On the day my husband received a stage four cancer diagnosis, a group of our closest friends and family gathered at our house to pray. They all crowded in our bedroom and circled around my husband, our three daughters, and me. On one of the scariest days of my life, I was strengthened by the fervent prayers of those in our community.
We cried out to God together for his healing. I knelt on the carpeted floor and with hot tears spilled my worst fears to God in the presence of my friends and family. That time of corporate prayer was powerful and important for all our hearts.
But after my husband’s death in 2014, I wrestled with God. Hundreds of people across the globe had prayed for months for my husband’s healing, and it hadn’t come.
Why continue to pray when our prayers weren’t answered?
As a new widow, I struggled to know how to pray and how to proceed. My faith was strong, but my heart felt fragile. My prayers escaped as desperate whispers on the darkest nights of grief.
But God was patient with me. If He could handle the bold prayers of Paul, the emotional prayers of David, and the heart cries of Job, then He could handle my doubting, imperfect, raw prayers.
Over time, I was reminded that just because we pray doesn’t mean we get our way. We don’t put in a certain amount of time on the prayer time clock to gain a certain outcome. In fact, the purpose of prayer is not to persuade God to do things our way; it’s to draw close to the Heavenly Father and sit in His presence.
Jesus models this for us when He prayed at the Mount of Olives before His betrayal.
And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed,
saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.
Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
Luke 22:41-42 (ESV)
In this honest prayer, Jesus shows us how to express our hearts to God and how to pray with trust for His will to be done. In the verses that follow, an angel appears to Jesus. He is strengthened by the angel even in His deep anguish.
My heart shifted over time as I realized the purpose of prayer is to connect more intimately with the Father and trust His sovereignty. In my grief, He was close to me. He wept with me. He offered comfort when the ache was heavy and the future seemed hopeless. Now I embrace the sweetness of knowing I can surrender the outcome of every single prayer to a capable and all-knowing God.
I still believe God answers prayers. I believe miracle healings are possible, but I pray differently now. I pray boldly that “if God wills” He would heal my friend, my child, and my neighbor. I preach hope to the wife whose husband battles cancer, to the friend who wonders if his marriage will ever be repaired, to the mother who struggles with her rebellious child. I’ve been in the trenches praying with my people, and I’ve seen God answer prayers quickly, slowly, and in the most unexpected ways.
I also pray that God will give courage, grace, and strength to those who are suffering and enduring pain. My prayers are no longer based on fear and disappointment because He has proved Himself faithful time and again.
Three and a half years after my husband’s death, I am grateful. I am not grateful for his death or our suffering, but I am grateful for the ways God has transformed our grief for His glory. I am grateful God did not reveal the outcomes to me all at once but instead guided me step by step, day by day, prayer by prayer, back into His arms.
How can we pray for you?
Here at (in)courage one of our greatest privileges is turning to God together in prayer. Please leave a prayer request in the comments and then pray for the person who commented before you.