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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Unanswered Prayers

Today at work, we had a special speaker on account of the National Day of Prayer. He read a brief article from Ravi Zacharias, in which Zacharias interacts with part of the story told by Jon Krakauer in Into the Wild.

It's a very brief article -- click here to read it. At the risk of "spoiling the ending" (or, you could pause now, read the article and come back!), I want to repeat the last two paragraphs because I think they are well-worth repeating:

Is prayer a mechanism to bring whatever we want within reach? Is that what it is
about? If that is what we think of prayer, then prayer is just a euphemism for
playing God.

Prayer is something far different because it begins with the grand
realization that God is sovereign and wise. And what is more, it shapes our
souls to bear what His will is for us, not to shape Him to bear our will. When a
man renounces God because of unanswered prayer he is doubly proving that he
wants to play God himself and will not yield until he can. That is not seeking
God. That is using God. Ron’s problem was not with prayer. His was a struggle
with God’s wisdom over his autonomy. Until that is understood, one’s prayer is
nothing more than a form of control, not surrender.


At 7:20 PM, May 04, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Good stuff, Molly! Thanks for sharing!

At 8:36 AM, May 07, 2006, Anonymous Peter said...

i am dealing with the same problem right now and i don't think the problem is just god not answering a prayer or bad things happening to good people or me not getting my way. it's the overall silence of prayer. it's putting faith in god and trying to rely on him and having nothing change. it's needing an answer or needing action and the response is silence. it's being able to chalk too many things up to circumstance. it's needing god's intervention in life but feeling more void. it's too easy to say "maybe you just haven't put your faith in god". i have. i have waited on god, i have chalked unanswered prayers up to god answering "wait". i have been open to what god has for me and then coming away more hurt, feeling more abandoned, being in more pain. it's being stuck for too long and god not throwing a rope. it's feeling like god may have answered a prayer only to have it "taken" away again. it isn't god just not answering a prayer, it's the complete lack of action, the devotion of giving yourself to god only to be met by feeling alone. it's as if we are at the mount of olives only instead of the disciples running away, it's jesus who disappears.

At 7:44 PM, May 07, 2006, Blogger Molly said...

Peter, I appreciate your honesty ... and your situation. I can remember a situation in my life several years ago when I wished that God gave us even just one opportunity in our lives to have him speak audibly out of the clouds to us (sort of like 3 wishes from Aladin's lamp). I remember thinking, "If we had that, I'd use it right now." And, of course, the silence continued.

In my Sunday School class this morning, we talked about something very similar. We were talking about suffering, and my pastor emphasized that God has given us the Psalms as a way to articulate our frustrations and fears. In fact, he said that he didn't think David's job description sounded too appealing. ("guinea pig for all sorts of suffering so that he could write psalms for the rest of us")

The class concluded with a story about a woman who had been in the midst of intense suffering, and my pastor asked her what had been the most encouraging Scripture to her during this time. Amazingly, she said that it was Psalm 88. This is the one Psalm that doesn't end with hope; in fact, it ends, "Darkness is my closest friend." But just knowing that God had placed this in his book for us gave her hope.

I'm amazed that a Psalm that sounds like a laundry list of unanswered prayers offers hope. I'd be really interested to hear others' reaction to Psalm 88 -- does it give you comfort?

At 8:40 AM, May 08, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Hi Peter. Thanks for taking the time to share your feelings. Like Molly, I really appreciate your honesty. That's a good thing. Don't stop it.

I pretty much agree with everything Molly said. I'm not sure I have any real wisdom or insight to add, but I did want to at least make a point of responding - if nothing else, I don't want to add to the silence (which can be deafening at times).

So here are some thoughts which might encourage you (and I'm preaching to myself here more than you)...

First, it sounds like the crux of your frustration is that God seems to be silent. That's a good sign, actually - it tells me that a) you sense your need, and b) you realize God is somehow a part of the solution. Where things get scary is when people lose sight of those two poles - when they get comfortable living where they are.

Over the years (in the face of whole lot of silence from God), I have come to realize that one of his greatest gifts to me has been the hardness of this life. Early on I interpreted that as his curse; now I see it more as his grace to me - him refusing to let me get comfortable, caring enough about me to make me uncomfortable, to let me be squeezed until it hurts. It's the hardness that has made me hungry for something more, something lasting, a different kind of relationship.

Second, I would characterize the last 15-20 years of my life as a great struggle with God's silence. There have been a couple of "highlight moments" over that span, where it was like "whoa - God just seriously answered prayer there," (and that of course raises the question of 'Why am I so suprised when he does?'), but the majority of this time seemed like deafening silence. So much so that I often wondered where God was.

I pretty much gave up on ministry (and on God, in many ways), and yet God did not give up on me. He refused to let me go. And now in hindsight I see much more clearly how he was working all along. I think I actually probably learned more in the "silence" than I did in the "great answers of prayer."

In some ways, it's like listening to classical music - the best way to develop an ear is actually to keep the volume very low, because it forces you to listen carefully and hard. I think God often does that - he speaks to us in silence because in many ways we are either a) asking the wrong questions, or b) we've ignored the answers he's already given.

A very wise man once told me - God in his infinite wisdom is content to work change in peoples lives over the course of decades, and in the church over the course of centuries. That means there will be an awful lot of silence in there. A lot of time when it seems like nothing is going on.

It's kind of like erosion - when the wind blows, or the rain falls, it doesn't seem like God is shaping granite or carving the Grand Canyon, and yet that is precisely what is happening. The full scope of his 'speaking' only becomes apparent over time, over the long haul.

That's the way it's been throughout the ages, however. Go read Genesis sometimes and count how many times God actually spoke to Abraham - a handful at most. We kind of have this romantic view that it would have been really easy for the great saints of the faith, since God talked to them directly. And yet in reality it would probably be far harder - because they experienced a lifetime of silence just like we do, and they didn't have the rest of the story (in the form of the Scriptures) that we do.

Would I be willing to put my faith in God if I only had a few paragraphs of speech from him, juxtaposed with a hundred years of silence? Yet these are the people who are commended in Scripture - the ones who refused to give up hope and clung tenaciously to the promises of God. And in reality, we have received far, far more from him than they did - we have his entire Word to us, we have his church, and we have his Holy Spirit. We are actually very blessed; God is not silent, he is not far. He is actually near, and he is active.

Third (and I'll end with this), I have discovered that for me at least, the problem has not usually been with God not speaking, but rather with my own inability and misinclinations. When I ask, I ask for the wrong things or with the wrong motives. When I listen, I think I already know what the answer should be and so I listen only for that. In all of these cases, the problem is with me, and not God.

And yet God is faithful, and he is also gracious. He doesn't give up on us, and he won't give up on you either. We are not very good at seeing our own sin, our own biases. And we're also not very good at hearing God when he does speak to us. What we really need is not an answer from God - we need the answer from God, we need Christ himself. And God, in wis wisdom and mercy leads us in that direction through his word and through his church. So for every ounce of prayer I need a pound or two of reflection on his word. And I also need to be in community with other believers. I have found that God often speaks to us through the words of others, as they bring his Word (Scripture) to bear on our lives.

I used to think that what I lacked were _things_ - that I needed God to change my situations, my circumstances, etc. And now I see that what I lack most is Christ, and that I really need to learn to cling to him in the midst of my adversities. My adversities, in fact, are often the very means of his grace to drive me to himself.

So be encouraged, and hang in there, and keep seeking to lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of you (Phil 3:12). I'd love to hear more about your specific struggles, experiences, etc. Sorry this was such a long response.

At 9:54 PM, June 04, 2006, Anonymous Peter said...

i am encouraged by psalm 88 because it lets me know that i don't have to be positive at the end of the day. it lets me know that i don't have to believe in the christianity taught by the trinity broadcast network. it allows me to wait on god in anger and frustration. it allows me to say, "i've done what i can do, this is how i feel, now do what you have to do." i feel confident in saying, "i am still a christian, i am still in the race, but i am cramping up and need to work them out". i think a deception that satan uses is telling non-believers in pain, you have to be happy to be a christian.

about me:
feb of 2000, i had a terrible case of the flu which morphed into viral encephalitis (bruise on the brain). the neurologist told me that i would be suffering from side effects for a couple of months. 4 years later i was diagnosed with klein-levin syndrome, a neurological disorder that affects 3-500 people worldwide (specifics at in the late fall/early winter months-mid spring/late spring months i sleep for about 10 hours a night and while awake feel like i'm on a nyquil iv. i'm tired all day and can't concentrate enough to do anything for a lengthy piece of time. reading is out of the question and so is watching movies at times. i recently did some calculations with my mom and we estimated that i have had a minimum of 2 years and 5 months (starting in feb of 2000) of couch time (strictly lying on the couch). my oldest brother has recently described it as being in a walking coma, aware of my surroundings but can't do anything about it.

being in this state has made me a very analytical person. i have a very close christian family so that helps a lot. this has helped everyone in my family not to settle for a surface spiritual life. if we did, we would have given up on god a long time ago (my problems are sometimes the least of my family's worries).


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