Jan 6, 2010

a word to a friend on unanswered prayer

A friend of mine who is going through a heavy trial that hasn't gone away asked for perspectives on prayer. I truly "get" his question... it's one that I've asked at different points over the years. Specifically, during times when I've also felt the burden to hang on to my burden because I was weary of giving it to God, who seemingly didn't answer me - after all, "What is the point of praying when you don't get what you want?" Or as he put it:

"Now, prayer feels like dropping stones from a bridge and waiting to hear them land in the water…and waiting…and waiting…and…nothing…."

I wrote back and felt like maybe I needed to share my response here as well.


At our Christmas Eve service, a young woman came to me and said, "Are you the lead pastor of this church?" I said, "Yeah." She then went on to told me how while she was a visitor she had a leading to pray for whomever the pastor was. I said that'd be fine.

The first thing out of her mouth was (to the effect of), "Lord, I'm going to pray for Tony now just as I sense you've led me to, but I need to ask you for wisdom how to pray. So before I say anything else would you teach me what words I should ask of You or claim over him?"

I can't say I've ever prayed like that... and it was both a blessing and a learning curve. I view prayer as a connecting of the dots... me sharing my heart with God, and then letting God share His heart with me.

Truthfully, I'm actually afraid to speak of answered prayer to others because I know that it hints at an "A + B = C" system, and prayer to me is more conversation and burden trading than it is a Santa-style wishlist... i.e. "If I'm good, I get what I pray for. If I'm not good, I don't get it until I'm good again."

Maybe I'm simplifying this, but if Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane was based on that system, the Father would have said, "Jesus, you're the ultimate good - you're Me, for crying out loud. So of course - yes." But instead it was burden trading... the Son sharing His burden, the Father sharing His, and the two (or three) agreeing the proper context for both to exist... namely, that context meaning Jesus carrying a cross to rescue us versus feeling rescued Himself.

I know your question isn't merely theological. I know that there are aches inside of you that (like Psalm 137) inspire, or rather "despire" you to "hang up your harps" of praise.

Maybe that's why C.S. Lewis wrote in the Screwtape Letters the perspective of one demon to another:
"Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."

Will you join me in praying for my friend and his family... for their prayers?

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