During these days of social distancing, social media has become a lifeline for many. It provides a way to stay connected despite being apart. You may have followed a social media link to find this article. Who ever thought we would be thankful for Facebook? However, social media can also be a source of fake news, bullying, grandstanding and flame wars. So, yeah, let’s take it in small doses.
There was a time in the early days of social media when I felt obliged to engage people over their substandard opinions and general lack of information. It turns out that people don’t like being engaged that way, and thoughtful conversations are generally rare on social media platforms. Who knew?
That’s why I decided to write this blog article rather than open an extended dialogue leading to nowhere. I recently saw a cute little post on social media, written by a person who enjoys triggering believers in God. The gist of his opinion was this: “Once we get past this crisis there will be many lessons learned. One of those lessons will be that god did not answer anyone’s prayers to stop this virus.” The implication is that there is no God, and praying is useless.
I take issue with this opinion because it’s based on a number of false premises. The first false premise is, “The purpose of prayer is to get something you want from God.” The second false premise is, “If God doesn’t answer your prayer in your way, God doesn’t exist.” A third false premise is, “God only deserves credit for miraculous healing, not natural healing.”
This is an important week of worship for Christians all over the world. We remember all that Jesus Christ did for us by going to the cross to die for our sins, and rising from the dead to secure eternal life. One of the details of the story is relevant to our discussion regarding prayer. Jesus suffered through a difficult night in prayer preparing to go to the cross. He was all alone, as His disciples kept nodding off to sleep. The prayer of Jesus, and the results of that prayer speak volumes about what prayer truly is all about.
Some of the words of Jesus’ prayer are recorded for us in the Gospel of Mark. “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Of course, we know that God did not take the cup of suffering from Jesus. Jesus drank that cup all the way down to the final drop. So what are we left to think? God did not answer Jesus’ prayer. Does this mean God doesn’t exist? Does this mean Jesus’ prayer was a failure? If prayer is simply a way to change God’s will and get what you want, then I suppose you might fall into the trap of the atheist. But that severely misconstrues the purpose of prayer. Prayer is more complex than trying to talk God into getting your way.
What was the result of Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane? He ended up going to the cross to do the Father’s will. Jesus' will was perfectly united with the Father’s. He went to the cross in full confidence that God is sovereign and God’s plan is perfect. What’s the lesson? Sometimes the purpose of prayer isn’t to change God, but rather to change me. Sometimes when God doesn’t bow to my petitions, He is teaching me to bow to His purposes. Prayer isn’t a means of attaining my way, it’s a means of aligning me to God’s will.
So, sure, I am praying that God will resolve this crisis as soon as possible. But, I am aware as Jesus was that “everything is possible” with God, and so, I pray, “not my will but thine be done.” Is that a weak prayer? Not if Jesus prayed it. Our hope is that God will bring this crisis to an end in his time according to his will, whether in natural or supernatural ways. In the meantime, we pray that God changes us. As Eugene Peterson wrote: “A changed world begins with us . . . and a changed us begins when we pray.”