By Joe Chesser
Prayer is a mysterious thing. There is always an element of uncertainty about it that requires faith in the unknown. To unbelievers, prayer may seem to be foolishness, talking out loud to no one in particular. But for Christians, faith assures us that when we pray we have the audacity to actually be speaking to the God of the universe (Hebrews 4.16)! So, what happens when we pray?
There is no way to fully answer that question in the space of this article, but from John 11 there are some clues and insights into what happens when we seek the help of Jesus. While technically not a prayer as we often define it, like a prayer Mary and Martha did send a request to Jesus for him to help them.
Their brother Lazarus was deathly ill and the sisters were sure that if Jesus would come he could make him well (John 11.21). So they sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11.3). We are familiar with this type of prayer: intercession for others. We pray often for Jesus to help the sick, the hurting, the needy. We do that because we truly believe that Jesus loves us all and will come to our aid when we ask him: “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4.2).
However, we are not praying to inform Jesus. He already knows more about our needs than we do. When Jesus heard the sister’s request he told his disciples that the illness of Lazarus was not about his health but for the glory of God and the Son (John 11.4). Jesus looks beyond what we can see and answers our prayers based on the whole picture. Jesus didn’t rush to Bethany. He knew there was no hurry. For the sisters the timing was urgent. Like us, they expected Jesus to respond right away. But Jesus delayed for two days before heading to Bethany (John 11.5). Sometimes Jesus’ timing frustrates us, again, because we only see part of the picture (John 11.21). We need to learn to be patient in prayer and let Jesus answer our prayers when he wants and in the way he wants (John 11.22).
Why? Because when Jesus answers our prayers, everything about it will be for our best interest and for the glory of God. Plus, how Jesus answers may surprise us. What Jesus had in mind all along was not to heal Lazarus but to raise him from the grave, even after he had been dead for four days (John 11.38-44). As far as Lazarus was concerned, he would have been alive and healthy either way. But as far as God was concerned, there was more glory given Him when Lazarus was raised from the dead. God’s glory is far more important than our health or anything else (1 Cor. 10.31).
Learning to pray in a way that glorifies God also blesses us.
- Joe Chesser preaches for the Fruitland Church of Christ, Fruitland, MO. He may be contacted at email@example.com