March 10, 2024

After my recent Sunday sermon, a vehicle parked in front of my church rolled up hill and slammed into the pastor’s bumper.

Yup. That pickup truck just put itself in gear and gave my Camry a big boo-boo.

At this point, I ask that you suspend your disbelief.

Let’s move on to the spiritual point that you expect from this columnist. 

After hearing the all-too-familiar crunching sound, I went to the rear to examine the trunk damage.

As I placed my hand on the door handle, I found myself praying a nonsensical prayer.

“Pull-ease God, just allow the trunk to be operable. Please allow my car to remain drivable until it can be fixed.”

I have a name for these kinds of prayers – “nonsensical.”

I call it that because I know that no matter what I pray, the damage is already done. It’s a prayer after the fact, as if my plea would change history.

I think you’d agree that these kinds of prayers are about as ludicrous as someone claiming they were hit by a parked car.

However, while my prayer seemed futile, it also was a very human prayer.

Prayers that come from our disappointments and hurt often will not make sense to the casual listener. That’s because they’re spoken in a language of the heart that’s not easily translated.

I learned this from a cancer patient who once told me that her prayers no longer made sense. She had stage-three breast cancer and wondered aloud whether it was crazy to ask God to heal her after the cancer had progressed into this advanced stage.

I was tempted to spout the “chaplain answer,” the answer that would gush with god-speak.

Instead, to this very scared mom on our oncology unit, I admitted what I knew to be true: I knew nothing.

“I’m not sure that God is looking for dialogue from us that makes sense,” I said, “because I’m not sure we are expected to be doing sensible things at a moment like this.”

Looking for sensible words in our prayers can be as senseless as expecting patterns in the wind. “Sensible” prayers are our attempt to find a formula or to cast a holy spell with which we make God do as we wish.


We’ve invented all kinds of prayer systems, but in the end, the only thing that gets us through the hardest times are the prayers that resonate in our hearts.

When it comes to the language of prayer, God uses the human heart as a universal translator by which he is best able to hear us. The prayers we express at a time like this don’t always align with sensible theology.

Jesus suggested that the best way to find alignment with spiritual things is to find a closet in which to pray.

I love how The Message translates Jesus’ words from Matthew 6:6:

“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”

The gist of the teaching is: When it’s just you and God in the closet, you have no witnesses. You needn’t care what your prayers sound like. The only thing that will matter is that God hears you.

All of which tells me that whether it is backing into a parked pickup or hitting the wall of reality, the prayers of a fearful heart will always find the ear of a loving God.

By the way, I was able to open the trunk by following the method of many a TV evangelist. I placed one hand on the ailing part of the car and one hand on my Bible and just “beeeelieved.”

Sadly, the trunk lid bounced back on my head. You should have heard my knot-headed prayer then.

So, may I just say that should you decide to visit our church, we have two parking lots. You might prayerfully consider parking in the rear parking lot, away from the silver Camry.


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You’ll find this column in my next book, but in the meantime, you can buy my newest book, “Tell it to the Chaplain,” or any of my books, online at or send $20 to 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602. Comments received at same address or by email: or at (843) 608-9715.