Many of us are doing a lot of praying right now: with wildfires devastating the Fort Collins area to our north and the Colorado Springs area to our south, and yesterday's lightning-strike fire (still going) behind the Flatirons above Boulder, this is a vulnerable time. We've had record-breaking heat (over 5 days of 100+ degrees and humidity in the single digits) which has made our state a tinder box. And so, we watch and we pray. And we look for ways to be good neighbors to those in need.
On my bike ride today, my intervals took me back and forth in clear view of our Boulder fire. I'd pray each time I saw the plume of smoke and felt the kick of the west wind. It's caused me to reflect on the mystery of prayer. The Bible clearly shows us that God wants us to pray and to pray unceasingly (1Thessalonians 5:16-18, e.g.). Biblical examples abound of ardent intercession--and God's faithfulness in response. And yet prayer remains a mystery. I cannot imagine the amount of prayer going up in Colorado Springs (sometimes called the Vatican City of American evangelicalism). Surely, there's been a ton of prayer there...yet, news reports recently are nearly apocalyptic, with devastating scenes of countless homes going up in flames. Isn't prayer working?!
Again, prayer is a mystery. My working hypothesis is this: God, in his sovereign grace, invites us to join his mysterious work of redemption with our lives and with our prayers. In some cases, God will respond immediately and specifically to our prayers; in other cases, God may be using this praying process to shape and mold our hearts to fit his own: to feel his compassion, to suffer alongside the afflicted, to bend our wills to God's. Even Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying three times that the cup of his imminent suffering should pass, submitted to God's inscrutable will: "Not my will, but yours be done." Perhaps prayer also puts us on our knees, literally and figuratively, before God--an indispensable posture of humility and dependence. Wrestling with the mystery of prayer, we once again face the fact that we are not god; only God is God...and we are God's servants, especially in our prayers.
Two final thoughts: first, sometimes I worry that our prayers can descend into folk religion, a sort of magical praying. "God, zap down a response to this need!" "God, change me (this person, this situation) right now!" God is not a magician or a spiritual vending machine; genuine transformation often takes a lifetime. Are we willing to enter into this kind of watching and praying? Are we willing to wrestle and persevere in prayer like that? God can indeed change the weather patterns. Yet, sometimes, God does not. There may be a bigger plan at work, a deeper possibility of redemption and transformation. Only God knows.
Lastly, I've found that as I lift up the same need repeatedly in prayer, I can come to a point where it feels as if God says to me, "I've heard you. I am faithful. Trust me." Then my prayers undergo a shift: from petition (over the need), to praise (for God's faithful character). God is a loving heavenly Father, a compassionate, suffering Savior in Jesus Christ. My prayer then is: "Lord, help me--help us--to trust you and to cling to you in faith." Let's keep wrestling in prayer together. Amen.