Years ago, my mother in law had to have a liver transplant. It took a while for us to know that, because at first she simply struggled with health issues. Your liver keeps the fluids in your body clean and healthy, scrubbing out toxins so that we function well. Mom started losing periods of time and not knowing where she was, because the toxins in her bloodstream were affecting her brain.
So we prayed. We prayed that she would be healed.
In fact, by the time we found out she needed a transplant, we realized we had been praying for the wrong thing. In order to move up the liver donor list, she had to get sicker.
So we prayed. We prayed that she’d get sicker.
In November of 2007, she received a new liver and a new lease on life. God answered our prayers, but not all of them. In fact, since we had this experience I’ve run into others whose loved ones need new organs and they don’t get them and their family members pass away. Remove “donation” and insert “cancer” or “divorce” or any other malady or struggle and there’s the same split going on – everyone prays, and sometimes people live and sometimes they die.
So why pray anyway?
Jesus told His disciples to pray simply, not like pagans who are screaming to get their gods’ attention, because “…your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8). He then goes on to teach them how to pray in what is called “The Lord’s Prayer.”
So why pray if God already knows what we need? It’s not easy, and I don’t even know that this answer always gets to the heart of it, but here’s what I suggest:
Prayer is a conversation with God.
This conversation is about a partnership.
It’s a partnership based on trust, no matter what.
Prayer gets derailed when our belief in God, the narrative about God we believe to be true, falls away from the “God-in-our-corner-&-our-side” story and begins to be about the “God-who-smashes-judges-and-ignores-me” story.
In prayer, when we ask for things from God for ourselves or for others or even when we are simply presenting our struggles and pains, we are inviting a partnership with God in the world in which we live.
We are trusting that God can be active in the everyday world we live in, but we are also using our longing for health, solutions, and wisdom to begin breaking through the soil of our everyday life.
But we don’t always feel like God is listening. We don’t feel like our prayers are “working.” We wonder why the specific request we’ve made isn’t being specifically answered. We ask for humble things – healing, peace, the resolution to a situation – things that we assume God would be in favor of and yet we don’t see them happening.
In contrast, we see Jesus teaching on two occasions about God being better than people in wanting to give good gifts to us (see Luke 11:5-13; 18: 1-8) so we wonder where the breakdown is coming.
Maybe I’m not doing it right?
Maybe I offended God?
Maybe He really doesn’t love me after all?
The last thought is a flat out lie, but we can wrestle with the others and come away feeling just as empty and frustrated. So why would God want us to pray when this can be the case?
I don’t know, always, but I believe wholeheartedly that when we believe in the creative power of prayer to construct a trusting relationship with God and to bring God’s Kingdom here like it is where He is (see Matthew 6:9-10) we will be rewarded with hope in the long term.
I’m thankful that God didn’t answer our first prayers for Mom. I’m still troubled by the second prayers we had to pray, even today. Yet, in the long view God was always at work here and now I trust Him a bit more. I hope I would trust Him as much even if she weren’t here today.
THE SPIRITUAL SHORT:
Why should I pray? We pray because we know that we’re powerless to change our lives and ourselves, and we need to learn to trust the One who has that power knowing in the end He brings all things to goodness.
Thank you to Dr. Casey and to read more from him you can follow him on Twitter @cktygrett or at his blog www.caseytygrett.com