For the past decade I’ve been wrestling with the subject of prayer. What is prayer? Do our prayers affect change? And especially, the James 5 idea of “the prayer of faith.” For example, growing up, many of my leaders either taught or inferred that God will heal you — implying you just have to believe and have enough faith. Now that I have more experience and have had time to consider it, I believe they were trying to teach us to pray with confidence and persistence — two attributes that are necessary for prayer. Of course, if the healing doesn’t occur, what do you do then? This was my hang-up.
I believe in healing, and I believe that God’s power is stronger than anything this fallen world can throw at Him. However, examples in the New Testament show that there are times when God doesn’t heal, for whatever reason. As I became older, I started wrestling with these two different thoughts. How can you pray God will heal you when the examples you read in the Bible don’t necessarily support that? And being a person who needs accuracy, I suppose that was missing for my heart to be at rest.
So along my journey, I started noticing a pendulum swing in my heart in this matter — a subtle attitude shift. I never stopped believing in God’s power to overcome any situation but didn’t quite know how to pray with people. With integrity. With a deep conviction. If I’m honest, it got to the point where I prayed, and hoped something would happen, but didn’t really think it would. I knew I didn’t want to live in that space either.
So I continued my journey by listening to podcasts, reading books, and contemplating verses in the New Testament that talk about God’s power, be that healing or anything else supernatural, and the prayer of faith (James 5). I got a “LIGHT BULB” moment at some point in the journey when I was thinking about 2 Corinthians 12:8. In this verse, Paul says that he prayed 3 times for “healing” for himself. On the third time, God answered, “My grace is sufficient for you.” I started to wonder: if God had not answered Paul, would he have stopped praying? I think he would have kept praying. He would have continued to bring his request before God and asked, with confidence and humility, for God to answer his prayer. (There are a lot of theories on what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was. Whether it was something physical or something else entirely, the fact remains he pleaded with the Lord, and the Lord said, “my grace is sufficient for you.” In other words, “no.” God was using this thorn to do something in Paul’s life.)
This epiphany has led me to a place, I hope, of balance. I now can pray with integrity and passion for a person’s healing — and keep praying with passion every time. And if God tells me my grace is sufficient in this area, I begin to pray for strength and grace in the trial, knowing He has a different plan. In this way, I’m not working against something God is trying to do. I’m partnering with God to see His Kingdom come.
Not too long ago, I was talking with a mentor of mine about this issue. He told me that he will often pray silently for discernment on a matter before he prays for anyone. If God gives him some specific direction on the matter, he prays in that way. And if he doesn’t hear anything specific, he continues praying for them as they requested. This practice resonated with me. Even Jesus prayed in The Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” Or in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
OUR PRAYERS MATTER
Some might be saying, “If it’s all about God’s will, what is the point in praying?” I’m glad you asked. 🙂 This was a question I was wrestling with as well.
Blaise Pascal said, “God has instituted prayer so as to confer on his creature the dignity of being causes.”
I love this because it means God wants our involvement — our prayers matter. Abraham, Moses & Hezekiah all prayed prayers that changed the course of the circumstance for which they were interceding. (Genesis 18, Exodus 32, 2 Kings 20)
We are not just “extras” in a prearranged cosmic drama. But we are leading characters, with God, in the plot that is unfolding. One aspect of prayer, therefore, is drawing into relationship with Him and taking up our role as His people. In prayer, we are invited to join him in directing the course of His world.
[With this in mind,] we should ask God for things with boldness and specificity, with ardor, honesty, and diligence, yet with patient submission to God’s will and wise love. – Timothy Keller, “Prayer”
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