The Paradox of Prayer
N.B This isn’t a theological primer on the doctrine of prayer but rather some thoughts I’ve acquired over time. Hope it helps. May be a bit difficult for a non Christian to read but give it a go.
Years ago, I remember watching an interview segment on a TV show. I wasn’t a Christian at the time but the whole idea behind this has stuck with me since.
An Anglican Priest, along with his older son, a stand-up comedian by trade, were on a show about religion and interfaith relations. Plot twist — the son was an atheist.
They discussed their relationship along with the difficulties since his son opened up about his loss of faith.
The show then cued to some live footage of the son performing in a club and this is where it really got interesting for me
He goes on to recount a time when his young daughter came up to him while they were at home and his father was visiting. She was concerned and told her father
“Grandad is in the other room but I can hear talking, what’s happening?”
A bit puzzled at first, he then realised the situation- his father was praying.
He replied to his daughter “It’s okay dear, Grandad’s just speaking to God about some things…” thinking that would appease her.
She looked at him oddly and then said (as kids would say) “But there’s no one in the room with him?”
The laughs followed from the crowd and then he went on a “clever” rant on the silliness of believing in God, and why no real advanced person would and should do it.
Even though at the time I though the jokes were a bit much , the idea of speaking to God in prayer was really profound (and a little bit daunting). If God exists, would he listen to me? And even if he did would what I said actually happen in real life?
These questions were once points of contention against the Christian Faith but as I became a Christian and grew in maturity (still nowhere near it yet) they’ve become nothing more than dealing with reality. A reality we shouldn’t shy away from but deal with in faith.
An evangelist (A person gifted with the ability to clearly present the good news of Jesus) said in a sermon once that the only reason why people stop doing something is because it doesn’t work. Funnily enough his sermon was on prayer and so fits well with this — but it is such a valid truth.
If you were to do a small study of Christians and ask them how many actually pray every day, I’d doubt honestly if all of them did.
If you were to press them the reason why they didn’t, you may get various responses but the reason behind it, in my humble opinion, would be unbelief.
Now to provide context, it’s not a brazen denial of who God is, but just a quiet, unspoken resolution that God cannot do.
Every Christian has prayed tirelessly for an outcome and sadly been disappointed. This is the sad, often unspoken reality of life since The Fall.
Any person who has been a Christian for some time has had to deal with events and circumstances in and beyond their control that they have brought to God in prayer and received no response.
Just like the evangelist said, the only thing people do is when this happens is to stop.
Even if it isn’t to stop entirely, it may be just not to pray on that particular topic anymore for fear of no answer.
Herein lies the paradoxes
Please do me a favour. Close your eyes and no peeking.
Imagine the largest mountain in the world, or a natural wonder like the Niagara Falls. If you can’t, find something that’s close to it imagine a sunset or a beautiful song.
One word comes to mind when thinking of these things (to me anyway). That’s awe.
Now let’s look a bit further; the milky way and the millions of galaxies that make up our universe. The planets in orbit around the Sun.
Finally- Psalm 19: 1
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
This is the God of scripture. Unlike anything we have ever experienced, or will ever experience. The Undisputed ruler and King of the World — and yet the express image was revealed in the person of Jesus.
We come to a quiet room on an early morning before work and sit down and talk out loud, seeking protection over our kids and family, that friends would know Jesus. I’m just imagining what it would be like being a spy on the wall at any christians house. That person believes God will do something on the back of those prayers however ….
At one end, if fully engaged, this person would realise they are coming into the presence of the Lord God, The Holy One of Israel.
The one who Isaiah when encountering him in a vision, realised his own hubris and lamented. It sparks the real question, what words can you really say to God?
On the other end, there is grace and mercy for the believer through Christ. That despite our speech or ulterior motives or dare I say sinfulness God reaches down and hears and replies, blesses and helps his people.
I know better than to give carte blanche answers regarding this topic. We know the scriptural reasons for why sometimes prayer isn’t answered — unbelief, lack of perseverance, unrepentant sin, not praying the will of God.
What do you say to a God fearing and faithful grandmother who has to bury her daughter because she has terminal cancer despite her prayers being filled with faith until the very end?
The Book of Ecclesiastes really speaks to this existential angst — and ends with the following verse :
When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: Fear God and keep His commandments, because this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, along with every hidden thing, whether good or evil.
The Christian Life is not easy. It can be almost life threatening at times. But the great irony is that at the lowest we are closer to our Saviour than in any temporal position of affluence and good standing.
So let us not grow weary in prayer. Even if it seems like nothing is happening and you’ve grown tired of being tired. Persevere.
This isn’t just a call for a defeatist view of the Christian Life. Seek victory, claim hope, and breakthrough in your personal life and the life of others. But know this:
“God is in Heaven and we are on earth so let our words be few”.
Leave the outcomes to God.