The man in the feed store said, "Yeah, they had a great pilot, but I believe God's hand was what guided the plane so they were all saved." He was referring to last week's "miracle on the Hudson," when 150 passengers and the crew of US Airways flight 1549 survived a crash landing on the Hudson River in New York City.
In the moments right after the crash, several posts on The New York Times website called for prayer, and early reports spoke of people on board praying. In an interview with the Boston Herald, one man on board declared, "I was praying ..." (Jan. 17).
Openly referring to prayer isn't always seen as popular, yet this man and others who spoke about their thoughts – along with the people who posted calls for prayer on websites – clearly felt this was the most important thing to do at that moment. And their trust was not in vain.
Complex as that situation was, the desire was fairly straightforward: save lives. What if we could use this powerful experience as a lens through which we can view other problems around the world: the economic crisis, the AIDS pandemic in Africa, continuing instability in the Middle East, to mention a few. Suppose we could leave personal opinions aside and turn to God with as much fervor about those things, and diligently refuse to accept any other outcome than healing?
The book of James in the Bible includes this promise: "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (5:16). During the plane's flight and the rescue efforts afterward, much happened that could be considered the result of prayer, that prayer did indeed "avail much" – the pilot's skillful and steady water landing, the relative calm after the crash and the way passengers left the aircraft, the fact that the pilot and others could check to make sure everyone was off, the speed and intelligence of the rescue personnel.
Our fervent prayers for other, even more complex world problems can bring out these qualities in those who are decisionmakers in those places. Wisdom, love, strength, patience, intelligence, honesty – qualities like these are needed wherever there is distress. And they are always present, because God, Spirit – their source – is always present. Each of us, as God's idea, has access to these qualities anytime, not just in emergencies. But in times of great need, prayer that recognizes their presence will cut through the fog of fear and doubt that may surround us.
This fog dissipates before our conviction that God is good, that He is all-powerful, and that He hears us. Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy confirmed this point in her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." She wrote, "The prayer that reforms the sinner and heals the sick is an absolute faith that all things are possible to God, – a spiritual understanding of Him, an unselfed love" (p. 1).
Unselfed love is love that doesn't seek anything in return. It's the kind of love that Christ Jesus expressed when he was healing and saving people. We're each able to express to some degree this love toward others. It's likely that many of the people who called for prayer during the US Airways flight and the aftermath were motivated by unselfed love.
Unselfed love adds a deeper dimension to our prayers because it removes our personal opinions about possible outcomes and turns us wholeheartedly to God's care. This "spiritual understanding of God" shows us that He is Love, and His purposes are never served by evil or suffering. With this knowledge at hand, our prayers become clearer in their conviction that God is ever present.
Even if our prayers don't apparently contribute to dramatic "saves" as in the case of the passengers and crew on Flight 1549, we can trust that our care for humanity has the ability to help and save to whatever degree we can give up opinions and let God lead the way. Then, our "effectual fervent" prayers will indeed avail much.