As I wrestle with God and the why-questions I know He probably won’t answer (in this life), this is sort of the underlying bigger question: why pray if God is in charge/in control/going to do what He wills regardless of whether it matches our wants and desires? OR, to put it another way: does prayer make a difference?
We’ve all seen the two most obvious sides to the prayer coin:
- we pray for x and x happens and we are so so so grateful, and we say thank you thank you thank you (generally accompanied by this statement: “GOD SAVED HIM!”); or,
- we pray for x and y happens (like when we and hundreds of other people prayed like crazy for Mark, marvelous silly wonderful Mark who lit up so many lives…and he still died) and we are left completely stunned, beyond bereft. Furthermore, a person in this situation might also be (a) angry, (b) frustrated, (c) resigned/ disillusioned, (d) feeling like God punished us and/or the person we love, (e) all of the above, (f) some of the above, or (g) none of the above. We might say, “Well, it must have been God’s will” or “I hate God” or “God hates/doesn’t care about me” or “God must not exist.”
The most spiritually mature people I know have learned to/are learning to lift themselves above these kind of pat answers to the ultimately unknowable. In “Gifts of the Dark Wood,” Eric Elnes talks about his teenage daughter suddenly developing a potentially fatal brain tumor. Subsequent surgery didn’t get all of the tumor, but the bit that remains appears to be dead. He says on p. 39, “Did God play a role in healing our daughter’s brain tumor? Frankly, I cannot say for certain, nor do I feel the need to.” Instead he and his family focused on trusting that God would care for them no matter what happened next; they watched for how the Holy Spirit (his phrase is “The Unexpected Love”) showed up – working in and through this situation, in and through the people around them.
Even though I would never say we felt a whole lot of that trusting-God stuff in the immediate days and weeks following Mark’s sudden death (it was more like intense confusion, chaos, denial), we tried to never let go completely…and we did notice the immense love, care and concern that swamped us, and continues to sustain us. I cannot express how deeply deeply grateful I am each time someone says “we’re still praying for you.”
This is my summary after doing a lot of surfing on the web, and a lot of thinking:
Prayer helps us move closer to God,
it helps us draw more in alignment with His will as we learn to listen for His voice,
as we learn to see Him at work in the world around us,
in our lives and those of others
(so often this is clearest in retrospect).
We read of a God for whom prayer is His favorite “fragrance” (Revelation 5).
Prayer and spending time in the presence of Pure Love changes us, and when we change, we change the world.
Prayer reinforces our understanding that we live, move and breathe within Him who created all…
everything, including us.
We are utterly dependent, whether we realize it or not.
Learning to say thank you, a prayer in itself,
can be transformative over time.
Jesus – God here, God with us – prayed.
I have serious Spiritual Amnesia, so now I’ll remind myself of a practical application and then thumbtack it somewhere, possibly to my forehead. I’m thinking, at this moment, of a beautiful, hurting man named Ron who goes to our gym. His right leg was badly injured in the Vietnam war – filled with shrapnel – and he moves, using a walker, only with great pain and extreme difficulty. You can see it all gathered in the deep creases of his face. I do pray for God to work a miracle for Ron. It could happen. But I also pray for Ron to know God is with him always, regardless of circumstances. I don’t know the why of his unresolved pain (and he’s tried so many times to get it fixed), any more than the why for ours. I do know God promises that nothing we experience will go to waste, if we believe.