Prayer Isn't Like That!
Read Psalm 124:1-8; 1 Peter 5:7
"This is Jeopardy". Fans of that long running television game show have heard those same words for decades. They signal the beginning of each program. Although we don't have time for an entire game, let's play Final Jeopardy. Ready? The category for Final Jeopardy is Common Bonds, and the answer is: “The first star that appears; candles on a birthday cake; coins in a fountain.” Don't forget to phrase your response in the form of a question. Can you hear the music? Time to stop writing. Your electronic pen will no longer work. Did you get it correct? The proper response is “What is objects associated with making a wish?"
I've done two out of three of these activities. My limited vision precludes wishing on a star. I've blown out all of the birthday candles and had fun tossing coins over my shoulder into the sparkling fountain while happily making a wish. Even though there isn't any possibility of such wishes coming true, most people have had a good time pretending and playing the game. We don't disclose the wish since doing so is said to keep it from coming true. Since we don't really believe that any of these fun little activities will bring about any desired outcomes, we aren't disappointed if we don't receive what we hoped for, and we are pleasantly surprised if we do.
Thankfully, prayer to the Holy Living God is not like that. When we talk with Him, we aren't speaking into the air, nor are we speaking with a nebulous force. We know that He has a plan for us, Psalm 138:8 and that He answers prayer according to His will, 1 John 5:14-15. Yet, we all know that sometimes, circumstances which we bring to the Lord in prayer take turns that make no sense to us. In our minds, we see an outcome that seems to make so much sense, and God may say no. We may feel like Tevye who sang in Fiddler on the Roof and asked if his being rich would "Spoil Some Vast Eternal Plan"? We wonder what the Mighty One is doing?
So, when we don't understand the Master's answers, what can we know for certain? Just as we didn't have time for an entire game of Jeopardy, there is no way we can come close to exhausting all that the scripture says about prayer, without being "exhausted", that is. So, let's look at what might at first seem to be an unlikely place by gleaning truth from Psalm 124, one of the Songs of Ascent. It is here that we see God's work by peering back into Israel's history. We don't read here about the specifics of prayer. Instead we read about God Who is the Faithful One, and important truth to recall as we consider prayer.
The Levites were to sing and accompany during the temple worship. There were 15 semicircular steps that ascended into the inner courtyard, and the Levites sang these Psalms as they stood on these steps
These Psalms were sung by the Jews as they ascended to the Temple three times a year to participate in the Feasts of the Lord.
These Psalms exalt and elevate the Lord.
Psalm 124:1-8 gives us a little insight into what the Savior had been doing and continued to do, on behalf of Israel. David gives Him praise because He is the One Who had sustained and delivered His people. They had overcome because they had been kept by the Lord. Though their enemies were strong and malevolent, God had delivered them. Can you picture the Levites standing on those wide steps, reminding the people of their faithful Savior? Or, can you picture the people going to Jerusalem, singing about how they existed as a nation because of the keeping of the Lord? There isn't a discussion here about the things they don't comprehend. Instead, they praise God for being the One Who has brought them "this far".
What about us? This is the same One Who has helped us so far and continues to sustain us. When we face discouragement and don't understand what He is doing, He gives us strength. When we can't untangle the knots of life, He helps us up each day. When we are disappointed or feel overwhelmed, He brings us up and out of that net. He is for us and remains so, even when we are confused by what He is doing.
One more encouragement for us from Psalm 124:8. The One with Whom we are talking is the Maker of heaven and earth. When we can't figure out today's quandaries, it may be comforting to know He has no limits as to His power. There is nothing He cannot do. Yet, even that precious truth can bring up another question. If there is no limit to His power, is His seeming inaction in circumstances due to a lack of love for us? For that question, maybe it will be helpful to add one more arrow of truth to the quiver we have begun to fill. God is not only Sustainer and all powerful, He also is tender towards us. 1 Peter 5:7 reminds us of the Lord's heart as we come to Him in prayer. He cares for us. When He hears us, He is not cold toward our cries to Him. That truth, as precious as it is, does not answer every question we may have. It does remind us of something very important, though. When we feel befuddled or misunderstood, God cares. We are invited to come close, not so we might get a wish granted but rather that we may receive help, Hebrews 4:14-16.
Our prayers are precious to Him, Revelations 5:8, kept by Him in a way that cannot be fully understood by us right now. Therefore, they are never irrelevant or wasted, even when we don't now see their answer. They are not like wishes that evaporate without being heard. Rather, our prayers are part of the living relationship we have with our Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer. We don't know for certain, but we may well still see some answers for which we wait even here on earth, Psalm 27:13-14. In addition to that, we pray to the One Who will one day, make all things new, Revelation 21:1-6.