“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is though everything is a miracle”-Albert Einstein
I usually wait for movies to come out on DVD so I’m a little behind with what’s out, but I recently just watched the movie Miracles from Heaven. It was a powerful and uplifting movie based on a true story of miraculous healing. Miracle stories are amazing every time, but hearing them when you yourself did not get the miracle is, admittedly so, hard to swallow. Whenever I hear of miracle stories I genuinely feel in awe, but a little selfishly thinking on the side “Well…I prayed, my husband prayed, everyone prayed and he still died.” The next day, I found out someone else who leaned on prayer for a miracle did not receive it either and I’m heartbroken. It’s human to think when tragedy strikes, “Does prayer really work? And if it does, why didn’t it work for me (or fill in the name)?” The power of prayer is so easy to praise when “it works” in our favor when the scans are clear and you are stamped “cured,” when the marriage is restored, when someone’s life is spared in a horrendous car accident, but what happens when we pray and pray and pray and the divorce is still finalized, the husband or wife still cheats, the healing doesn’t come and death steals another loved one, one can’t help but to feel more than a little jipped, thinking, “I’m happy for them, truly, but why not me?” It’s a little too easy for us to say, “Prayer didn’t work for me.” I’ve heard that a lot and I’ve said it a lot. I’ve heard, “I tried the whole prayer-thing—it didn’t work.” “I’m praying and I’m still not being healed, I guess I’m not doing it right.” “All I did was pray, I did the right thing, and he still left me.” “I prayed and claimed healing, just like the Bible said to do, and I’m still planning a funeral…” It’d be too logical and easy to just conclude that prayer doesn’t “work.”
We’re not promised our desired result, but we are promised that prayer will always “work” in our favor, the favor of a loving Heavenly Father who wants us to invite him to walk through our circumstances.
So, there’s a clear dilemma, why does prayer “work” for some people, but from the outside it looks like it didn’t “work” for others? I am by no means a theologian or expert in prayer, but the wording, I believe, is the problem not prayer. The word “work.” There are lots of uses for the word “work:” I think when people refer to prayer “not working” we’re focusing on the definition that work means*:
- to bring about (any result) by or as by work or effort:
- to work a change.
- to manipulate or treat by labor:
- to put into effective operation.
- to operate for productive purposes:
Key words in these definitions are: effort, change, manipulate, effective operation, to operate for productive purposes, results—you get the gist. Based on using “work” in the latter contexts maybe it would be logical to say I didn’t get the results I wanted therefore prayer didn’t work. But what if we pray in order for God’s will to “work” in our lives, according to the above definitions and instead view our part of prayer as “working” in the definitions that are to follow. That’s not to say we can’t request or go to God with our desires and needs, all with the remembrance that our worldy wants and needs may look differently than God’s sovereign knowledge of our needs and the bigger picture that includes His will, not ours. So another definition of “work” is also “a literary or musical composition or other piece of fine art—‘a work of art’” or “A defensive structure” or “the exertion of force overcoming resistance or producing molecular change” or “everything needed, desired or expected.”
Here are some more definitions of this expansive word*:
- to act or operate effectively:
- to attain a specified condition, as by repeated movement
- to have an effect or influence, as on a person or on the mind or feelings of a person.
- to move in agitation, as the features under strong emotion.
I was incredibly grateful that the movie, Miracles from Heaven, showed the real struggle with faith during crisis and I felt both comforted and sad when, in one of the scenes, some “church people” asked the mother if there was something she had done wrong which might by why her 10-year-old daughter was gravely ill. Comforted because I could feel the pain watching that scene and sad because I could relate to the pain watching that scene. When my husband was dying of cancer, I occasionally had run-ins with well-meaning advice that turned out to really damage my prayer life. Comments and advice like: “Have you prayed over him?” “Have you claimed it in prayer?” “You’re not positive enough…” “you’re fearful, you’re not praying with enough faith” all the way to “you’re not even supposed to utter the ‘C’ word (Cancer).” Of course, we had done all of the above and kept the “C” word quiet for most of our marriage and yet, it still progressed. After his death, illnesses swept my household. Myself and my kids over and over again suffered from chronic respiratory illnesses, one which landed my newborn in the intensive care unit with RSV. My mom, who was my refuge in the storm, was laid out for almost two months because of an emergency surgery and I don’t think I ever got a full-night’s sleep for almost two years after because of anxiety and stress on my part and my kids night-terrors and a newborn baby waking at night for a bottle. It seemed all I could do was pray. Sometimes the prayer was only sobbing and crying, not even able to get a single word out of my mouth, sometimes I was so angry I yelled my prayers, sometimes the prayers were not in what I said or how I said it, but more how I said nothing at all because I had no idea what to pray for anymore (Romans 8:26).
But I do have a confession to make, I didn’t start to grasp what prayer really meant until recently, and even more-so now thanks to this awesome movie and meeting some truly amazing and inspiring prayer warriors in this journey from the land of the bereaved to the land of the joyful. To be honest I was really really confused about prayer and, if I’m honest a little bit resentful, because of the conflicting beliefs that I had about it. I even find myself struggling to tell someone who tells me they are ill or hurt that I will pray for their healing, the struggle is real. I am overcoming my “issues” with praying working or not working and I can only conclude that #1 I don’t have to feel ashamed by my “issues” with prayer, only that it drives me to seek God more and #2 despite my feelings on the subject at times, that prayer has one truth and that it “works” every time (James 5:16). It can fit almost any definition of “work” but that’s up to God, not me. Prayer can at times become a “work” of art or masterpiece, it can “work” as a defensive structure against our enemies—even ourselves at times, it can be the moving vehicle that “works” with the force of overcoming resistance.” And the act of truly “praying it down” as my therapist called it can produce “the works”—everything desired, needed or expected which are the promised results: closeness, dependence and praise for God despite outcome. We’re not promised our desired result, but we are promised that prayer will always “work” in our favor, the favor of a loving Heavenly Father who wants us to invite Him to walk through our circumstances. That, in itself, is a miracle.