I’ve had a few conversations lately about the purpose of prayer. Though I have yet to find the answer, I’m certain it’s important. I get uncomfortable when we (I’m guilty) talk about prayer as though it’s a magical way to get what we want. I’ve experienced fervent, prolonged, faith-filled prayers go seemingly unanswered…for a young girl in India plagued by chronic seizures, for Finn’s Spina Bifida, for jobs, for friends’ moms who battled cancer and lost, for broken marriages, for newborn and unborn babies fighting to live, for renewed faith of friends, for single friends and family members to find their soul-mate, etc. But I’ve also experienced countless more prayers answered–big prayers actualized in very specific ways.
When we first found out about Finn’s diagnosis, we didn’t tell many people. And when others found out later, many wished they had known sooner so they could have been praying. We often heard, “the more people are praying for Finn, the better.” I was tempted to try tip the scales of prayer in our favor…sort of proving to God that see, Finn should not be disabled after all. Everyone agrees.
But I wonder if God only answers prayer when it’s requested by a large group of people? Or maybe we must send up, say, 1,543 prayers before they are heard?…and only if the motivation is right. I like to think that if only I prayed for Finn’s healing, God would answer. I know He heard my desperate, face-to-the-nursery carpet, tearful prayers. I felt His presence with me in the dark room. Yet Finn was still born with this defect…and many, many other children are still born with debilitating diseases that are much worse. And parents and spouses still pass away. And injustices still occur for the downtrodden. And friends still lose faith. And Paul’s “thorn” remained in his flesh. And Jesus still endured the suffering of the cross. And all these not for lack of prayer or faith or fervor.
So, why pray?
I experience relationship with God when I talk to Him, just like I would anyone else. I interact with Him in prayer in a way that is very personal and intimate. I love what Jesus says about prayer in Matthew 6:5-13:
(warning: my own flawed paraphrase) Don’t pray like the hypocrites who stand outside the church to draw attention to themselves. Their reward ends on earth; they get no eternal blessing. But when you pray you should go somewhere alone, shut your door and pray to the Father you can’t see. And when He sees what you’ve done in secret, He will answer you. Don’t pray with many meaningless, cliche words like hypocrites do. You won’t be heard more because of all your lofty phrases. God knows what you need before you ask Him. So if you need guidance on how to pray, pray the Lord’s Prayer.
I think our prayers for others are especially powerful (see my “Fourteen Thousand Sheep” post from April). We’ve felt the effects of your prayers for Finn and our family as we navigate this difficult obstacle in our lives. Your prayers let us know we’re not alone and we feel supported. I count it a privilege to pray for you when you are hurting or afraid. The search for prayer’s purpose will continue throughout my life, and I’m sure I will change my mind many times over the years. But for now, I think prayer may not be to transform my circumstances; maybe it’s to transform me.