As a follow up to my last post, I wanted to bring the subject of The War Room closer to home. Again, in full disclosure I have not seen the film but I have heard a common thread in those that have seen, including the two reviews I posted in my last piece. Most notably, the takeaway from the film is that if you just pray hard enough God will do it.
Please allow me to get a little personal. Not that my story in no way can be a measuring stick but I think it can be instructive concerning this simplified formula in the context of God’s work in his creation. I also share this story because I know I’m not alone and I suspect this will resonate with a good number of Christians.
First know that I’m not sharing for this the sake of bashing a movie or releasing emotional diarrhea but the sake of examining how we consider prayer. For most of the 7 years I was in a troubled, unequally yoked marriage that was peppered with chronic illness and unkindness, I prayed. Oh how I prayed. I prayed that God would save my husband and soften his heart. I prayed that God would heal him and make our marriage whole. I turned my living room into a ‘war room’ and being more aligned with charismatic teaching at that time, would storm the gates, as I called it. The situation didn’t budge.
One day in 2004, I stopped dead in my tracks, or rather, I believe I was stopped dead in my tracks because the Lord gripped my heart. I was tired. I was disappointed. But most of all, I was intent on having things my way. My roar of anticipated triumph turned into a whisper of surrender – “not my will, but yours Lord.” I so desperately wanted him to give me that shiny object of a good marriage that I had prayed for. But alas, his will was something different. It was not long after that in that same year that my husband’s health rapidly declined and he passed away that August just shy of my son’s 7th birthday.
Some months later, I prayed that God would still grant the desires of my heart for the good marriage that I didn’t really know. Little did I know that he would be leading me towards a significant theological shift and a move towards seminary. Once that happened, my focus shifted on how the Lord might use me to help others think theologically in a faithful way according to what he has revealed. I was so absorbed in that pursuit that my simple prayer took a back seat, that is, until right at the time I moved to Dallas and started seminary.
Not only did God not answer THAT prayer, but then took me into a personal excavation to root up some deep troubled spots. Sanctification 301 in the midst of Greek, Hebrew and theology. But I also prayed that God might grant my son a mentor since he was fatherless. Nothing. And it was not for a lack of trying and definitely not for a lack of praying. Every effort attempted was met with a closed door, including one pastor from my former church who told me that if that’s what I wanted, I could start a program. I’ll say no more about that except thank God, I’m no longer there.
And so, I have watched my son grow into his teenage years, without the mentor with a consistent presence that I desperately prayed for. And now that he is almost 18, it doesn’t seem as pressing though I still do pray for some faithful presence in his life.
I confess that I have been left dazed and confused at times, especially seemingly always surrounded by those proclaiming how God has answered their prayers in areas that are intensely meaningful for me. But I know that my story is not unique. I know that there are many in the body of Christ who good desires joined with fervent prayer have yielded the opposite of what they’ve requested. Sometimes that marriage doesn’t work out, or that womb is not opened, or that loved one dies. Hard prayer is sometimes met with hard disappointment. The Lord has his reasons.
I share this personal tale out of heartfelt concern that we don’t turn the “just hard enough and God will do it” into a space that does not allow for Him to do as he pleases. I am concerned that, especially in light of the film’s recent release, that Christians with stories like mine would be looked as faithless with deficient prayers simply because they haven’t been answered. God forbid that we put a millstone around the neck of a saint, already groping for the goodness of God and wondering if they must be doing something wrong. For sure, some have wondered away from the faith for this very reason. That’s the concern I have with movies that sum up prayer so easily like a magic formula.
Don’t get me wrong. I am definitely not saying don’t pray. I am not saying don’t believe that God can’t and won’t turn situations around. I am convinced that the God of the universe, who spoke the worlds into being by the word of his power, who orchestrated an intricate and elaborate scheme for our redemption through Christ, who raised him by his own power can do abundantly above what we can ask or think. He does answer prayers. But when he does not, I’ve also learned that He can handle my vapor of a life with it’s continued whispers of prayers that sometimes languish in disappointment. He is still there, still faithful and still good. That does not stop me from being the persistent widow, so to speak. But I have learned in the same breath of asking to restore the years the locust have eaten to also declare ‘your will be done.’
If you really want a faithful treatment on the topic of prayer, I highly recommend A Praying Life by Paul Miller. I have found it to be faithful to the whole counsel of Scripture, deeply encouraging and intensely instructive.