grace Community Church and Glen Berteau of The House are spearheading the evening, which will include farmers and people from all denominations.
We asked area faith leaders if they had asked their congregations to pray for rain, and if they believed prayer would make a difference. Here are excerpts from their comments:
Imam Ahmad Kayello of the Islamic Center of Modesto said about 375 men and women from his community held a special prayer for rain three weeks ago.
“There is a special prayer in Islam called ‘Rain Prayer’ where the imam delivers a speech reminding people of the commands of God, warning them from sinning and disobedience, which have consequences such as drought,” he said. “Then everybody raises their hands up in supplication to God that the Prophet Mohammed supplicated, such as, ‘Oh God, send down rain and don’t make any of us despair.’
“God in the Holy Quran says, ‘And he it is who sends down the rain after they have despaired, and spreads abroad his mercy. And he is the supporter, worthy of all praise.’ So we know that God sends down the rain, and he removes evil, so it is worthy to send our prayers to him, hoping for his response.”
The Rev. Ken Swett, senior pastor of Modesto’s Foursquare Church, said his congregation has been praying for rain during worship services and in smaller groups. The church believes that God hears and answers humble prayers, he said.
“Part of our prayers is that God would use this drought to awaken in all of us how dependent we are on God’s mercy and provision,” he added. “Man’s tendency is to slide into a mindset of independence and go about life in a prideful, self-sufficient manner. Lack of rain can assist those who need reminding that we are very much in need of God’s help every day, in every way. It is an illusion to think otherwise.”
The Rev. Brandon Austin of First United Methodist Church of Modesto said something similar: “Prayer will make a difference by making us especially aware of our need for God, for water and for the natural resources we cannot simply manufacture. It also will make us aware of our neighbors and may call us to learn how to share and care for one another.”
He is personally praying, he said, “that God will make us continually aware of our need to be excellent stewards of God’s good creation and to make us especially mindful of how we behave and how we regard one another, near and far.”
The Rev. Tylos Jackson, lead pastor of Victory in Praise of Modesto, told his congregation that “the lack of rain was a wake-up call for believers. I suggested believers repent and humble themselves before God so that rain would be released upon the earth. It is encouraging to see people of faith unify in prayer. It is my desire that during this time of physical drought, Californians will connect with their creator through a renewed love of him.”
“Why do we pray for rain and other needs?” asked the Rev. Gerry Grossman of Grace Anglican Church in Turlock. “We believe that prayer inspires God. I encourage parishioners to pray for rain in their own ‘prayer closets,’ and we also say a corporate prayer together on Sundays.” The corporate prayer asks God to “send us, we entreat you in this time of need, such moderate rain and showers that we may receive the fruits of the earth to our comfort and to your honor.”
The Rev. Ramon Bejarano, pastor of St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Modesto, said his congregation has been “actively praying for rain since the middle of January.” The nuns at the parish’s Sisters of the Cross convent and other groups pray daily, he said. More than 800 parishioners participated in a 24-hour prayer vigil Jan. 23-24.
The Bible is clear, Bejarano said, citing Matthew 18:19-20 and Matthew 6:26-33, that God wants us to pray for what we need, although he already knows what that need is.
“At the same time, prayer helps us accept what God’s will for us is,” he added. “Raising the awareness of praying for rain should also include raising awareness that God made us stewards of creation and we need to act responsibly on how we use and care for water and other natural resources.”
The Rev. Ron Youngdale, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Turlock, said his congregation has been praying not only for rain, but also “for our farmers who provide food for the world. I thank God for those who are willing to devote their lives to raising food and willing to have jobs that are so dependent on the weather.”
He said prayer is “an open line of communication to God (and) a gift from him.” Although he said we should always take our needs to God, “I want God to do what is best for us. So I always conclude my prayers with the words, ‘Your will be done.’ ”
Bobby Fisher, executive pastor of Shelter Cove Community Church in Modesto, said his church held corporate and staff prayers for rain in late January.
“We certainly believe it will make a difference,” he said. “We don’t pretend to know all of God’s reasons for doing things the way he does in every instance, but over and over, the Scriptures teach us to come to him in faith and pray, so we do. We are asking God to bring rain that will meet the needs of our cities and agriculture.”
Pastor Dean Dodd, who helps lead Church in the Park, a worship service especially for homeless folks, said rain can play havoc with their outdoor services, “where all the chairs, awnings, tables, sound system and kitchen must be set up and taken down each week and where 250 people come” for the worship service, lunch and other ministries.
But, he said, “we are aware that we need rain badly and we believe prayer makes a difference, so we now pray like this: ‘Lord, please send the rain, even on Sundays.’ With all the hardships this country is going through, we don’t believe it is his will that we go through a terrible drought as well. We believe he will answer our prayers because we are praying in his will, and we know that anything we ask in his will, he will grant to us who believe by faith.”
The Rev. Jon Magoulias of the Greek Orthodox Church in Modesto said prayers for nourishing weather to produce fruitful crops are part of the normal church petitions.
“In the Greek Orthodox Church, while we acknowledge the present need for rainfall, it is a continuous and consistent supplication that we pray to God to ‘grant us seasonable and healthful weather,” Magoulias said. “Send gentle showers upon the earth so that it may bear fruit.’ ”
Mark Vasché, executive director of Pinnacle Forum, a Bible study for businessmen and other community leaders, sent a newsletter to his group, urging prayer for rain and snow “in plentiful enough quantities to meet the needs of city and farm alike” and asking “that everyone – Christians and nonbelievers alike – would realize that water is not just a natural resource; it is a supernatural gift, a blessing from the God who created the Earth and everything in it.”
The Rev. Ben Jennings, prayer director of Campus Crusade for Christ, said prayer makes a difference, and offered this story: “About 30 years ago, when Modesto First Baptist Church (now CrossPoint) was erecting its new sanctuary, the congregation prayed that it would not rain for a couple of weeks, giving time to put up their tilt-up walls. The answer to that prayer continued so long that seven years were declared necessary to refill our area reservoirs. I heard some staff at The Modesto Bee actually blaming the prayers of First Baptist for the lack of rain.”
Fortunately, he said, despite the dire predictions “God gave enough rain in one season to refill all the reservoirs.”
As for the current water crisis, he said, “one of my desires from God is already underway. That is to unite his people in prayer.”