Even more problems
Many Christians have at least one story of how God answered prayer for them. I have a pretty cool one that I shared a number of years ago. You can find it here. So we’ve experienced the efficacy of prayer, yet that doesn’t necessarily translate into confidence that our prayers are always effective. There are mitigating factors that when multiplied can produce hesitancy and doubt into our prayer life. Prayer has its problems, as I’ve begun to propound. Here are a few more.
What if I hardly care?
If I’m being honest (always am), I have to admit that some of my prayers are purely perfunctory (oh, so many good P words). I get a request from my church or a global ministry to pray for someone I don’t know and sometimes it’s a real struggle to muster up genuine concern for this person or need. This is likely a blot on my Christian character but I’m sure there are others similarly stained.
My admitted apathy means I disregard some of these requests, and the rest I murmur a quick prayer for and then promptly forget about. Does God consider these “prayers in passing” passable prayers? Do they count in the count?
Of course, it’s quite unreasonable to expect anyone to care about every person and needy situation in the world. Except if that one is God. His perfect love and total knowledge make it quite reasonable to believe that because there is no one he doesn’t know, every person and every need is on his radar, and they matter to him. So my attitude should be, “Lord . . . you care about this person/these people. Hear our prayer for them, and answer.” If I can cultivate that attitude I do believe that these soon-forgotten prayers are acceptable to him.
So why pray?
It’s also reasonable to then ask, if he cares about everyone and is able to meet every need, why pray at all? Why should we need to persuade the God who is perfectly loving to heal someone, or protect them from harm, or reveal himself if they’ve yet to believe in him? Goooood question. It’s one I still ask sometimes, and yet I continue to pray. Let me see if I can figure out why I do.
First and most importantly, our reason for being is not to have a pain-free, comfortable, happy life on earth. It’s to have that kind of life with God in heaven, which requires a process of making us suitable for an eternal, personal relationship with him. Trials in this life are part of that process, designed to mold and shape us into his likeness, because we can have intimate fellowship only with beings of our own kind. Not that we acquire his capabilities but that we learn to exhibit his character.
Secondly, God is under no obligation to show mercy to everyone. In the case of an unbeliever, for example, God has provided enough evidence of himself in creation and conscience but in an act of mercy in response to someone’s prayer may grant the “prayee” more. Or, if he has allowed an illness to build up the sufferer’s perseverance and sensitivity, a plea for relief may move him to lessen the training.
Thirdly, God wants to bless us with the joy that comes from seeing him answer our prayers, and train us to care about the needs of others. If our lives were void of all pain, sorrow, and difficulty, we would likely not seek God nor develop a character of compassion that only suffering can foster. If we never had a need to pray about, we would likely not pray at all.
Being a Christian is being in a relationship with God, and what kind of relationship can one have with someone they never talk to? A pretty stale and impersonal one, for sure, and God wants much more than that for us.
More about potentially paralyzing prayer problems next time.