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Prayer is a skill that we learn, the most important of which is the attitude with which we come to God.

I was born into a religious family, and as early as I can remember, my mother taught me to always pray. So I learned the Lord’s Prayer and recited it constantly for years—that was, before I started to covet.

One morning on my way to school, I passed by a department store’s display window where a shiny, red skateboard stood. I stared at it and envisioned myself rolling down the hill on it, seated, of course, because I’ve never ridden a skateboard before and didn’t know how. However, that didn’t stop me from wanting it, and even assuming that I needed it. So one night at bedtime, I decided to pray for that beautiful red skateboard. The prayer went something like this: “My Father who art in heaven (pause), on my way to school today I saw this awesome red skateboard, and (another pause) can You please get it for me? I really, really, really want it. It would help me get to school faster. Amen.”

After a couple weeks of praying that prayer with minor variations, I awoke to find the skateboard I so desperately wanted in front of my bedroom door. I am sure that at that moment I was the happiest kid on earth. I took that skateboard with me everywhere.

I even tried taking the skateboard to church, but my mom stopped me. I said, “I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal about me taking the skateboard to church. God gave it to me.” Immediately, my mother told me how she stood at my bedroom door and listened to me pray. She then proceeded to tell me that she, not God, bought me the skateboard. She then told me to pray for something worthwhile, without selfishness, such as world peace. What kind of request is that? I thought. I’m at peace. There’s no need for me to waste my prayers on someone else. Let them pray for their own stuff.

So I continued to pray as if prayer were a magic lamp, asking for tangible blessings at every opportunity. I said two prayers every night: one that was spoken aloud for my mom to hear and the other just for God’s ears, to let Him know what I truly needed.

My selfish praying continued for years. Some prayers were answered; others were not—but overall I prospered financially, emotionally, and physically. That is, until one afternoon when I received a phone call from my doctor telling me that my prostate exam revealed something that he needed to talk to me about. Those were the most frightening words I had ever heard. My fear increased when the doctor told me that I had an advanced stage of prostate cancer and that my prognosis was not good.

All I remember from that point forward was falling to my knees and praying harder than in all my years past, with even more passion and fervor than the times I prayed for my shiny red skateboard. I thought for sure that this prayer would be answered in haste, but weeks passed, then months as my body began deteriorating. The malignant tumor became so large that I had to be hospitalized.

My ritual of prayer persisted, and I even increased the number of times that I prayed. A week after I was hospitalized, for the first time I understood what my mother had said about praying. Her advice now made all the sense in the world to me.

You see, God hears our every prayer, our every word, but it’s our heart that truly speaks to Him. As this understanding sank into my mind, I said another prayer, but this time with my heart. It went like this: “My Father who art in heaven (pause), please forgive me for my years of selfishness (pause). I now understand, and all I want to do is Your will. If I have to die, or if I must give up all of my worldly possessions, then I submit to Your will. All I ask of You on this day, in the state that I am in, is forgiveness. Please redeem me and bless me with Your amazing grace. Please help other lost souls to find their way to You and Your Son. May Your will be done, Amen.”

I began to feel better almost immediately, and at that moment I knew that I was saved. Weeks passed before I was able to check out of the hospital, and during that time I ministered to other patients there. When I was discharged from the hospital, I realized that I left a different man from when I had entered. I now want everyone to know that no matter how lost you are, God will find you and bring you home. All you have to do is pray.

Rodney Davenport Jr. writes from Imperial, California.

I Learned to Pray

by Rodney Davenport Jr.
From the September 2006 Signs