Learning How to Pray

When I first found out about my cancer diagnosis, I immediately prayed for a miracle.  So many others also prayed that I would be healed, that this tumor would miraculously disappear.  So many people, with much more faith and much holier than I, prayed to God for healing on my behalf.  Like Jesus, we prayed that God would take this cup from me, and like Jesus, God didn’t answer that request.

The tumor didn’t disappear.  I wasn’t healed.

This got me to thinking about how I pray.  I am glad I and so many others prayed for healing.  The Bible teaches that we should present our requests to God and healing is a great request. Miraculous healing happens today.  I’ve seen it.  But sometimes physical healing just doesn’t happen.  Sometimes God doesn’t take the cup that we have been handed.  And I’ve been struggling with that reality ever since.

Sometimes we don’t get what we want, no matter how good or noble the request may be.  

During the days leading up to surgery I began reading Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. It is a journey through Psalms 120-134, otherwise known as the Psalms of Ascents. It’s an incredible study and I highly recommend it to everyone.

Many of those psalms stood out to me, but one in particular.  In Psalm 123 the psalmist sings that he is “filled with contempt.” He’s mad, he’s hurt, and he doesn’t understand the prosperity of the mockers and the proud.

But he doesn’t ask for vengeance. He doesn’t plead for prosperity. He doesn’t even look for healing.  The psalmist has just one request:

God’s mercy.

The psalmist knows the character of God – and he knows that above all he is “gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love” (Neh 9:31).

Eventually, I stopped praying only for healing. I began to pray something else.

I began to realize that maybe I need something higher than physical healing.  I realized that the road of surgery and chemotherapy was the road I was on, like it or not. Maybe God wants to use this trial to make me better, more able to relate to others. Who knows? Regardless, if I am on this road I desperately need the mercy of God above anything else just to make it through.

So since then when I pray I take on the attitude of the psalmist in Psalm 123 – I simply ask for God’s grace and mercy.  For though I too am filled with contempt – contempt of cancer, of the pain, of the darkness and despair that can threaten to crowd my mind during this chemo cycle – I choose to rely on God’s great mercy to walk this road.  And when I do, God in his mercy never fails to flood my heart with peace.

Often times, we don’t know what to pray.  What do we say?  What do we ask for?  Sometimes it’s hard to even find words.  Now, when I don’t know what to pray, I pray for God’s grace and mercy.  Because that’s what we really need to live in this crooked world.

It’s hard when God doesn’t answer our prayers.  Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense.

Just before Jesus was to endure his incredible suffering on the cross he pleaded with God twice.  He said, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” Mark 14:36.

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We should present our requests to God.  He wants us to. But if we truly trust God as the greatest of Fathers, if we truly believe that God is the essence of Love, then above all we will choose to put His will over ours. No matter how hard that may be.

Some days it’s hard to make that choice.  For many of us, it takes time to make that choice. It’s okay to be hurt and angry for a time. Some days it’s hard to pray at all. It’s a daily process, to be sure.  Some days I fail to rest in God’s will above my own.  Thankfully God is gracious and sheds his grace and mercy on me despite me.

Because we know that He knows suffering, He sees our hearts, He is with us giving us grace that surpasses understanding even in the midst of it.

…though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.   -It Is Well with My Soul