It’s not like life’s big questions can be limited to three…but this is the third and final post on the big questions series before we jump back into Leadership Traps. Thanks for the provocative dialogue and insightful comments everyone. I love this community.
Last big question: how do we know our prayers are answered? This one’s a tough one for me. It’s actually easier for me to look back to the Bible and have a biblical writer interpret events by saying something like "And the Lord heard their prayers and delivered them…." It would be nice to have crystal clear answers and laser-like precision in knowing what was an answer to specific prayer and what wasn’t. But I’m just not sure I’m that great an interpreter.
I think I would like to believe that God answers every prayer I pray in specific, measurable ways, but I’m not sure I can. I have prayed for people before who have died. I have prayed for people before who have lived. Sometimes I’ve prayed more intensely for the people who have died than the people who have lived. So why did they die?
Deep down, I think most of us love to see cause and effect. I prayed — this happened. I didn’t pray — this didn’t happen. It’s so neat, so simple.
Personally, I see more and more mystery in prayer…more and more beauty in it than I used to. I feel less like a toddler who asked for a Wii for Christmas and got one, and more like someone who stumbled into a friendship with an artist who paints works so commanding and majestic that I can’t even explain what I’m seeing…its beauty and complexity exceeds the ability of my mind to understand it.
I think when we can’t see cause and effect in our prayers, we’re in good company. Paul prayed three times to have an issue dealt with in his life. Three times, God said no. His prayers didn’t "work", but they made God’s grace work even more. That, to me, is a beautiful mystery.
I’m sure we’ve all got story after story of unanswered prayer, and many stories of what we might call "answered " prayer. I am convinced God hears every spoken and unspoken word I pray, and I am increasingly grateful that he doesn’t always answer the way I hope he will. He’s just way wiser than I am both in life and in death, and somehow we are caught up in the mystery of receiving grace in every circumstance. That, I think, can produce an even more profound gratitude than knowing we "convinced" God to do something we thought was important. Maybe the answer is that "The Lord actually heard their cries and delivered them" no matter how it turns out.
What do you think?