So what do we do when prayer feels nonsensical? My best insight came from observing Jesus at Gethsemane.
Keep in mind that Jesus knew He was about to be betrayed, hauled to a kangaroo court, and impaled at the cross. He wasn’t exactly jumping for joy. Rather, He was sweating drops of blood. He admitted “My soul is anguished to the point of death” and asked His trusted disciples to keep Him company.
Instead, they dozed off and snoozed. The Gospel of Luke account preserves an instructive detail. The disciples fell asleep out of sorrow. When God slams the door on a desperate dream, grief swallows us and it becomes easy not to pray. After all, God had already made up His mind, so why bother?
But Jesus saw prayer not from the perspective of results, but rather that of relationship. He called God Abba, Father. This was an intimacy with God, within which one can taste ashes when God says “no” but we remain true to Him anyway. In Jesus’s case, He pleaded Abba to spare Him from the Cross, not once but thrice. Can’t there be another way for mankind to be saved? Why pain? Why death? Why Me? Yet Heaven turned stony silent on Him.
Amazingly, when Jesus had all the reasons in the world to turn His back on His Father, He all the more resolved to go through what He was denied. In fact, hours later He would hurl the plaintive cry of a child left to the wolves: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” It was an unrestrained declaration of the prayer denied. Yet, battered, naked, immobilized, there He stayed at Golgotha until the end.
It is not the prayer, but the One to Whom we pray that satisfies and strengthens more than a wish granted. Jesus showed us that prayer is freedom. We are free to present all our requests. Yet, humanly speaking, it also gives God the freedom to call the shots, whether it is the jackpot or the three lemons. In either case, we are secure that we are in the Father’s hand. This kept Jesus obedient to His Father, even if it means the horrible opposite of what He wanted. This is also the center of gravity that keeps me in the orbit of faith, despite the missiles of doubts hurled against me.
I wish I can tell you that I have become more prayerful. There are mornings when I drive Lucy to work. While we are still in our subdivision, I would pray for family and friends, then Lucy would continue praying as I enter the expressway. We pray for family members who have yet to believe in Jesus. We pray for Lucy’s pamangkins: some still in college, others in their budding careers. We pray for freelancing friends that God would give them more projects. We even pray for an acquaintance who is tormented by Stage 4 breast cancer, wondering if it would be better if God would just take her home.
And yes, we pray for safety. Yet I am also realistic enough to know that, no matter how defensively I drive, a passenger bus can put an end to our earthly existence. Yet, when I view prayer as a safe environment where I can be myself, raw cynicism and all, and see God as Abba, Father, Who loves me despite my cynicism, the real senselessness is the notion of prayer as a cosmic lottery. Because it really isn’t.
For more insights, please visit my website www.nelsontdy.com. Comments or questions are also welcome via email@example.com.