Walking Our Faith: What does answered prayer look like?
Walking Our Faith
This is not a rhetorical question. It’s a question that I don’t know the answer to, and I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. Although we are told not to treat God as a vending machine in our day-to-day lives, we will struggle and seek God’s help.
The form of this petitioning is most often through prayer, and those prayers are often done privately or in a community of like-minded believers. These prayers are easiest when we are praying for the concerns of other people, because as much as we love our friends and family when we are praying for them, the fear or shame that underpins our petition doesn’t bite quite as close to the bone as when we are praying for ourselves.
I spend a lot of time in prayer every day. Formal recited prayers, group prayers and prayers that happen as I am washing the dishes or driving into town.
Some of my prayers happen in the middle of the night, and some happen when I am sitting in the quiet of the church and contemplating the Blessed Sacrament. I consider the writing of this column every week to be a form of prayer — a conversation with God — because what inspires each of these columns is a question I have for God, which I am discussing with him as I write.
Even the way I write this column reflects these conversations. Each week, I spend a few days walking around with a question in my mind that I am asking God about. And then at some point, when it feels like my thoughts are beginning to gel, I get into bed and dictate the first draft of this column into my phone in the dark of my room.
In this week’s conversation, I was wondering how we know when or if God answers our prayers. And what should we do when we don’t see an answer to our prayers?
The apostles said to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea;’ and it would obey you.” — Luke 17:5-6
Or does it mean my mind does not allow me to see things from God’s long-term perspective, which looks at our lives not in the moment but its entirety?
Or does it mean my mind does not allow me to see things from God’s long-term perspective, which looks at our lives not in the moment but in its entirety?
Very often, when I am sitting with an unanswered prayer, here’s what I want to say to God: “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” — Psalm 4:1
I want to know that I am heard. I want God’s consolation even if the answer I receive isn’t ultimately the one I want. But I want a visible sign that I am heard. When my heart hurts, I want to know that God cares.
“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears! For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers.” — Psalm 39:12
From the words of these psalms, I understand I am not the only one.
Which leads to the uncomfortable question of, “Why pray at all?” Does a change in my life come because of my own actions, or because I have prayed to God? Or both? Who gets credit when a need is answered, and who receives blame when it isn’t? Me or God?
This is a daunting question, because it considers the very nature of our relationship with God. It’s right up there with the question of suffering, which I have yet to hear a satisfactory answer to. It is a question we see wrestled with in the Book of Job. When God finally shows up, his answer to Job is essentially, “Who are you to question me?”
Other than a few very remarkable examples where I could see God’s hand in an answered prayer as it happened, 99% of the time, I don’t see the answer to a prayer until it is well in the rearview mirror. And this is when I say, “Thank you, God, for your greater wisdom, for caring for me.”
But, honestly, I don’t have a better answer than that. From the Book of Job to the Psalms to the father who cried out to Christ, “I do believe; help me overcome by unbelief!” (Mark 9:24), I see that not only am I in good company but that leaders of our faith were not afraid of our difficult questions, because they kept them in our Bible for these thousands of years to let us know that we are not alone in our questioning.
I’m inviting any of our Summit County religious leaders to be a guest columnist to answer this question: Do our prayers move God to help us? Or are we simply left to help ourselves?
Here’s what I want to believe:
“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:5-7
But like the father who cried out to Christ, I also pray, “Lord, help my unbelief.”
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson’s column “Walking Our Faith” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Anderson is the author of 10 novels and nonfiction books on faith. She has lived in Breckenridge since 2016. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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