Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
-1 Corinthians 13:12
Every Sunday morning during our LifePath gathering, we have a few unpredictable things that we do where we never know exactly what's going to happen. One of those elements is when we speak aloud something we call Common Prayer. Throughout the morning as we sing, people walk to the back of the auditorium and write down prayers of thanks, of hope, of heartache… it can be anything. Later, they are read aloud and after each one, we all say, “Lord, hear our prayer” together. It helps us be the Church together, and reminds us that these worship gatherings are real life with real people, never a prefabricated show.
I was captured by something that happened recently during this time. Embedded in the middle of the prayers read aloud from the front was this one:
"Lord, we thank you that you fulfill our hopes and prayers…. most of the time."
The prayer caught us all a little bit. There was a pause, and a few chuckles… and then we responded enthusiastically, “Lord, hear our prayer!”
It was a funny moment. But it was profound at the same time. Because we all knew there was truth there.
This is real life and faith, isn’t it? That simple-yet-complicated prayer exposed a challenging, wonderful, frustrating dirty little secret of ours. And that secret is this: our theology isn’t airtight. We don’t have everything figured out. There are times that we just don’t quite understand exactly how God works and what prayer does or doesn’t do. There are times that we’re not sure what is God’s will and movement, and what is just people being good or bad. There are times that the scriptures have gaps or diverse perspectives and we’re left wondering what we’re supposed to do with it all in order to be faithful.
There are times where prayers are answered, and then times that other prayers that we are sure would line up with God’s heart… remain shrouded in silence and mystery.
We can ignore it. Many do. We can try to explain it away with a nice little bumper sticker slogan like God answers every prayer, just not in the way we think. Or we can just lay it out there honestly.
There’s something freeing in being able to rejoice in the moments that we see it and get it… and chuckle at the moments that we have no idea what is going on. Because in those moments, we can actually reach new levels of faith.
First, they teach us honesty and mystery. There are times where Christians are tempted to be dishonest with God about their own feelings, doubts, or uncertainties because they think God gets upset at them for asking questions. This is not God’s posture. If God can’t handle your doubts and big questions, then God is not the loving and grace-filled Father that Jesus reveals.
Secondly, when we acknowledge that hopes are unmet and prayers feel unheard… we learn what it means to see Jesus as enough. I have no doubt that the Apostle Paul prayed for freedom and open doors during his imprisonments. Sometimes that happened. At other times, like when he was in jail writing to the Philippian church, he declared that he had learned the secret to a full life, and the circumstances didn’t matter. The secret to contentment was that Jesus was enough (Phil 4:12-13). Nothing else had to be answered. That’s where the joy was.
Yep, there’s mystery. Yes, sometimes we will find answers. Other times we won’t. But something continues to draw us to the truth of Jesus, even when when we don’t have everything packaged neatly. How beautiful that our hope comes from the grace of God, not our foolproof understanding of all questions in the universe.
When you don’t know, it’s ok to laugh. it’s ok to be grateful. It’s ok to be unsure. Just make sure you keep telling God about it all. One day, all will be understood.
Jesus, give me peace the mysteries, and joy in your presence with me today.