Sunday, November 22, 2015

Praying for Health & for Other Things We Are Denied

Carl Bloch
"Christ at Gethsemane"
(Castle Version, c. 1880)
"Jesus withdrew from them about a STONE'S THROW, & KNELT down and PraYeD, saying, “Father, iF You are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.And there appeared to Him an ANGEL from heaven, strengthening Him. AND being in an AGONY He prayed more eaRnesTlY; & His sweat became like great drops of BlooD falling down to the ground." (Luke 22:41-44)

I pray all the time. I've been praying the same prayer for about eight and a half years now (for healing), and to no avail. Am I doing it wrong? Do I have the words wrong? Am I not loud enough? Am I not faithful enough for my prayer to reach God's ears? Should I meditate a little more on God's word before I ask Him for a favor? Do I need to go to confession first?

NO. I'm just not that important. Nothing I can do, be, or say will make God do what I want Him to do. God is not a vending machine. So then, what is prayer? Is it the means by which we change God's mind? Is it begging done out of desperation? Is it praise? Is it worship? Is it futile? Our lives can seem hopelessly fatalistic when it comes to God's plan for us. He is totally in control, which is as comforting a thought as it is frightening: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:31) And still, we are both commanded invited to pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Philippians 4:6). But what good does it do?? We don't have the power to change God's mind, obviously or I'd have done it by now through sheer persistence. We aren't bringing His attention to something He hasn't already noticed: He is painfully aware of our suffering, and it seems like He's ignoring it because He will not take it away no matter how much we beg. But prayer is not futile. Prayer is asking AND worship AND praise.

     I pray because I can't help myself.
     I pray because I'm helpless.
     I pray because the need flows out of me
       all the time, waking and sleeping.
     It doesn't change God: it changes me.
            ~ C.S. Lewis

We have been given the gift of letting God know what we think we need and how badly we're suffering, of crying out to Him in desperation, AND of being heard; all the while praising His goodness and acknowledging that He is the only One who knows what we really need and trusting Him to provide it. And so we add a very important statement to each and every one of our prayers, the same statement Christ added to His prayer in Gethsemane when He asked His father to spare Him from the cross: "Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done." (Luke 22:42) Sounds familiarright? That's because that same line is also included in the prayer Christ uses to teach us how to pray, The Lord's Prayer: "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven..." (Matthew 6:10) But God's will is not always our will. That's the scary part. 

Daniel Maidman
"The Prayer"
2010-11
God's will might be that
the answer to our prayer is,
"No."

After His prayer, Jesus was left to suffer on that cross, too, willingly for our sake. He wanted His Father to save us another way, but there was no other way. That wasn't the end of the Father's answer to His Son's fervent prayer. God sent an angel to strengthen Jesus in His agony, and what do we see follows? That agony didn't disappear the moment the angel appeared, rather Christ was strengthened while in His agony, and so was His prayer as it continued (Luke 22:43). And God will do the same for each of His children when there simply is no other way but for us to suffer because Jesus was left to suffer on that cross despite asking to do otherwise.

Because of Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection,
and because of our baptism into it,
God never, ever EVER tells any of His beloved children just plain "No."

When instead of asking, worship, and praise, our prayers become wishing, bargains, and demands, we give up God's promise to listen. Real, honest prayer, like everything else we are called to do in God's name, is an act of faith. It's a choice to trust. So pray without ceasing: while we're doing laundry and our back hurts so badly we can barely bend over; while we're tucking our baby in at night and we're too tired to walk across the hall to our own bed, so we curl up on the floor next to her crib, too exhausted to look for a blanket; while we sit alone in a dark hospital room and it's so horribly quiet we can hear our own unsteady heartbeat over the hum of its monitor... We pray. We beg. We lament. We praise. We worship.

Will God answer your prayer in the way that you want Him to? I hope so. But maybe not. Will He give you the strength to endure that answer, whatever it might be? YES. That is what prayer does for us in the here and now. So, repeat after me:
"Dear Father in Heaven, I can't live with this anymore. I miss my kids, I want to be a Mom and this thorn in my side stands in my way every day. I'm tired, I'm hurting, and I can't hear You. Nevertheless not my will, but Yours, be done. Give me the strength of angels so that--if You cannot remove this cup from me--I can bear my cross the way Christ bore His for my sake. Amen."
Personally, I find most contemporary Christian music cheesy (no offense intended!). I've always been a Bach/Tallis/Byrd/Gregorian Chant kind of girl, but that's a matter of taste: like preferring dark chocolate to milk chocolate. There's nothing inherently wrong with any kind of music (so long as it's lyrics are not heretical or sinful). That being said, here is the song, "While I'm Waiting," by John Waller. Cheesy? Oh yes. But it also fits. Sometimes a little cheese is what we need. Enjoy. (*I did not make this video).