Why I pray
In one of his last voice messages to me he said, “God works in mysterious ways.”. Dave (not his real name) was a close friend of mine in high school, we played road hockey almost every day after school. He was the goalie and good at it too. We wore the sweat stained collars of our uniform dress shirts as badges of honour and ignored our teachers’ warnings not to take slap-shots. He stopped most of them, but I always knew I could sneak one through the high blocker side. I replayed these memories in my head as I listened to his voice message to me from the hospital bed where he lay dying of cancer at the age of 31.
My friends and I prayed for Dave. We prayed for healing. We prayed for a miracle. Within two months, those prayers changed from prayers of healing to prayers of comfort for his family as they grieved their loss. Where was God? Did He not hear us? Do our prayers even matter?
In one of my favourite Martin Luther quotes he speaks on prayer, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer”. It seems counterintuitive that anyone would start a long list of to-do items with…not doing any of those items. Yet, there is wisdom in his approach. While the size of his to-do list did not change during those hours spent in prayer, his heart posture before God changed. So, in prayer we:
So why didn’t God provide a miracle for my friend Dave? Does prayer not change the outcome of our circumstances? Is it already determined? C.S. Lewis writes, “It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so. They have not advised or changed God’s mind—that is, his overall purpose. But that purpose will be realized in different ways according to the actions, including prayers, of his creatures.”1 In other words, God’s overall purpose is constant and remains the same but the realization of that outcome can take a different path and can be informed by our prayers.
We live in a broken and sinful world. The result of sin entering the world is that creation does not presently exist the way that God originally designed it. So, for a time, things like cancer or natural disasters happen. However, we can still take heart! God has promised that He will defeat that evil, conquer that sin, and one day diseases like cancer will be no more. God has promised that He will make the world new and while it may not look the way that we want, God’s plan is still in motion. He is achieving ends in ways that I cannot see and this means that He does not always answer prayers the way I would like. What remains constant is that His victorious purpose will be achieved because He is good.
Indeed, God works in “mysterious ways” Dave. However, what is not so mysterious is His goodness and graciousness to us. So, we can pray prayers of Praise, Thanksgiving, Confession, and Request to our God knowing that he hears them and in His sovereignty will supply as we need (Phil. 4:19). Speaking of “mysterious ways”, we might look to William Cowper’s life – the author of the poem from which this line comes. His life is a powerful testimony of God’s providence in the midst of hopelessness. Read about it HERE.
1. C.S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night: And Other Essays p.8