The Power of Praying for Uncertainty
I’ve had more than one conversation over the past couple of weeks with people who had some hard questions for me about why God doesn’t seem to be answering their prayers. One person said to me, “I prayed over and over again for things to be better, and there just isn’t an answer, it doesn’t change.”
I felt their pain. I imagine that many of us know what that feels like. We find ourselves in the middle of struggle, searching for answers, trying to find peace, and all we seem to get in answer to our prayers is radio silence.
And even the times when we seem to get an answer to our prayers—when we get what we pray for, in other words—can be fairly arbitrary. I heard stories this week about how after Hurricane Matthew people returned to their homes after being evacuated and discovered that they were completely unharmed while their neighbors home had been flattened.
In an interview I saw, one woman declared, “This was just an answer to prayer. We didn't know what we were going to find here, but God spared us.” As I thought about what she said, I asked myself, “So, God spared them, but not their neighbors? That doesn't seem fair. What if they neighbors were praying, too? How does that make them feel about their prayers? About God?”
Author and theologian Ray Anderson wrote about this very thing. He said, “Prayer is not a means of removing the unknown and unpredictable elements of life, but rather a way of including the unknown and unpredictable in the outworking of the grace of God in our lives.”
In other words, we don’t have the foreknowledge that God has to know the intricacies of the paths of our life, and how our intricate paths intersect and are changed by the paths of others. We don’t have any way of knowing what unknown and unpredictable things lay ahead, but we do know the One who has the answers.
In Luke 22:42 Jesus exemplifies the kind of trust that it takes to pray for a particular outcome while acknowledging that there might be something greater at work around us. He prayed to the Father to allow him to avoid the suffering he felt he had to endure on the Cross. He said, “If you are willing, take this cup from me [let me avoid this suffering]; yet not my will but your be done.”
There’s nothing wrong with petitioning God for peace, for resolution to a crisis, for help with your finances, for a new job, better health, you name it. After all, Jesus petitioned God to find another way to demonstrate God’s love for the world—a way that didn't involve his suffering and eventual death.
But we should always keep in mind as we pray that God’s knowledge of our intricate paths is complete, and might include some unknown and unpredictable things that will be exploited to reveal Gods grace and glory somehow, some way.
May you trust in the One who sees your path in all of it’s twists and turns. May you pray with boldness and with humility, knowing that God is at work in you, through you and all around you for God’s glory. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.