Reverse Theology

Prayers don’t have to make sense to connect

By Norris Burkes
May 2024

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

Yup. The pickup truck 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 to the spiritual point you expect from a pastor.

After hearing the all-too-familiar crunching sound while backing up, I went to examine my car’s damaged trunk.

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

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

That’s the word I use for these kinds of prayers: Nonsensical.

I say nonsensical because I know that no matter what I pray, the damage is done. It’s a prayer after the fact.

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 was also very human.

Prayers that come from disappointments and hurt often don’t make sense to casual listeners. They’re spoken in a language of the heart that’s not easily translated.

I learned this from a Sutter cancer patient who told me her prayers no longer made sense. She had stage 3 breast cancer and wondered whether it was crazy to ask God to heal her after the cancer had progressed to this advanced stage.

I was tempted to spout the “chaplain answer,” a response that gushes with God-speak.

Instead, to this frightened 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 cast a holy spell where we make God do as we wish.

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

When it comes to the language of prayer, God uses the human heart as a universal translator to hear us. The prayers we express in fear don’t always align with sensible theology.

Jesus suggested the best way to find alignment with spiritual things is to find a closet to pray in.
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 matters is God hears you.

Which tells me whether it’s backing into a parked pickup or hitting the wall of reality, prayers of a fearful heart always find the ear of a loving God.

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

The trunk lid bounced back on my head. You should have heard my prayer then.

Norris Burkes can be reached at Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento. Burkes is available for public speaking at civic organizations, places of worship, veterans groups and more. For details and fees, visit

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