My coworker died today.
Actually, it didn’t really surprise me. She’d been out for a month. To protect her privacy I won’t say more than that, other than she had some health problems. She’d been in the hospital, then started to get better, then she just went downhill.
And she died.
I had to tell two of my coworkers. It was interesting to see their reactions. One of them I could tell also felt that this was coming. The other, it blindsided her. Maybe she hadn’t encountered death this closely before.
As I drove home, I thought about the times I’d prayed for her to get better. Then I thought about the times that I’d almost told a friends, “Please pray for my coworker, Patricia.”
But over the last month, I never ended up actually asking others to pray for her.
I guess I was thinking about all those prayer requests I hear and – to be honest – brush off. “My uncle’s having surgery.” “My friend’s mom is getting a divorce.” “My roommate’s sister’s boyfriend has cancer.” I guess it’s the degrees of separation. It’s easy for me to pray for – and remember to pray for – a friend who’s going through hard times. It’s harder for me to pray for my mom’s coworker’s son’s neighbor. It ends up like a prayer chain letter. And the more links in it, the more likely I am to ignore it.
I feel bad about it. I don’t do it on purpose. Honest. It just… happens.
But it shouldn’t. I mean, people wouldn’t ask me – or anyone, for that matter – to pray for so-and-so or such-and-such if it wasn’t something that they themselves didn’t truly care about.
I never asked anyone to pray about Patricia. I almost did on more than on occasion, but I stopped and thought maybe it was too many links removed from them to care.
And as I drove home today, the thought that popped into my mind was, “If I had asked them to pray for her, maybe she wouldn’t have died. If *I* had prayed for her more, maybe she wouldn’t have died.”
The other side of my brain countered, “That’s stupid logic, Alissa.”
My pastor has talked a few times about “faith-ing” God into doing stuff for us. You know there’s that verse that talks about moving mountains with the faith of a mustard seed? Our pastor pointed out that just the presence of enough faith isn’t going to make something happen. Like if I just have enough faith, God will make me win the lotto. He said, “Yeah, I’m sure God’s up there in heaven saying, ‘Oh man, I was going to do this but darnit they FAITH-ED me, so I had to change my plan.'” Well, when you say it like that, it does sound kinda silly.
But there’s also instances in the Bible of people praying and God doing something. Like Abraham intervening on behalf of Lot and the people of Sodom.
So then, what is the purpose of prayer? Is God just going to do what He’s going to do, or does prayer have the power to change things?
I’ve thought about this for all of half an hour, and I’ll tell you what I think. (Okay, maybe I just need an outlet for some of the thoughts swirling around in my head.)
I think in some ways prayer is for our benefit. I believe that God has a greater plan, something far beyond what we can comprehend. He has all the pieces of the puzzle while we might claim to know what the picture is from the three we’ve gathered. So seeing that God’s in control, I think part of prayer is just an expression of faith in God being in control. Crying out, admitting, “God, I’m troubled about this circumstance. I don’t know what to do, but I want X result, so I’m calling on you.”
And if God gives us Y result instead of X, maybe prayer was still a good idea because we got to turn our problem over to God. Instead of carrying that burden around, we let the load off and put it in God’s hands. At least part of it, because I admit I often have trouble fully releasing it. It was already in His hands anyway, but by praying we at least party acknowledged that God was in greater control of it than we could ever hope to be.
Yet there are still those Bible stories of people praying and God doing something. So I think the other category of prayer may fall into God seeing if we trust Him. Like, “Okay, I really want to do this for you guys. Will you have enough faith to pray and to ask me to do it? To ask me to be a part of your life and the circumstances that trouble you?”
If that’s the case, honestly I think the latter may be a minority of prayer. Maybe prayer is primarily a vehicle by which we can crawl in God’s lap and sad, “Daddy, this is broken. Will you please fix it?” even if He was already planning to fix it, or already planning to replace it with something better.