Prayer. It’s supposed to change things.
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” James 5:16-18
When I was a Christian I prayed every day. Several times throughout the day. Before I got out of bed I started praying. I talked to my imaginary friend about, well, everything. I could tell him anything. Why not? He saw it all anyway. It was an internal dialogue that was continually going.
Whatever thoughts I had, some scripture would come to mind for me to apply to that thought. I was ‘taking all my thoughts captive to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
I prayed for change within myself, to become more like Christ, to be less of me and more of him. I believed that “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). In fact, I believed that the only way he could increase was for me to decrease. I wanted there to be nothing left of me. Slowly, over time, this did begin to happen. I put myself away and made more of Jesus. Or at least what I thought was Jesus:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23
But I also prayed for some very real, very tangible things. Salvation of loved ones, healing for the sick, my step-children, my then-husband, ministry opportunities. Oh, sure, I prayed the selfish prayers too. Though I never really expected the selfish ones to come to fruition. I knew when I was praying selfishly.
The only prayers that were ever answered in the affirmative were the prayers to change me and the selfish prayers. Never, in 20 plus years, were any of the prayers for salvation, healing, the suffering in the world or other non-selfish prayers answered in the affirmative.
I consoled myself on the healing prayers with platitudes about it not being God’s will. I told myself and others that the person who died from their ailment received perfect healing rather than divine healing.
The lack of affirmative answers on prayers of salvation were always the most perplexing to me. If it is God’s will that all should be saved and that none should perish, then why would that prayer not be answered? At least some of the time? It wasn’t for a lack of my attempting to evangelize them. I didn’t just pray about it. So then I would console myself in the knowledge that I had planted a seed and it was God’s job to water it.
I consoled myself that the suffering in the world was part of God’s plan to get his people involved in his work. That God wasn’t in the business of snapping his fingers to alleviate suffering. He expected us to do it. Then why aren’t we?
No, the only prayers that were ever answered in the affirmative for me were the ones that I had control over. Not all of my selfish prayers were answered. Only the ones I could make happen. And as for transforming my inner self. Well, I did that too. Using scripture and prayer I was able to change myself until there wasn’t much left of me.
So when I began to doubt, to question, and to learn that maybe everything I had once believed wasn’t true, it was somewhat of a relief to learn that the reason my prayers weren’t answered wasn’t because God didn’t care. It wasn’t because God was ignoring me. It wasn’t because I had some secret sin in my life that I had wracked my brain to find which was prohibiting God from hearing me.
It was because imaginary friends just aren’t very powerful in the lives of others.