Difficulties about prayer

The trigger

The current theme for sermons at my home church is on prayer. I have such difficulty praising God when I hear anecdotes about God healing people miraculously, or when God opened a path for them to study a prestigious course, or when God saved their life and so on.

I can't forget the true account of the pastor's relative, whose son was kidnapped together with another child and held ransom. The father prayed fervently, the son was unharmed, and amazingly the criminal actually repented and turned to God. Praise God, they said. Then another member of the pastor's family who sat next to me that day turned to me and whispered, that was my uncle, and by the way the other child was killed. I felt sad.

The problem

Oh God it hurts to hear about one person being protected, but another, who may have prayed just the same is harmed. It hurts to hear people speak of being healed because I remember the emotions and darkness of some of those faces at the hospital. And because of this confusion, I have real difficulties especially in praying for victims of natural disasters, and praying for those with physical illness.

I read a book years ago called Prayer (does it make any difference) by Philip Yancey. The honesty in which he addresses the issues and doubts of praying would fascinate Christians and non Christians alike. When I talked about my doubts I was encouraged to re-read the book. He coins this the "inconsistency problem":

I hope by now I have made it clear that I believe in prayer and its power to change both people and events. Nevertheless, when I hear a person describe a remarkable escape from a plane crash, I cannot help thinking about the people who died in the same crash, many of them praying just as fervently. And although I rejoice over reports of miraculous healings, I also remember with a pang the filing cabinet drawer in my office bulging with stories of those who have not been healed. I do not doubt that God answers prayer. Rather I struggle with the inconsistency of those apparent answers. - Philip Yancey

"Faith and doubt" (borrowed from the title of a good book.)

So I've been reading that book about prayer, then the Bible about prayers of Jesus, of prophets, of Paul's letters that mention prayer. And ironically, praying about understanding prayer. Here are some thoughts:

1. I too "believe" in prayer because I believe in the Bible - that demonstrates the nature of God as one who delights in communicating and having a relationship with us, who loves us and listens to us (but am still unsure about how he answers and responds), I believe God as the almighty creator and king and as such:

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. - Isiah 59:1

2. I believe in prayer in that it transforms my character. For example, the times when I pray consistently I find a care and love for those I'm not even that close to, that I would never have otherwise. Along with the Word, prayer helps me to forgive, reminds me to apologise, gives me hope when I'm feeling dark etc. The effect of prayer on myself also transforms my relationships as it changes my interaction with others. I do occasionally wonder if it's self deception or "sanitised" self talk, but I would also be adamant in declaring that there is a difference between prayer and self reflection (which I've also done much of via diary writing for years and years).

3. Phillip Yancey's book on prayer begins with the quote:

The reason why we pray is simply that we cannot help praying. - William James

I thought that was a little cryptic and exaggerated, but perhaps its true. Many people (myself, and also those without a faith as such) pray when they're sick, when they face danger, when they want to score well in exams, when something terrible happens and we ask God why?!

4. However, the questions still remain. Why does God require us to be persistent in prayer? How can our prayers actually change events? Do they? If God knows our hearts why do we need to ask for it? If God knows, why pray at all? Why does God "answer" some prayers and not others?

I still pray with some faith and conviction though the questions are still there. By and by I will gain understanding and experience of God, but I don't expect there are concrete answers in this lifetime.



Design in CSS by TemplateWorld and sponsored by SmashingMagazine
Blogger Template created by Deluxe Templates