I’ve been a Christian since 1979 and yet there is so much to prayer I know very little of or understand. I can tell you stories of God answering my prayers very quickly and sometimes, very unexpectedly. I also have stories of my prayers going unanswered. Praying has evoked within me a range of feelings, from elation to despair. But over the years, I have come to accept that prayer is a mystery. By that I don’t mean I’ve given up on praying. Rather, I don’t need to know how prayer works or why it works, in order to pray.
I am learning that it is enough that Jesus clearly modelled for us that prayer is indispensable to our relationship with God; that prayer is a given, not an option. “And when you pray…” (Matthew 6:6), Jesus said. He did not say, “And if you pray…”. The apostle Paul regularly asked for prayer. To the Ephesians, he wrote, “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel…” (Eph 6:19). We are not advised but commanded to pray because our prayers do make a difference, somehow!
Every year there Christians from around the world pray for the Muslim world during the holy month of Ramadan, the time when the Quran, Islam’s holy book was revealed to the prophet Muhammad. One of the things Christians pray for is that God would reveal Himself to Muslims in dreams. Amin, a devout Muslim had recently been having questions about Islam. “God, if you’re alive, show yourself to me”, he prayed. He was unprepared for what would happen next.
Seven days later, he had a dream of Jesus Christ. When he woke up, he found out his mother and sister had the same exact dream about Jesus. They were in tears. He said to God, “What do you want to show us?”. In Islam, Jesus is a respected prophet. They knew nothing more and couldn’t find out more given that Bibles are not available in bookstores in Iran. Five hours later, a friend of Amin knocked on their door, went inside the house and presented a Bible to them. He said to them, ‘I am sent by God to tell you that Jesus is not only a prophet; He is the Word of God who became flesh to die on the cross for you and I. For those who come to Him, they would be forgiven”.
Amin’s mother was stunned by the timing of his visit and told the man about their dreams of Jesus. When he found out the time of their dream, he sobbed. When he regained his composure, he told them it was at the exact time he heard the voice of Jesus in his room saying, ‘My Son, get up, take my word to Amin’s house. They are ready to hear my word today.”
That God is in control, that He doesn’t answer our prayer at times do not absolve us from praying. While we cannot strong-arm God into doing what we want through prayer, we see consistently throughout the Bible that God, in His wisdom, has chosen to govern the world in partnership with His children through prayer and our obedience.
Prayer is necessary and vital. As F.B. Myer wrote, the great tragedy of life as is not unanswered prayer but unoffered prayer. This is why Jesus implores us to pray always and never give up (Luke 18:1).
Have faith in God!