Lord, hear my prayer!
Isn't this something we often think about when praying? I personally can say that I add this short plea to the Lord in my prayers. At times we may feel as though God is distant, absent;
as though He has abandoned us!
"Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Many Christians get a bad feeling regarding these words of our Lord on the cross thinking our Lord truly felt Himself abandoned; forsaken.
These words from the beginning of Psalm 22 are of great value in my opinion. It captures the two seemingly paradoxical states we can be in in our relationship with God we enter into in prayer: the moments of doubt and despair, and the moments of firm trust and joy.
We pray and pray and pray; often times it seems as nothing happens, as though God has abandoned us. This has certainly lead to the apostasy of some people; and also to the mockery of Christianity by non-believers; after all, the Bible does say "ask and you will be given".
So how come we don't get everything we ask for right away?
This is a question I used to ask myself in the past. I'm sure most Christians have had something they prayed for a lot for an extended period of time and it seems that nothing happens or the total opposite of what we ask for takes place.
Take illness as an example! Christians would pray for sick people and still some die.
Where's the "ask and you will be given" slogan now??? Where's God who heals the sick?
Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?!!
I once was very confused about this whole issue. I ask and I am not given: at least that's how the case seems to be quite often.
Now, I have to admit that I am quite far away from fully understanding this: after all, it is a journey that takes a life-time to complete. However, I can offer my personal thoughts from experience on the issue:
When we ask God for something, we should realize that He is the Master and we are the servants, not vice-versa. God does not owe us anything, we owe God everything that is good.
God is therefore not "forced" to grant us all wishes, but rather He does so freely as a gift to us; wherefore we have to closely check our attitude. We may not view God as a type of "wishing-machine" that gave us the right to demand certain things from Him which He would have to do.
Grace is a gift from God.
Now, I know this is not sufficient, so let's continue:
In the past, I was frustrated whenever I prayed for help and still failed and sinned. I sometimes even thought God was not even helping me. However, if we are honest to ourselves, we realize that God gives us the necessary grace we ask for to persevere. Whenever we sin, there is a moment when we decide to simply not think too much of the spirit anymore, but rather shift the focus onto the flesh. Grace does not destroy our free will: we can persevere with God's help if we are willing (that is to avoid mortal sin). Our cooperation therefore is necessary. We cannot expect God to bypass our freedom and turn us to mindless slaves that would not sin; that cannot free us from sin if sin is a departure from God because the lack of freedom would mean we cannot love God and thus cannot come to Him: so the lack of freedom/free will itself would be a "sin".
Slowly, but surely the responsibility is being shifted from God to man. Interesting, isn't it?
So, onto another part: often times this "perseverence" is connected to suffering. The process of sanctification is full of suffering! You fall every now and then and feel bad!
Why oh why do you allow this, oh Lord?
Here also I would look at us. We all have to remember that God is perfect and His ways thus are always good. Therefore, we should not be seeking the error on God's part, but rather on ours. Why should I even suffer? Can there be something good in my failings?
Here I would point onto the sacrifice of the cross: the greatest evil imaginable was turned to the greatest good the world has known!
So, yes, there is something good we can get from all the suffering we have to endure in life. Suffering - when it takes place in the right context; i.e. joined to the sacrifice of the cross - makes sense and is valuable. Mortification sanctifies. Our suffering reminds us of our weaknesses, our dependence on God, our need for God, our gratitude for God's love for us expressed so greatly on the Holy Cross of the Christ. God Himself suffered for us! Was that bad? Did He complain? No! The Lord Jesus Christ knew what He was doing, why He was doing it and for whom He was doing it; for us humans. He chose to suffer out of love for us: He showed us the way of defeating the reign of the flesh through mortification, through long-suffering.
Suffering makes me appreaciate the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ even more.
So whenever you suffer, just take a look at your crucifix at home and see what incomparable suffering God freely subjected Himself for us.
With that being said, one has an idea as to why certain prayers are not answered immediately. We ought to be trained in patience and humility. Prayers are rather educational and our view on prayer will reveal a lot about the maturity of our faith. At times, we think a prayer has not yet been answered, although it already was. We just have to be more attentive to the Holy Spirit.
So much good happens day by day that we do not even notice!
But what of the prayers for sick people that die? Here I will have to say that we shouldn't be all too focused on this life. Surely, it is tragic to lose someone in this life; but how is that a loss if our loved-ones get life-eternal with God instead of a prolonged time of suffering here on earth?
We should mourn when someone is in danger of perdition; which in turn shows us again our great responsibility: to preach the Good Message and live it that the people around us may be converted and attain eternal life. How can one be sad or disappointed about gaining eternal life?!
"In death is life."
In essence, we can break down the whole dilemma with a particular conclusion:
God does not need prayer, but we do!
Prayer is not a wishing-mechanism, nor magic. It is the teaching class of God wherein He is the Teacher and we are the pupils. Through prayer, we ought to come to a better understanding of what really matters in life. Once we get our lessons from our prayers, we will soon realize that we are feeling more conciously the effects of what is called "sanctification": we get closer to getting the "A" from our Teacher.