Monday, February 12, 2007
I Stopped Praying
"Two weeks ago, I stopped praying." One evening, I brought a church group to complete silence with that statement. I wanted their attention and I got it. They looked surprised, puzzled and even shocked by my declaration. After a moment, I explained to them what I meant when I said, "...I stopped praying." Actually, this statement was an expression of a spiritual breakthrough that changed the way that I prayed and the things that I prayed for.
Some people think of prayer in a pragmatic way. To them, prayer either "works" or it doesn't, depending on what they have personally experienced. Frankly, I have struggled with the idea that prayer "works." It seems to me that we most often say something like that when God has given us the answer that we wanted and even expected. When the Lord says, "Yes" to our requests, we rejoice. But what about those times when He says, "No?" I think that we usually go away disappointed in Him and His response to our prayers. Prayer is no longer "working" for us.
I'm afraid that a desire to manipulate God is at the root of our dissatisfaction. He is treated like some magical genii who must grant us our three wishes. If He cuts us one wish short, then we lose our belief in His power and even perhaps in His wisdom.
One of my great disappointments has been in my inability to continue preaching. For years, I had been serving churches, reaching disillusioned people, and helping others to walk faithfully with God. My personal identity was wrapped up in this role that Jesus had given me. The Lord had granted me my desire to preach and teach His Word. Nothing has ever given me greater satisfaction than to do that.
That's why I was heartbroken by my loss of that ability. That's why I agonized over the question of what I was now to do with my life. I can't adequately express how lost and disoriented I felt. This was especially true when people would say to me, "Stormy, I know God wants you to be preaching and teaching."
There was one couple in Colorado who repeatedly told me that they prayed for me every day, asking God to heal me of my depression. I believed then and now that the Lord has the power to heal. Sometimes, He also has the will to heal, but not every time that we ask Him to.
One day, as I lay in my bed with a migraine, there was a new thought that occurred to me. A statement made by the apostle Paul began to change my thinking. From what he wrote in 2 Corinthians, it is obvious that he had been suffering from some health issue that greatly affected his ability to serve as a preacher. He described his problem as a "thorn in the flesh, " something which tormented him.
Paul recounted his plea in this way: "Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me." When I read these words, I remembered the thousands of times that I had begged God to heal my depression. I was impressed by the fact that Paul only asked three times for relief. And then the Lord's answer to the apostle changed my life. "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness."
Understanding swept through my mind like a clean Spring breeze. Now I knew that God had other plans for my life. No longer would I fill the role of a preacher. No longer would I lead a church. No longer would I struggle with His will or the answer to my prayers. His "No" is a "Yes" to other things.
It was embarrassing to realize that He had been giving me the answer to my prayers for years and years, but I hadn't heard it. Now it was obvious to me that for a long time I had been resisting His plan for my life. And then I remembered Jesus, who had taught His disciples that He "did not come to be served, but to serve." Even in the face of excruciating torture and death, He humbly submitted to God saying, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."
Like Him, I truly want the will of God to be done in my life. Now, I understand that I must be willing to yield to His wishes and wisdom, even when He answers my prayers with "No." Even if that means that I must be depressed for the rest of my life.
That is why I have stopped praying...for healing, and have begun to pray that His will be worked out through my weakness, so that His power will be manifested by the things that I am unable to do...not by the things that I can do.
["I'm so low I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]