Can prayer stop wars? Can prayer help you to get better in an illness? Can prayer deflect some disaster? Can prayer bring food to hungry people, shelter to the homeless, save people in dire situations? Can prayer get you that job? Can prayer help you pass that exam? Can prayer help people change their minds? Can prayer save your marriage, help your children to get on in life? Can prayer fix that thing in life which is broken? Can prayer give you an answer to a question that you are seeking? Can prayer help your team win on a Saturday? Can prayer help you to win something in that lottery? Can prayer make you feel better when you are down?
Why is it that we pray? Do we turn to pray because its is the last chance salon. We can’t do anything, we can’t stop something happening and we turn to God to fix things, help us, make things better, give us an answer? We are looking for a good outcome, the thing that we hope will happen, the thing we perceive will make us happy. Is this the thing that will help us?
What is it that we pray for? Impossible things, unworthy things, superficial things, selfish things? Good things: happy outcomes, better situations, resolutions?
Here is a situation: what happens if God receives 2 different prayers asking for 2 different outcomes, what does he choose, the best option or the least worse or least harmful? And does God really choose to intervene in the world or does he leave it up to us, our free will, even when that means disastrous results? Why does he allow children to die, wars to occur and to go on till the last man is standing , extermination of races to happen despite our prayers that plead with him day and night for something different for an end to warfare and bloodshed, death and disaster?
It’s all a bit of a mystery. The more that we are involved with prayer it’s a bit of a mystery, it’s a bit like walking around in the dark, stumbling and bumping into things. What is it we hope for in prayer, what is it we expect will happen and was that thing always going to happen? The truth is the answer that we get is very often not the answer we are looking for. What the heck does he mean what does he intend by all of this, we wonder.
It’s clear that in the scriptures that prayer is in every page and every line and every word. The Israelites pray for victory in battle, the Israelites pray for a land that is their own, the Israelites pray when they are anguished or afraid. Their kings pray, their priests pray, the people pray, sacrifices and petitions are offered for a good result. Our Lord prays, he seeks out lonely places where he might pray, before miracles we hear him pray to God the Father in heaven, we hear him pray for the unity of his followers, we hear him pray for forgiveness for his persecutors from the cross. We hear him teach his followers to pray, words to say, words that guide prayer. We hear him teach his followers to pray and not to give up, to persevere, to keep going, to not lose heart. Mary prays, Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist) prays. Simeon (the holy man in the temple) prays, the angels pray at the birth of Christ. Prayer is on every page, every line and every word.
In these pages the answer is very often not the answer the people are looking for. They sometimes win the battle but sometimes they don’t, they end up being annihilated . They pray for a good King and very often get a bad one, a dishonest one, someone who makes their lives miserable. They pray to make the right decision but often make the wrong decision. Even our Lord prays in the garden that the cup should pass from him, but it doesn’t.
The truth is that when we pray we enter God’s world. We are in his land, on his territory, in his world. We submit ourselves to his answers. We allow ourselves to work to his timescales. When we pray, we submit to his plan, for ourselves and others. We look for short time fixes, he sees thing in the wider picture, he works the long term, he sees round corners, he sees what is coming up ahead, his providential hand is at work . He works for the saving of our soul, for our ultimate good, for the end game. Despite the worst, he is always bringing out the best, in wars, in conflicts, in human situations that seem irretrievable and hopeless.
We can’t help feeling like we are stumbling about in the dark in prayer. We feel that our prayers meet with a wall of silence, we feel our prayers are only half answered, we are mystified by what seems to be his answer, sometimes the exact opposite of what we are looking for. We are in his world, his territory, his landscape. We are working to his time. We are submitting ourselves to his plan, when we enter into the world of prayer.
You can say anything in prayer to God, make no mistake about it. You can pray for the most unworthy things, the Israelites did – the destruction of their enemies, the death of men, women and children. The disciples wanted to pray that fire be brought down in villages that didn’t welcome him. You can pray for anything. Pray that your team win the cup, that you win the lottery, that you become a millionaire, you can even pray that Trump wins the USA election! But the other part is that you must be prepared for the answer. The answer might not be what you want, not what you get –it will be his answer.
It is right to pray for things, it is even essential. Your role as intercessor for yourself and others is absolutely essential. We all know that in prayers there is a lot that is short sighted, short term, selfish and God knows this. But there is a lot that is worthy and selfless, honest and true, God knows this. It is absolutely essential that we continue to pray for daily bread, all the things that we need to sustain us and that others need too, it is an intrinsic part of our Christian lives. It is absolutely essential that we don’t give up on this sort of prayer, that we don’t give up on him who opens his hand and gives generously to us. Who tells us to ask and it shall be given to us, to search and we will find, to knock and the door will be opened to us.
Continue to pray for peace in a troubled world, continue to pray for the poor, continue to pray for resolution to difficult things in your life, continue to pray for people who need help, continue to pray for silly things in life but be open to the answer and be prepared to wait for what God has to say.