Did I Not Pray Hard Enough?
Did I Not Pray Hard Enough?
Wrestling through the realities of unanswered prayers
BY TAYLOR MAY
There was grief … obviously … when she died. But what didn’t make sense, what didn’t fit into the room so full of such palpable pain, was an intense sense of failure. She died and we felt like we had failed. We failed to save her. For months we’d been praying, honestly and truly believing that God would save her. We knew and we’d heard stories that God was big enough to heal. He’d brought dead bones to life, he’d turned hearts of stone to flesh, he’d made blind eyes see. Our prayers, we thought, were saturated with faith and knowledge of these truths. But she died. Cancer won. And for a moment, it felt God hadn’t.
I live in a time, in a culture, where many different beliefs are widely accepted. Even in the sphere of believers. There are some of us who raise our hands when we worship, others of us lie flat on the ground and soak up His presence. There are some of us who pray with silence and reverence, others of us who pray with fervor and enthusiasm. I don’t seek to find out which ways are the right ways. I don’t think that’s the goal. Yet an inquisitive, searching nature leads me to seek to understand them, to ask “Why, God? Why are we all so different?” I come from a relatively conservative introduction to faith. So when, as a young and bushy-tailed college student I left my sphere of comfort and entered into a world full of not-so-like-minded people, I found myself face to face with people who followed and loved the same Jesus I did, but talked to Him very differently.
I never doubted that prayer worked. But I doubted that my prayers did when I started to meet people who expected immediate results. People who put their hands on my wounds and prayed for healing until it came … or until I succumbed to eventually and told them, “No, it doesn’t hurt anymore.”
"You have to believe this will work," said a man at work before he prayed over me. I'd simply said I'd come down with a bothersome little cold when he asked me how I was. The next thing I knew was his hand was on my forehead nearly trembling with the fervency of prayer. He was calling on God in a coffee shop parking lot like he was Elijah calling down fire from God. And after a breathy, drawn-out "Amen.", I sneezed.
Did God fail? Or did my belief?
I can take the first off the table. God doesn't fail. God doesn't look at the grime and grit of the world and hang his head in defeat. He looks sorrowfully, yes, but victoriously also at all of the hurt and sickness that ails His creation knowing He has the last and final victory. But my belief? Where did my belief land me in that moment of sniffles? I don't think the man's prayer was insincere, but my interpretation of such beseeches makes me uneasy. I felt guilty when he finished.
“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16).
That same guilt crept in when my knee kept locking up on a particularly grueling part of a trail through the Himalayas. It was cold, snow was threatening the integrity of the trail and we were running out of daylight. But my knee kept telling me I couldn’t go anywhere. We sat down and my friend, who is much more charismatic and prone to prayer than I am, began to massage my knee and beg God to unlock the muscle. She looked up at me intermittently and asked if it felt better. When I said it didn’t, she continued to pray. Finally, she said, “Taylor I think you need to pray.” Only I didn’t ask God to fix my locked up knee, I told Him I was scared. I told Him I couldn’t do this without him. I told Him I was frustrated and exhausted. I told Him I needed Him.
Those weren’t the magical words that God needed to hear before He was able to unlock my knee. But a place of needing Him was where He wanted to bring me before I could move forward. My knee gradually unlocked, and I was able to move. It wasn’t miraculous, though. It was slow and still quite painful.
He is not a God of confusion, but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33).
I don’t understand why sometimes prayers for healing are answered at the moment. How one man prays for a woman to get up from a wheelchair after years of being bound to it, while another man loses his life while his entire family fervently prays, I don’t know if I’ll ever understand. Perhaps having “the mind of Christ” doesn’t mean to know every part of God’s intricate mind, why He heals and why He doesn’t. But perhaps it means instead to hold on to peace, to hold on to hope in the God who has already claimed victory, the God who works all things for the good of those who love Him.