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Historians will look at the year that just ended as a financial tsunami that left in its wake millions of foreclosed homes, bankruptcies, and lost jobs. As if competing to abandon the basic tenets of capitalism, governments threw money at banks, investment companies, and huge insurers in an attempt to restore trust and stanch the flow of capital.

During one of the most volatile periods, a week in which global stock markets declined by $7 trillion, I received a call from an editor at Time. "You wrote a book on prayer, right?" he said. "Tell me, how should a person pray during a crisis like this?" In the course of the conversation, we came up with a three-stage approach to prayer.

The first stage is simple, an instinctive cry: "Help!" For someone who faces a job cut or health crisis or watches retirement savings wither away, prayer offers a way to voice fear and anxiety. I have learned to resist the tendency to edit my prayers so that they sound sophisticated and mature. I believe God wants us to come exactly as we are, no matter how childlike we may feel. A God aware of every sparrow that falls surely knows the impact of scary financial times on frail human beings.

Indeed, prayer provides the best possible place to take our fears. As a template for prayers in crisis, I look at Jesus' night in Gethsemane. He threw himself on the ground three times, sweat falling from his body like drops of blood, and felt "overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." In the midst of that anguish, however, his prayer changed from "Take this cup from me" to "May your will be done." In the scenes of trial that followed, Jesus was the calmest character present. His season of prayer had relieved him of anxiety, reaffirmed his trust in a loving ...

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January 2009

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