I frequently feel that I’m immature in some matters of faith, even a baby Christian. Especially in regards to prayer. I don’t understand it. When my prayers aren’t answered in ways that I want, I find myself asking, well then what’s the point of praying if it doesn’t change anything? And in weaker moments, I wonder what’s the point of being a Christian at all, if there’s no benefit, no shelter from pain or suffering, compared to not being a Christian?
That’s my heart, not my head. In the end, I personally believe in the gospel because I think it’s true, not because it’s comforting or beneficial. Its truth is what compels me; that it happens to be nice for us is what makes it good news. And logically, I know that all prayers can’t be answered. Like, everyone dies, so at least one prayer for health or safety will ultimately be unfulfilled for every person. But still, when my prayers aren’t answered, I struggle with asking myself, what’s the point? My last big crisis of faith in ’97 was related to that, and I go through mini-struggles all the time.
What’s sad is God actually does answer most of my prayers. For my accountability group a while back I decided to start recording all our prayer requests, and I found that about 80% were answered in exactly the ways we asked for. It was crazy. These included really big requests, like the salvation of old parents who had never believed, and healing from fairly serious diseases. 80%. And still, my heart fixates on the 20% that’s unanswered. Kinda sad.
Anyway, my great-uncle is retired and he’s been spending his time writing stories, most of them based on his childhood, and selling some as e-books. I read one this week and it was fascinating. Basically, his character keeps praying that people close to him will not die, but his prayers are never answered. It’s mostly based on his real life experience. 3 of his siblings died in childhood. Many more of his family members were killed or captured (never to be seen again) during the Korean War. He frequently prayed that the missing (including his father) would come back, or that the ill would heal. But they didn’t. The loss of his childhood dog also factors into the story, as they didn’t have enough food to feed it. He prayed that they’d get food. But they didn’t. And they had to let the dog go.
Reading that story made me feel ashamed. I struggle like a baby about not getting relatively minor requests answered. But my parents’ generation prayed for far more fundamental things – basically life, and even when those weren’t answered, their faith persevered. God does not answer even more fundamental prayer requests than mine. And somehow I found that encouraging. Because of unanswered prayers, I still don’t fully understand how prayer works. But just knowing that a generation can figure out, that they can have so many prayers for their loved ones to be kept safe left unanswered and still emerge with a powerful faith and prayer life – that gives me hope that it can be understood.