A friend of mine, Sean Palmer, who also is a pastor, asked a question yesterday on Facebook about what the biggest frustrations are with prayer. That’s a good question because I’m betting that a lot of people struggle with prayer.
I pray and I believe that God hears our prayers just as he has heard the prayers of many, many others before us. But that is why I struggle too. I struggle with prayer because I know God hears our prayers.
I responded to my Sean’s question saying that my biggest frustration with prayer is that we can pray fervent prayers for the life and health of our children but sometimes they still die. I know because I’ve been through that experience.
And so, I at a loss sometimes for knowing what I should pray for when I encounter others who are gravely ill.
The apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:26, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us though wordless groans” (NIV).
That passage has been a life saver, so to speak. I’m a preacher. I’m supposed to have an answer, or at least I think I am. But I don’t. I don’t have an answer to this enigma of prayer in which we can fervently pray for some honest concern only to seemingly hear nothing but silence from God.
But as I thought about my response to Sean’s question, another thought occurred to me. Could this frustration with prayer I have stem from the fact that I can’t manipulate God with my prayer? In other words, could it be that instead of simply trusting God, that my prayers are actually expectations in which I try to force God to act upon. . . but knowing that I cannot, frustration sets in.
That draws me back to Romans 8: 26 and the question of faith. Can I trust God knowing that he is free and will not act as I will for him but as he wills?
Yes, I say! But I know it’s not that easy.
It’s easy to say yes when it’s only a hypothetical question and nothing of value is on the line. It’s an entirely different matter when, say, the life of someone I love is on the line. Then the simple becomes a murky gray and the question which seemed so easy to answer becomes difficult.
I admire Abraham’s faith. I admire the faith he had when he took his son Isaac to that place, the altar where he would sacrifice his son and leave the future to God’s will. Could I. . .
And so there is this struggle with faith, with prayer, with trusting even when God remains silent, surrendering my life daily to God leaning towards a future I know only in part.
So perhaps on some days, having faith begins with confessing before God the struggle with prayer. . . with faith.
“I do believe, help my unbelief!”