Maybe God Will Relent

David replied, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept because I thought, ‘Perhaps the Lord will show pity and the child will live.’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Am I able to bring him back at this point? I will go to him, but he cannot return to me!”

(2 Samuel 12:22)

If you are reading a devotion on grief, then you have probably experienced the death of a loved one; and you have most likely prayed for their healing. I can also imagine; you didn’t just pray once or twice. In fact, you probably prayed multiple times and potentially over many years. I know. I prayed for many years for my sister to be healed from alcoholism. I didn’t just pray. I fasted and prayed. I dedicated seasons of Lent to her healing. I knocked, pounded, and begged God to heal my sister, intervene for her recovery, and lead her to Jesus. When she died, I felt the finality to my many unanswered prayers. God had spoken and his answer was “No.” I grieved the reality that the incense of my prayers dissipated past God’s throne room seemingly unheard.

My experience is not unique, nor is this my only encounter with unanswered prayers. Like many of you, I have many unanswered prayers of grief and loss.  Thus, I ask, “Can we change God’s mind when we pray?” Throughout scripture we see how God answered prayers for healing; as well as verses teaching believers to pray.

And it happened that the father of Publius was lying in bed afflicted with recurrent fever and dysentery; and Paul went in to see him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him. (Acts 28:8)

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. (James 5:16)

“Can we change God’s mind when we pray?”

Scripture also speaks of times when God allowed illness, diseases, and suffering occurs.

 If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him;

if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:11-13).

During these times, believers are encouraged to persevere and endure with hope and strength (Romans 5:4). So, should we pray for loved ones? Should we look for healing? Seek the miraculous? The answer is “Yes.”

Here are my personal insights into the grief of unanswered prayers:

  1. Continue to pray for healing (James 5:13-15).
    1. It demonstrates our belief that God can change the situation. He is the Great Physician and has the power over health and illness, disease and death. (John 5:26).
    1. Prayer is not about the answers. It is about a relationship with the Divine who loves us and loves our loved ones. (Philippians 1:9-11).
  2. God knows the bigger picture
    1. As Sovereign of the universe God knows the yesterday, today and tomorrow. (Hebrews 13:8).
    1. Expect God to do other miracles besides healings and cures. One miracle is when others come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. (John 11:25), or a closer relationship with Him through the suffering and grief.
  3. God is working through you and your loved one.
    1. I am on this side of many unanswered prayers and see the benefit of the “no’s” and trust God with the “no’s” I don’t understand (Matthew 7:7-11).

I will leave you with a quote from Philip Yancey from the chapter Unanswered Prayer: Living with the Mystery,

“…more convinced than ever that the only final solution to unanswered prayer is Paul’s explanation to the Corinthians: ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall know even as also I am known.’ No human being, no matter how wise or how spiritual can interpret the ways of God, explain why one miracle and not another, why an apparent intervention here and not there. Along with the apostle Paul, we can only wait, and trust.” (*p. 247)

Prayer:

Father God, I confess I waver in my faith and trust when my prayers for healing go unanswered. Help me to accept your wisdom and providence in my life and in the life of my loved ones. Amen.

Reflections:

Do you have unanswered prayers for a loved one? Are you still praying and hoping for healing for a loved one? Whatever your experience and current prayer life, write out prayers that have gone unanswered. Be honest and intimate and include the pain and sorrow your waiting has or is causing. Psalm 13 is a plea to God to hear the author’s prayer. Use it as a template to cry out to the Lord.

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?

How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,

And my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken.

But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.

I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

Shane & Shane put Psalm 13 to song.

Resources:

*Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference by Philip Yancey explores prayer from both a personal and theological base. Philip’s book Where is God When It Hurts? is a classic that promises to provide comfort and a healing guide for coping with hard times. Purchase both from Christian Book Distributors .

The Empathy of God

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the people who had come with her weeping, he was intensely moved in spirit and greatly distressed. He asked, “Where have you laid him?” They replied, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. (John 11:33-35)

In John Chapter 11 we find Jesus traveling with the disciples, when he was notified that his friend Lazarus is extremely ill. Jesus, knowing God’s plan, purposefully delayed his plans to visit. He explicitly told the disciples his plan and even explained why he is waiting for Lazarus to die.

“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.”

As he gets closer to the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, Jesus explained his purpose to Martha. 

Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” . . . Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

As the reader, I am familiar with the incident and know the miracle that is about to take place. Jesus has explained it to his disciples, to Martha and to me. The narrative is interrupted, and I read how Jesus was overcome with emotion and crying, “he was intensely moved in spirit and greatly distressed…Jesus wept.

I ask myself, “Why is Jesus crying? Why is he so upset? He knows the outcome. Jesus knows in a few short minutes, Lazarus will come walking out of the tomb, risen and alive again! How can Jesus, the son of God, omnipotent, omniscient be upset about a death he is going to rectify?”  I am confused by the incident until the Holy Spirit reveals the answer–empathy!

The Merriam-Webster definition of empathy includes… “vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” In other words, having the same “feelings, thoughts, and experience” of someone without having the same experience. 

Here in three short verses of John 11, I saw a facet of the heart of God. Our Lord and Savior reveals one of the most powerful emotions of humans—grief, sadness, and pain. Not because Jesus doesn’t know the outcome. And, not because He can’t fix it. Instead, He is overcome with the grief and pain of his friends’ who were inconsolable at the loss of their brother and friend. Jesus’ loving response is to share the experience with them. He cries as they cry.

As someone who has experienced loss and grief, I find comfort in knowing this is my God. He sat with me in my tears and pain. He cried when I was inconsolable. Not because He doesn’t know the outcome. And not because He couldn’t fix it. Instead, He cries, when I cry.

Jesus becomes spiritually distressed by the pain and suffering we experience. He laments with me, with you and with our patients and families.  This new insight into the love of God brings new meaning to Psalm 23:4

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me;