A member of my church came to see me yesterday. She came because she’s agonizing in prayer—seeking from the Lord an answer to a request that’s not for herself, but someone else; that she’s been praying over faithfully for quite some time; and that’s grounded in a deep awareness of who God is, and what prayer is, and what prayer is not. But as “persevering” as her prayers have been — and as deeply devoted to Christ as she is — an answer has not yet come.
At this point, I should probably rush to say that she knows all about the potential and very legitimate “reasons” that her request has not been granted. Perhaps the answer is “not yet.” Maybe God is using this time of prayer and waiting to cultivate some important quality in her life or in the life of the person for whom she’s praying. Perhaps the “open doors” about which she’s been praying would turn out to be the “wrong doors,” if she could see them from God’s loving and all-knowing perspective.
But that doesn’t change the fact that prayer is hard, especially when the incredible promises of scripture don’t seem to align with our experience. In fact, today’s Daily Office features one of those promises:
“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:13-16)
Can I explain how we’re supposed to make sense of those occasions when prayer doesn’t “work” the way we hoped it would? No, I cannot. I wonder sometimes if part of the problem is that make prayer all about the “answer” that we’re seeking, while it’s really about the relationship with God and with each other that we experience in the course of our seeking. But with that very thought in mind, I do know these things:
- I know that my friend is being obedient. There’s trouble; so she’s praying. And she’s doing that not just for the sake of getting some “reward” or “answer” at the end. She’s doing that because she loves the Lord; she trusts Him; and she wants to see Him glorified in the life of the person for whom she’s praying.
- I know that God is faithful. He keeps His promises; and He neither abandons nor forsakes us. He might not always “answer” in the way or at the time that we thought was best. But in all things, He is working for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose.
- And finally, I know – that in the midst of our praying with and for each other – there was healing, just as the Bible said there would be. There was the healing that comes from tears that acknowledge our brokenness and our longing. There was the healing that comes from moments that demonstrate our bond in Christ. There was the healing that comes from the reminder – that even in our incompleteness – God’s Spirit is interceding for us with sighs too deep for words. And maybe, just maybe, “connecting” with those sighs – “resting” in the arms of a Father who longs for us and in us and through us – is the greatest answer of all.