Any Christian who’s really honest with themselves has asked, or is still asking, the question “why pray?” A study of the subject will reveal thousands of books, commentaries and opinions about prayer, and it seems no matter how much one reads or may see the logic in an argument, it’s still hard to reconcile it in one’s own mind; and it’s even harder to communicate what squishy conclusions are drawn, if any.
My mom left this world for real life a little more than two years ago. What was harder for me to reconcile was not just her death, but her death in light of her life. Why did God let her suffer so much and for so long (like 18 years) with a lung disease that eventually had her struggling for the breath to even walk around the house? She was so faithful to Him – spending time reading, praying and journaling for hours every day, serving until she physically couldn’t in various ministries, etc. She was a model Christian, and yet God let her suffer and never healed her in spite of many prayers from her and all of us. I have wrestled with many questions related to prayer, and her passing certainly prompted more.
I have come to the conclusion that prayer serves two main purposes (I’m definitely not the first to say this). First, prayer humbles us. Through prayer, we acknowledge our needy, helpless position before God (supplication), we acknowledge His greatness and our depravity (worship, adoration), and we serve others by spending our time and energy on them (intercession). Proud people don’t pray. Humble, loving people open their apertures and think about others and their needs long and often enough to devote time in prayer for them.
The second thing prayer does is that it’s a bending of the will. But, whose will is being bent? It often becomes our attempt to bend God’s will ours. We have so many things we want, and we think we know what’s best for us and for others. However, God uses prayer to bend our will to His. This takes humility and a willingness to be wrong about what we think is best as well as a willingness to not know or understand why God’s will is what it is or why His timing is not in line with ours.
Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, is a good example. When Gabriel visited him in the temple, he said, “Your prayers have been heard…” I don’t know about you, but I suspect Zechariah had probably not prayed for a child for a long time, maybe like 20 years. It’s speculation, but I base it on what we know of his age as well as his response to the angel’s message – doubt. He couldn’t see how it was possible for him, or his wife whom he said was “advanced in years,” to have a child. If he was still praying for a child at that point, it must have been a faithless prayer. I prefer to believe he had prayed that prayer many, many times … up to a point – the point he thought it no longer possible for his prayer to be answered. However, God was going to answer, but in His time.
Another example I look at is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Even Jesus prayed for the plan to change if possible, but was willing to submit Himself to the Father’s will – which included being crushed under the holy wrath of the Father for our sins. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He instructed them to say, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Ultimately, the example is to express our desire for God’s will to be done, which it will undoubtedly be, in a way that implicitly or explicitly bends our will to His no matter how much or little we understand or like it.
Psalm 37:4 says that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, He gives us the desires of our heart. But what does that really mean? That God will give me what I want? No. Rather it means God will give me the desires He wants me to have. What I want will become what He wants when I delight in Him.
To be continued…