It’s getting harder and harder for me to pray. Whether not prioritizing the time, or not knowing exactly what to say, or just not thinking it’s worth the effort, this vital spiritual discipline has me completely perplexed. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done a lot of praying over the years, and I’ll continue to pray in the years to come. It’s just that in hindsight, I can’t really see any direct correlation between my prayers and certain people I’m praying for. I’m frustrated and discouraged.
There have been a few times when a sick person I’m praying for has been healed. But more often than not, it seems my prayers don’t “work” and that person doesn’t get any better. In the course of my lifetime, I’m probably batting well below .500 and I don’t like those odds at all. I’ve even prayed the same prayers for two people at the same time and one of them lived and the other died. What’s up with that?
I guess I’m just puzzled by the randomness of it all. One person recovers from a near death illness while at the same time several innocent children die in a bus crash. One family gets a favorable diagnosis at the same moment another person is told he has 3 months to live. Over the past five years, I can’t possibly pray any more fervently than I have for my wife and yet, there’s apparently no progress to her recovery. I’d be lying if I said my faith wasn’t affected.
I know that prayer involves more than a “wish list” to God. Our Creator is not just a cosmic Santa Claus rewarding us based on whether we’re naughty or nice. Regardless of whether we think God answers our prayers or not, there are still a multitude of other legitimate reasons to pray. How better to communicate directly with God than by talking and listening to him through prayer? A compassionate God invites us to bring our burdens and needs to him in prayer and that same God frequently reveals himself more transparently to us when we petition him in a humble manner. Furthermore, when we pray, we’re demonstrating our faith and trust in God. In return, God imparts to us wisdom and understanding. Through our prayers, we can often discern and validate God’s will for our lives. And perhaps finally and most importantly, we pray because God commands us to pray. It’s what we do as part of who we are.
I know in my head that God’s timing is different than ours. With the Lord, a thousand years can be like a single day. Abraham waited 24 years after God’s promise for his first-born son. Moses wandered in the desert for 40 years before seeing the Promised Land from the heights of Mt. Nebo. I’m told I have the patience of Job but honestly, I’m no Job. I’m fearful that I don’t have it in my heart to wait much longer.
I also know that healing comes in many forms. We all celebrate when a cancer goes into remission or when someone recovers completely from a serious illness. However, we often fail to recognize the more divine aspects of healing such as “grace extended” or the “miracle of victorious death.” Ultimately everyone will be healed when Christ returns in victory. God’s ways truly are higher than our ways and the wonder of God’s healing may not be readily apparent while we’re living here on earth. If Scripture is indeed true, then our light and momentary troubles in this life may just be a temporarily blip along our path to eternal security. I’ll take that tradeoff any day of the week.
At least that’s what I keep telling myself as I continue to pray. I’ll confess, nowadays I pray more out of obligation and obedience rather than out of pure faith. I hate myself for having such unbelief, but I’m weary, burdened and disillusioned by the physical toll and emotional turmoil inflicted by the daily onslaught of a devastating mental illness. I’m sure there are others who are enduring far worse suffering than I am, but it’s hard to fathom when you witness your loved one in such daily, open-ended torment. Walk a mile in my shoes and see if you think differently.
Don’t worry about me though. I’ll soldier on because there really is no other alternative. I don’t want Satan to win. I also love my wife and I’ll continue to rejoice in gratitude for all of God’s numerous blessings even as I simultaneously cry out to him in anger and despair. I guess it’s all a part of the mystery of life. Who am I to question it? In the meantime, I’ll covet your prayers—with the hope that your batting average is much better than mine.