It’s a wonder I still believe prayer works.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely do believe prayer is powerful and effective. It can change the course of history. Earth is still spinning 24 hours behind where it should be based on the creation timeline—ever since Joshua asked God to make the sun stand still. People have walked the planet who never would have without prayer—think of Samuel and Joseph and the Shulamite woman’s son. Peter might have died in prison if a whole horde of people had not been praying for him in the house of a woman named Mary one dark night.
So yes, prayer works, but I have personally prayed for many things that never happened, for blessings that never materialized, healing that took forever and sometimes never came.
One might find comfort in the empathy of Mary and Martha. You remember them, the sisters of Lazarus and good friends of Jesus. Their brother fell sick; they knew he was dying. How they must have frantically scribbled the note; no time for frilly affections or casual comments. They simply wrote, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
But Jesus didn’t come in time. Within two days, Lazarus had died. The sisters wrapped him in fragrant cloths and buried him. Then, Jesus showed up.
It’s a fabulous story—one of perfect love, death, miracles, passion, sorrow and elation. But you probably already know that story. Even those who didn’t grow up in Sunday school have heard it and know it contains the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)
I’m searching for a new lesson in this story. I’m search for a reason to pray, a way to pray. Because, even if I took some comfort in the fact that Jesus seemed to ignore Mary and Martha too (it’s not just me) ultimately, He not only responded to their call of distress but performed a miracle for them. What did they do?
For years my most persistent prayer was, “Lord, please heal me of this eating disorder! Take it away! I love you God, I love you with all my heart. I want to be obedient. Help me to put this idol behind me and to live for you alone. Help me Jesus!”
Now, there’s nothing ultimately wrong with that prayer, but I heard a pastor say recently, “Nothing moves the hand of God like the love of God.”
Look at their prayer again, or better yet, see if you remember it. What did they say to Jesus?
Compare their petition to mine.
Me: “Lord I love you, please help me!”
Mary and Martha: “Lord, you love Lazarus! He needs you!”
What drove Jesus to respond to the sisters; to come and resurrect Lazarus, was not their love for Him, but His own love for Lazarus!
It’s time we re-worded our prayers. More than that, it’s time we rewired our hearts. It’s a false belief, but nonetheless the underlying motive most of us employ when seeking God’s favor—that if we love Him more, if we convince Him that we are completely “sold out”, He will capitulate and favor our request.
God doesn’t need His ego stroked. He does not bend His ear to earth because we are radically devoted to Him. God bends low to hear us because of His love for us, his unwarranted, unprecedented, deadly, life-giving love.
Psalm 25:4-7 says, “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.”
God’s love is so unbounded that it overrode my theological errors. Although I often pleaded for healing based on my love for and promised commitment to God, He reached out and healed me for the sake of His Son Jesus, whose radical love cost Him His life in order to reconcile the whole world to its Creator.
Now, I am praying again; I am praying differently. Now I am praying for healing for others, for broken bodies, broken marriages, aching hearts, physical needs and more. Some of those I’m praying for do not love Jesus, and oh the wonder of the truth that their lack of love is not the deciding factor in God’s answer.
Even those of us who love God, only know love because He loved us first. If the answers to our prayers hinges on the veracity of our love for God, we are doomed. Thanks be to God, that the prayer He hears, the prayer He answers, a worthy prayer cries, “Lord, I am the one you love!”