Another shooting. Another tragedy.
This time in a church where people are worshipping…singing…praying.
Why didn't God prevent such a tragedy…especially while people were presumably praying to Him?
Is prayer simply an illusion? An imaginary plea to an imaginary God?
To a skepical, cynical world, prayer seems like a waste of time.
But maybe our understanding of prayer is wrong from the start.
We want prayer to work like a magic charm, an incantation, a manipulation of divine power for our agenda. Pray the right words and the answer is assured. Pray so many times and the chances increase. We want to live in a customized world where everything bends to our will. We want prayer to work like an app. Press a button and…viola…our needs are met. And if not, then it is time to download a different app.
Bottom line…we want prayer to work.
And in saying that, we show that, to us, prayer is a pragmatic thing. A means to an end. A tool for our needs.
But true prayer is not to be found in the realm of mechanics but in the realm of relationship.
If someone proclaimed, "This 'love thing' is a waste of time; whenever I love someone, the person I love doesn't always do what I want them to do." Then love is not the problem. Rather it is a wrong view of love.
Love seen as a manipulative tool to get one's way is not love. In the same way, prayer seen as a manipulative tool to get one's way is not prayer.
Prayer is not about cajoling God to our will but rather aligning our will to His.
Prayer is surrender—surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. If I throw out a boat hook from the boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God. (E. Stanley Jones)
Habakkuk cried out for God to intervene in the midst of a violent, godless culture and God said, "I am working in ways that you can not always understand and you have to trust Me" (Habakkuk 1-3).
Paul cried out for God to deliver Him from a physical ailment that hindered his ministry and God said, "My grace is sufficient for you for My power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
Jesus cried out for God to take the cup of suffering, death, and wrath away from Him but, in the end, came to say, "Not my will but Yours be done" (Matthew 26:36-42).
The reality is that God has never promised that we will be free from pain, persecution, sorrow, suffering, disaster, and death in this life. Indeed, He has promised the opposite. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:33b).
The promise of prayer is not instant answers to everything we want but rather peace, strength, and hope in the midst of difficulty and suffering. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
Ultimately, our greatest prayer, the greatest longing of our souls, is for Christ's kingdom to come on earth. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
We tend to think that we still live in the Garden of Eden and that suffering and tragedy are some kind of evidence that God is not good and not able to keep our lives comfortable and safe.
But we don't live in the Garden…we live east of Eden in the wasteland of sin.
This world is not the way it is supposed to be.
That is why we should not be surprised by suffering but rather surprised by grace.
That is why our faith must be in a Savior who entered our sin-cursed world and bore our sin, suffering, and death on the cross.
That is why our hope must be in a risen Lord who conquered death and offers us life.
That is why every longing and every prayer must be fixed on the kingdom, when the King reigns, when every tear is wiped away and all things are made new.
That is why the Bible ends with a prayer.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)