Prayer has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I know this is true for many of you as well.
Today, I read about Paul, an apostle of Jesus, who had something hard in his life. He doesn't say what it is, so we can only guess. But, he wanted this thing or person to go away. He asked God that it would be taken from him. It didn't go away. He asked again. Nothing. He pleaded with the Lord a third time. Somehow he got an answer from God after the third request. God didn't take the problem away. But, God didn't just say, "No, Paul, that's not happening." He said, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness."
Sometimes God immediately answers my prayers. That's the best! It is such a boost to my faith. But, there are a lot of things I've asked God to change that haven't changed. I find God's response to Paul interesting in so many ways. Especially in light of Jesus' thoughts on prayer.
Jesus tells 2 parables about prayer that I have always found so intriguing. First of all there is a persistent friend. (I think I have some friends like this!) This friend needs 3 loaves of bread because he has an unexpected visitor whom he can't feed. He asks a buddy if he can have bread to feed his visitor. The strange thing is he asks as midnight. Well, understandably, the buddy says no. "Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you." But the friend persists in asking (at midnight!) and eventually is given what he needs. So, basically, the he gets what he wants because he was annoying - or, persistent.
The other parable tells of a judge who did not fear God or respect people. But, there was a widow who came to him asking for justice from her adversary. He would not help her for a while, but eventually he said to himself, "Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me."
Jesus point, it seems, is that if an unjust judge will will vindicate the righteous if they persist in asking, how much more will a good God avenge his children who cry out to him. He will vindicate them speedily.
So, keep asking. Keep praying. Don't give up. Pray until you feel you're being annoying (like the friend at midnight).
Yet, God may know that your pain is what will actually make you strong. And, since he is a true friend, He doesn't just tell us what we want to hear and enable us to stay small. He might allow our difficult situation to persist. But - and this is so beautiful to me - God will give us the grace we need to endure. When we are weak, then we are strong.
How true this has been in my own life! Quick answers to prayer are really helpful! Answers to prayers that I've prayed for decades are so sweet. But, when I have to stay with the difficult situation- when God doesn't seem to think it's right to remove it (yet)- THAT is when I really grow. THAT is when I become mature. THAT is when, although I am weak, I am strong.
Jesus prayed three times that he wouldn't have to go to the cross. I'm really glad God didn't say "yes" to that request.
My mom prayed that God would heal her. Lots of her spiritual friends and family prayed for healing for her. God CAN and DOES heal people miraculously of crazy things like cancer. But, that wasn't His plan for Peggy Leslie. But, I can testify, that God gave my mom GRACE that was sufficient to handle the trial. She impacted more people through her weakness than when she was strong. God was honored in Mom's cancer. And, I know she would say, that is sweeter to her than being healed.
I guess I feel less confused by prayer these days. I am not going to stop asking for change. I am going to plead, annoyingly, for justice and healing for the weak. But, I may come to a spot in some of those requests where I sense God is telling me to accept the pain. Where God is being strong in weakness. And then I can say with Mom, with Jesus, with Paul, "When I am weak, I am strong."
What has been your experience with prayer?!
(Scripture taken from: Luke 11:5-13; 18:2-5; Matthew 7:7-11; 2 Cor 12: 7-10)