Surveys tell us that most Americans pray, even those who are not regular church-goers. But, have you ever gotten to a point where you felt that your prayers simply were not working? Times when it seemed like God just wasn’t listening?
A story from the Jewish Talmud tells of a time a generation before the birth of Jesus, when a severe drought threatened Judea’s very existence. Centuries had passed since the last Jewish prophets, and miracles were a distant memory. God seemed silent.
But there was an old, wise sage named Honi living outside the walls of Jerusalem who dared to pray anyway. Although the people could no longer hear God, Honi believed that God could still hear them.
Taking a large staff, Honi drew a circle in the sand. Then, he dropped to his knees in the middle of that circle and raised his hands to heaven. Like the prophet Elijah who authoritatively called down fire from heaven, Honi called for God to send down rain.
“Lord of the Universe, I swear before you that I will not move from this circle until you have shown mercy on your children,” he prayed. As Honi’s prayer rose upward, raindrops descended to the earth. The people rejoiced!
But Honi wasn’t content with a drizzle. Still inside the circle, he shouted above the sounds of celebration, “Not for a sprinkle have I prayed, but for rain that will fill cisterns, wadis and pools!”
The drizzle became a deluge so that the people fled to the Temple Mount to escape flash floods. Honi stayed and prayed inside his circle, “Not for torrential rain have I prayed, but for rain of benevolence, blessing, and grace.”
Then, like a steady afternoon shower, the rains fell in perfect moderation. Some of the Temple rulers threatened to punish Honi because his prayer had been too bold, but eventually, Honi, the Circle Maker, was honored for “the prayer that saved a generation.”
The circle Honi drew should remind us that God honors bold prayers, because bold prayers honor God.