The longer I pray, the less I know about how it really works.
I know it’s not a cosmic gumball machine; put your prayer in, get a treat out. I know there is no formula for praying the “right” prayers. I know that God is sovereign, in control and has numbered our days, yet the Bible also shows us that our prayers can influence him.
There is much mystery in prayer. As there should be. Because prayer is a conversation, the developing of a relationship, and there can’t be a formula for that.
I come from a reformed background, which means that I have heard much teaching about the sovereignty of God. The idea that God has known every moment from before He created the earth. There is much comfort in that teaching and much of my heart believes it to be true. However, the downside of that belief is that I have the tendency to not pray for specific requests with much urgency. There is the nagging doubt in the back of my mind that my prayers will really influence the outcome in any way. So I have learned, in good reformed tradition, to give my request but qualify it with a healthy dose of “only if this is Your will” in order to cover my bases.
Last week I prayed a very specific prayer. I hesitantly scribbled it out in my journal and then texted the request to a few trusted friends. Family members were on their way to visit us and I wanted to enjoy their visit without sickness. However, in the past few months I have noticed a pattern to my sickness and that pattern scheduled me to be sick during their visit. I prayed long and hard. I asked God to please keep me healthy during the visit, and then I began to hedge my prayers with phrases like, “only if it is Your will” and “give me joy no matter what the outcome.” As those phrases formed in my mind I felt the Holy Spirit tell me to stop. As I scribbled the prayer in my journal my hand stopped cold before those phrases could be written. Instead I wrote, “Do I even dare to pray this?” I don’t think I dared to pray so specifically and without qualifying, but I did any way.
I stayed well the whole visit.
Not only did I feel well, but I had more energy than I have had in a long time.
I could explain my good week by saying that I had started some new supplements and was taking better care of myself. I could explain my good week by saying the weather finally warmed and spending so much time outside in the fresh air and sunshine influenced my health and mood. And maybe all of those things are true.
But maybe, just maybe, God chose to answer my prayer because He loves me. (And now the reformed side of my brain wants to say, “But would He still love you if the answer was different and you had gotten sick?” The answer to that question is of course a resounding, “Yes!”) Maybe, just maybe, God saw that I needed some encouragement. Maybe He saw that I needed to have my faith built up just a bit. Maybe one of my friends that was praying for me needed encouragement. Maybe He wanted to display His glory by granting this simple request.
I don’t know.
This morning my daily scheduled Bible reading was from Mark 5. Jesus is pushing his was through a crowd because he has been summoned by a ruler of the synagogue to come and heal his daughter. A woman who had a discharge of blood for many years, “who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse” had faith enough to touch Jesus garment in order to be made well. I wonder if maybe she had some doubt because she wanted to stay anonymous in the crowd. Maybe she thought that if she touched his garment and nothing happened no one would be the wiser. I don’t know. But she obviously wanted to remain quiet and unseen. Yet Jesus insists on knowing who touched him. She finally comes forward and falls in front of him “in fear and trembling.” I imagine that Jesus took the time to look at her. I imagine he took time to really see all of her, her pain and doubts and fears and finally faith. “And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.'” He validates her faith, however little or much it was. He grants her peace, emotional healing, a need she may not have even known she had. He heals her disease.
I don’t always have a lot of faith. I imagine Jesus looking at me and knowing that. The fears and doubts in my heart are no secret to him. This past week He chose to answer my prayer however weak with faith and full of trembling it was. I felt seen, known, and granted a measure of peace.