I recently read a call for blogs on the topic: “Does prayer work?’
Since it’s October and Breast Cancer Awareness month, I thought about this question as it applied to my breast cancer diagnosis eight years ago.
Since that experience, my answer to the question of whether prayer works is, “It depends.”
If we believe praying is as easy as placing an Amazon Prime order, we might be disappointed to learn it might not work like that.
I learned to pray as soon as I could talk. So, when I heard I had cancer, my natural instinct was to pray.
Truthfully, I felt like I was begging God more than praying to Him, like I was pulling at His holy robes and saying, “Stop this from happening!”
Before cancer, I would have said unequivocally that God answers our prayers.
As I plodded through months of cancer treatments, however, my knowledge and understanding of prayer changed. Praying didn’t deliver the results I wanted.
I believed Jesus’ promises – act and “it shall be given, seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.”
I thought I was doing my part – asking, seeking, knocking; then asking, seeking, and knocking some more. So, why wasn’t God answering my prayers? Clearly He knew that I desperately needed His help.
I prayed from the beginning that the “abnormality” they found would be benign. It was malignant and I needed a lumpectomy.
I prayed for a clean removal of the tumor with no cancer in the surrounding tissue. It invaded the surrounding tissue and I needed a mastectomy.
I prayed that cancer wouldn’t travel to the lymph nodes, so that I wouldn’t have chemotherapy. It was found in my lymph nodes and I was scheduled for months of chemotherapy. Just reading and hearing about all the side effects made my brain numb.
I felt prayed out.
I didn’t know what to ask of God anymore.
It was a hard truth for me to accept that God did not want to save me from cancer.
In my state of bewilderment and grief, I asked Doug, “Why did God give me cancer and why isn’t He answering our prayers?”
He said, “God doesn’t sit up in heaven and deal out cancer cards or any other kind of terrible cards. Some things just happen. Maybe God dealt you a growth card and He expects you to learn and grow from this. Maybe you should just be asking God to help you respond well.”
Respond well to cancer? What would that look like?
I decided it would look a lot like Christ’s ultimate prayer — ”Thy will be done.”
I began to understand that God could give me strength, courage, determination, an excellent medical team, supportive friends and family, and even medications and treatments to help me survive, but He couldn’t rescue me from what amounted to a test of living in a mortal world where surprises and disappointments are just part of being human.
In my case, it was a matter of understanding the definition of prayer, which according to my Bible Dictionary is, “the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other…Prayer is a form of work, and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.”
If we expect answers to prayers like we expect Amazon purchases to arrive within two days and come with a satisfaction guarantee, then we might be disappointed.
If we expect to receive the grace to respond well to life’s challenges and heartaches, then, yes, prayer works.
If we expect God to change us instead of expecting Him to change our circumstances, prayer works.
Like I said, it all depends…