I got an answer today. I felt like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz ... you know at the end of the story, when all she has to do is click her heels three times and say, "There's no place like home" over and over again? She and the other characters kind of do a reality check, like, hey, why did we have to travel all this way and experience all this stuff when the answer was right here all along?
Well that's a very good question!
One of the ideas our pastor presented in his message today was about the power of our thoughts. He read a scripture from Mark's gospel in which Jesus takes a man away from the crowd, gets him away alone, in order to heal him. Why? Well, the answer suggested is that Jesus wanted to get him away from all the "wrong motives" of people around him who weren't as concerned about him being healed as they were about seeing a miracle; a magic show; a power display.
Our thoughts have power; and they can hinder or help when directed at different situations.
OK, snap, that makes sense to me. It brings to mind another passage where a father brings his demon-possessed son to Jesus. Apparently, the disciples were unable to cure the boy, but when Jesus succeeds, the disciples wonder, "Why couldn't we do it?" Jesus replies quite matter-of-factly, "This kind can come out only by prayer."
Perhaps he is implying, the kind of prayer I'm talking about is the prayer that is powerful enough not to be inhibited by the doubts of those in close proximity.
I can't tell you how I wrestle with faith and prayer, trying to understand how the two work together. I have prayed and prayed and prayed on some things that have never come to pass. And I have seen hundreds and hundreds of my rehab ladies suffering and praying for better outcomes, but they don't necessarily happen. Why? Why not?
I found I had to adjust my theology to reconcile these questions. I had to start telling myself, well, God doesn't promise he will fix everything and make it perfect; he promises that he is with us and that he can redeem any situation (not change it per se, but give it value). And that makes sense to me still. And yet ... the questions continued.
I told our pastor emeritus recently that I wanted to do a study on prayer; that there were many aspects of it that I am not clear about. And even as I process and weave some of the teachings that I heard today into my theology, I still come up with so many unanswered questions. And that's OK.
I was reading last night in a book called Wild Goose Chase (Mark Batterson) that one of the "cages" that keeps us from making the fullest use of the power of the Holy Spirit is our assumptions. We assume so many things about God because we have this need for answers. The author quoted a remarkable finding. According to the research of Rolf Smith, children ask 125 probing questions per day but adults only ask about half a dozen such questions. At some point, Batterson concludes, we grow up and lose 119 questions a day, with the result that we stop looking for answers and start making assumptions.
Those assumptions -- especially where the character of God are concerned -- can sure muddy up our thinking and manipulate our realities.
"I am praying this prayer, but I know God will never answer it; it's just not possible; well, certainly not likely, is it? Nah, probably not ..."
Wow, that's a lot of negative energy to throw in among one, tiny, hopeful, "...I wonder if God will..." prayer. Negative energy can really get in the way of the possibilities in life.
I heard a speaker last week who demonstrated the power of positive and negative words. He asked the leader of the group, Kevin, to step forward. He told Kevin to place his right arm out so it was parallel to the ground. Then he had 3 of us tell Kevin what a rotten job he was doing. Telling Kevin to try to resist him, the speaker pushed on top of Kevin's hand and don't you know, he was able to easily push his arm down, even though Kevin is a big, strapping 21 year old and the speaker a much shorter and older man. Then he had 3 of us tell Kevin what a great job he was doing. Abra cadabra. This time, when the speaker pushed, his arm did not move.
I think Jesus would agree with this speaker as well as with Mark Batterson. Sometimes, we can be our own worst enemies when God is trying to bring something about in our lives.
Of course, I have to make full circle in my thinking and state that, "Please, oh please, oh please" prayers don't necessarily have a greater chance of being answered. There are prayers prayed by great people of faith that simply are not answered.
And I have to caution against whipping ourselves for our "lack" of faith when things do not come to pass. "If only I believed, God would do it. I just don't believe enough."
So I will go back to Batterson's argument that we make far too many assumptions about how things work instead of looking, searching for answers. And even as we search, it is very possible we may never learn "why." Or there just isn't a "why." Or God is withholding the "why." And I don't know why!
Bit by bit, I put the puzzle of my own faith together. Sometimes, I have to take a piece out that I have forced into a spot where it really doesn't belong. Other times, I have to accept the fact that even though I may feel as if I have searched and searched and searched among all the available pieces for the one that is missing, certain that I've examined every single one in front of me, for some bizarre reason, I still can't find the one I'm looking for.
Some days I seem to have more questions than answers. But perhaps it's the process of questioning and searching that really matters most to God. Perhaps it's our hunger and thirst to have a greater understanding and experience of him, combined with an acceptance of the mystery of it all, that makes God look at us and smile.
At least for today, that's how I am reconciling it all in my mind...