Prayers Don't Need Answers

Yes. No. Wait.

These are the three answers to prayer we're often told to expect. The first two are simple enough: either God grants the request immediately or he doesn't. It's the third one where we get into trouble. How long do we "wait" before accepting it as a "no"? Is it possible to "wait" too long and miss a "yes"? What if you mistake a "yes" for a "wait" and it becomes a "no"?

Questions like these only get more and more silly. And I think that's because we've made results the purpose of prayer, not relationship.

Many of us will say we know it's about relationship, but those three answers indicate otherwise. All of them focus on fulfillment. All of them suggest that prayer is answered according to the request. So, naturally, it gets confusing when most prayer requests are met with the "wait" answer. And we soon begin to wonder if we're doing prayer wrong. As if it's possible to do relationship wrong.

Job's friends were certain he was. And their words got to him enough that he soon believed God owed him an answer. That's when the story gets infuriating. Instead of helping Job understand his suffering, God helps him understand God.

As the reader, we're given a glimpse of the spiritual realm at work behind his material life, but Job was never given that. His limited knowledge was exposed by God's infinite wisdom. But in the process, he met God. As if that was the point all along.

This doesn't mean that we shouldn't bring our requests to God as Paul says in Philippians. It just means that the incomprehensible peace of God is what will guard our hearts and our minds--not answered prayers. Like when my wife tells me she doesn't need me to fix her problems, just hear them, perhaps the only answer to prayer we need is, "I hear you."

Prayer doesn't end there; it also affects our relationship with others. While there isn't a single passage commanding us to prayer corporately, we are expected to pray for each other. We're expected to bear each other's burdens.

That, however, doesn't happen with "unspoken" prayer requests. Apart from being a recipe for gossip, unspokens treat prayer as a heavenly petition where if enough spiritual signatures are gathered, the request is granted. It's that results thinking that makes us believe we can nickel and dime the divine vending machine with the spare change of others' compassion.

But we can't bear each other's burdens in ignorance. If prayer is really about relationship, then sharing our prayer requests with others has less to do with them helping us push our prayer through than joining us in our suffering. Prayer is empathy. It creates an intimacy and trust that makes unspoken-fueled gossip nearly impossible to fester. And instead of focusing on fulfilling what none of us can, the community is able to truly know its members and care for them by saying, "We hear you."

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