As Christians we sometimes come across as insensitive when we talk about faith, hope and the power of prayer. Recently I was reminded of the gap between what we believe and how the world perceives our beliefs. Christians talk about hope for a better future and keeping faith that God will change the outcome of certain circumstances, and the power that prayer plays in those circumstances.
Partly that belief is true. However it’s not a complete understanding of our belief in Christ and the power of prayer.
I think whenever we talk about the power of prayer we must be careful how we present it. Without a deeper understanding, prayer can sound like a magical fairytale. We can make God sound like a genie in a bottle. Just say a prayer and “poof”, there’s Christ, “How can I serve you? How can I serve you? How can I serve you?”
With most Biblical concepts digging deeper allows for a broader understanding which contains no pixie dust. For those of us that have that deeper connection, we need to remain patient and compassionate for those who passionately disagree. We cannot know what motivates a person until we take time to understand where they are coming from. For instance, compassion is especially necessary when discussing prayer and faith with someone who has experienced a loss.
Losing a loved one is painful no matter what you believe and it’s especially true if you’ve lost a child who suffered greatly. It’s hard to understand why a loving God would allow a child to suffer and then pass away. There’s no easy answer to that question, as none of us can answer for God.
As parents we learn unconditional love the instant we see our newborn. We learn sacrifice through sleepless nights and patience through their crying. We endure it all in love. So we can also understand there’s no greater teacher than suffering. It is the place where our beliefs are put to the test. I am reminded of a conversation in which I was told, “everyone knows how to raise your child and handle your situation until it’s their child and their situation.” Meaning, we all have beliefs about life but until those beliefs have been put through a personal trial, we can’t say for sure what we would do or how we would do it. Sometimes when we find ourselves in that very situation, our critical judgements become clarity. We realize it’s much easier to say what we would do than it is to actually do it.
Talking about the power of prayer to a parent that has lost a child may incite a negative reaction. After all they have no doubt done everything within their power, including praying and hoping and keeping faith that the outcome will end in a miracle. When it doesn’t, it’s natural to feel cheated, angry and betrayed.
The casual conversation we have on these topics often only scratch the surface of their true meanings and to someone who has only a general understanding can come across as shallow and insufficient.
The hope, faith and prayer I’m talking about is the stuff that transcends the outcome. The faith that no matter what happens, God is in control. The hope we have in Him is that he is our Heavenly Father and like a loving parent he may not give us all that our heart desires, no matter how unfair or unjust it appears on the surface, we never know what purpose this tragedy may be for.
When I was a child, I watched my father struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction. I often wondered, why did I get chosen for this life? It was painful and unfair. I hadn’t caused it and I didn’t contribute to it, yet there I was living with it everyday. When you’re in the midst of a struggle it can be difficult to understand why you have to endure this life. However I’ve heard many people say that they can look back and say they would not change it. Personally, I’ve learned to be grateful for it. The experience taught me many things and I have been able to help others because of it. It has made me who I am and given me the strength to make decisions that otherwise may have gone undone from fear.
Isaiah 61:3 reads, To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory.
There is power in prayer, but our prayers need to genuinely reflect Gods will. We don’t get to just pray for what we want, we understand that prayer is about what God wants from us.
We can surely pray for miracles but miracles don’t always align with Gods will for our lives. If God had answered my childhood prayers I most likely wouldn’t be writing this today. In fact I’d be a veterinarian living on my endangered animal ranch. But those prayers didn’t line up with His purpose for my life. So although there was pain and suffering in my past, I have hope for a good future, faith that God has good plans for me, and I pray he will continue to use me according to His will for my life.
When God doesn’t answer our prayers it doesn’t mean they don’t have power or that he’s not listening, it means he knows the greater purpose for our suffering.
I’ve been no stranger to losing loved ones tragically. Things didn’t necessarily have that happy ending I prayed for but it did clarify my priorities. I learned to appreciate the time I have right now with the people I love right now. I don’t waste time with things that don’t fill me up. I stay in hope and know that this life will end one day, for us all.
One of my favorite quotes is by Erma Bombeck;
When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’.