Each week, in worship we set aside a time of prayer, when we’re invited to bring our burdens before God and one another. It’s a powerful time in worship, as we acknowledge the pain and suffering all around us and entrust those we love into the loving hands of God.
And I am confident that time of prayer is not the only time of the week we pray. While, I hope, we also pray in gratitude and joy, I think sometimes we pray because it feels like we have no other choice.
But, as author Jerry Sittser writes, “The choice to pray sets me up for disappointment. Not every prayer is answered. God often seems silent. I pray, but God does not respond. It would be easier to understand if my prayers were selfish and silly. But not all of them are. Some seem truly legitimate.”
And so, what do we do when God doesn’t answer our most earnest and heartfelt prayers?
I’m reminded of a story from the Gospel of John. Jesus had gotten word that his friend, Lazarus, was sick. But Jesus waited several days before going to see Lazarus and during that time Lazarus died.
When Jesus finally arrived, Lazarus’ sister, Martha, cried, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” Martha wondered why Jesus didn’t rush to them when he got word that Lazarus was sick. Why the delay? They needed his help, but Jesus didn’t come.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Hearing Martha’s cry of anguish and despair, Jesus asked to be taken to Lazarus’ tomb, and there he wept. But then, Jesus ordered the stone to be rolled away, and praying to his Father, Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth. And Lazarus did, still wrapped in burial cloths.
For at least a moment, it seemed like Jesus showed up and answered their prayer. Lazarus lived again!
But for how long?
Because the reality is, unlike Jesus who was resurrected, never to die again, Lazarus was resuscitated, he would die again (even though we don’t know how or when).
And that’s the thing about miracles. Sittser goes on to write, “This is the inconvenient truth about miracles. They dazzle us, to be sure, and they meet immediate needs. But they don’t last. The 5000 people who ate the loaves and fishes got hungry again. The Samaritan woman who drank water at the well got thirsty again. The guests who guzzled the best wine at the end of the wedding feast came off the high. And Lazarus died again.”
Miracles, or signs as they are called in the Gospel of John, are temporary. They point us towards God; they remind us that God is at work in the world. But we need more than miracles. We need something permanent.
More than miracles, we need the person of Jesus.
That doesn’t mean we should stop praying. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask for miracles. Because God still works miracles. It’s just that miracles aren’t the final solution.
Before resuscitating Lazarus Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
That’s what we need. Not a postponement of the inevitable or a return to normal, but real life. The life offered to us by the person of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.