Monday, June 12, 2017

Do You Expect Miracles?

Are your prayers like mine? When I pray to ask the Lord for something I find myself expecting a miracle. But let’s real. Miracles are rare. Even in Bible times they were rare. If they weren’t rare then they wouldn’t be a miracle. So, if millions of people are praying and looking for a miracle, that probably means that millions of people are looking for something they will never receive. I know that sounds terrible, but that’s the way it is. Let me reword that so it is clear. Because miracles are so rare, you will probably live your whole life and never see one. And if your prayers are like mine and you pray hoping that the Lord will answer through a miracle that means you are going to experience a lot of “unanswered” prayer.

That may be why so many of us don’t fully appreciate the value of prayer. We set ourselves up for failure by praying for God to do things he isn’t going to do. He’s not going to miraculously make the traffic in front of us disappear. He’s not going to miraculously deposit our friends and neighbors in a pew at church. He not going to miraculously give us a new car, no matter how much we need one. He probably isn’t going to miraculously heal those people on the church prayer list. Some of them might even die. So why pray if it isn’t going to result in God stepping in and miraculously changing stuff for the better?

Some people try to explain away this problem by saying that prayer is about changing our attitude rather than it resulting in God taking action. I find that view very disappointing. Besides that, it doesn’t explain why Moses could pray and prevent God from destroying Israel or why Jesus prayed. Do we really thing Jesus needed an attitude adjustment? And why should we pray for each other if it is just about adjusting our attitude? Isn’t it the person we are praying for who needs the attitude adjustment more than we do?

Natural Answers

The keyword here is “miraculous.” We tend to assume that for God to hear and answer our prayer that he has to cause a miracle in our lives. We also tend to think that if something occurs naturally then it would’ve happened anyway. But why think that? If God knows what we will pray (and he does) then there’s nothing to prevent him from putting natural events in play even centuries in advance of our prayer so that we will receive what we ask.

This may explain why prayer studies fail. You’ve probably heard of prayer studies in which the patients in one hospital will be prayed for but those in another aren’t. The goal is to see if prayer changes things. Usually you see no significant difference between the group that was prayed for and the group that wasn’t. But that is what we might expect if God is answering prayer through natural events. It rains on the just and the unjust. If someone is praying for the healing of someone in the hospital, God may have trained up a doctor to help that person, but in the meantime that doctor is going to help a bunch of people who haven’t been prayed for. If a farmer prays for rain, the rain may come, but the story that the Lord prepared may drop a lot of water in other areas before it reaches the farmer.

Delayed Answers

We see an interesting account given in Daniel chapter ten. Daniel sees a vision and he is so moved by it that he is sick. He is in mourning for three weeks. Then an angel appears. The angel tells him that he had been sent three weeks earlier by he had been delayed and would have been delayed even longer if Michael hadn’t come to help him. I’ve often wondered about that. God could have cleared the way for the angel, but he didn’t. Instead we see the angel facing a very natural situation. This seems to indicate that when we pray or have a need that God does something quickly but it may take some time for the natural events to unfold.

Praying So God Will Answer

If God isn’t going to answer through a miracle then we need to pray for things that the Lord is willing to do. If our car stops working we shouldn’t expect God to just fix it but we should look for the Lord to provide us with a mechanic. If a friend has cancer, we should pray for that person but we should expect the Lord to answer by providing good doctors.

Many people pray for church growth. We know it is in the will of God, so it seems like there is no reason why the Lord shouldn’t answer it, but people don’t show up. If they do show up, they may not come back. Instead of a miracle, our expectation should be that the Lord will use us to answer that prayer. The answer may come in a person having courage to invite people to church. Maybe they have wisdom to see what is needed to get people interested.

Seeing Answered Prayer

On more than one occasion I have prayed some silly prayer on my way home from work and by the time I got home I had received what I had asked for. Sometimes I have almost forgotten what I prayed for and I still received it. It used to bother me that it seemed like the Lord was quicker to answer my silly prayers than he was my serious prayers. Now I’ve about decided that it has to do more with the things that I’m looking for in answered prayer than an actual difference. I’m more likely to notice the silly prayer being answered than the serious prayer because a natural solution stands out more with silly prayers. The answers may come more quickly because there are fewer things that have to happen before the prayer can be answered.

God knows what we will pray before we pray it, so natural answers to prayer make sense. Though it may seem like we are praying for something that would’ve happened anyway, there’s no reason to think that. By looking for the Lord to answer our prayers but to do so without miracles we have all the more reason to see answered prayer. Had we not prayed his actions would’ve been different. He would’ve prepared something different to happen. Our prayers really do change things.