Wednesday, October 1, 2014

God Answers Prayer...Right?

I have never assumed to comprehend the mystery of prayer - I've been at it a pretty long time and I still don't really understand just how it works. I've studied what the Bible has to say about it, I've read books on the subject and heard many sermons on the intricacies and complexities of this spiritual communication, and I've prayed. Sometimes lots, sometimes not so much...

And I've seen many, many answers to prayer - both my own and the prayers of others. I think we mostly only count answers that line up with what we've prayed for - and I've experienced tons of those! Current example: my brother was rushed to the hospital not too long ago with severe abdominal pain. He's no sissy; anyone who knows him well can just imagine what it would take for him to voluntarily seek medical attention. There was morphine, there were x-rays and a CT scan and disgusting drinks and uncomfortable tests - it was pretty scary for a little while. The evidence coming in wasn't conclusive; could've been a blockage, a growth, a disorder, and a variety of other frightening possibilities. And what's our family's first reaction? We mobilize our pray-ers. And they pray. From all over the country, they petition the Father for a favourable outcome, for peace, for healing. And it would appear that our cries were heard. After about 36 hours in hospital, we get a best-case-scenario diagnosis, a clean bill of health, some buttered toast and the much-desired release papers. Yay God...right?

But what about all those other times - the times we don't talk about, the desperate prayers we offer up that, by all appearances, go unheard and unanswered? I know I've prayed my share of these - I'm guessing you have, too? Requests large and small, personal and for others, for finances and family and friends and the future...I've often wondered if it was me - was there something I was neglecting to say or do, was I not using the right words, not adopting the proper prayerful position, not praying often enough, praying too much, was there something in my life that was blocking the communication pathway, did I not have enough faith? And on and on, until it would drive me crazy with the wondering, but I'd be afraid to approach God with the question, not wanting to bother Him even more...

It wasn't until I got to know God in a whole new way that I had any peace at all about this particular conundrum. I prayed lots but I also doubted lots - could I really, really trust this God that seemed to arbitrarily bestow or withhold favour? For the longest time, I thought getting my prayers answered depended on my own worth, my value, my efforts. And so, because I thought so little of myself, I could excuse God's supposed lack of response. It was understandable, I figured, because I certainly was not deserving of any special attention from God. When I did get the answers I was looking for, which did happen, even in this long period of silent doubt and questioning, I saw it more as a fluke than anything else, a positive but random blip in the universal management system. I was very grateful, no question. But I guess I figured if I kept my expectations low, I'd be less likely to be disappointed, less likely to fail in the art of prayer.

Thanks be to God, I've made considerable progress in understanding and accepting God's love for me. It has changed how I look at a lot of things, including prayer. I've come to see that it's less about convincing God that I need a particular thing and more about cultivating a friendship - with a Friend who is both intimate and ultimate, completely caring and completely capable, passionately precise and profoundly powerful. It's less about seeking to have my needs met and more about finding out, in ever-increasing measure, that I already have everything I need in Him. It's less about finding answers and more about finding a Person. Maybe it's a little cliché by now, but it's true that prayer doesn't change God or my situation, necessarily; it changes me, my perspective. Prayer is acknowledging that my life is not in my hands, that I'm not the one at the wheel - and that this is a good thing! The act of praying tells God that I trust Him to do (or not do) as He sees fit, for my good and His glory.

I know there's so much more I could say about prayer - but this was not meant to be an exhaustive (nor exhausting) essay on what prayer is or how it works. I needed to remind myself of the truth today. I'm in the middle of a rather difficult situation right now, in which I am completely powerless (which is quite likely at least part of the point), and am waiting to see what God will do - and waiting is so hard sometimes. Sometimes the effort to trust and not doubt is pretty tiring. But I am trusting, imperfectly for sure, but I know in Whom I'm putting my trust - and I know He will not fail me; not now, not ever.

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