My biggest obstacle to staying Christian is prayer. If God is all-powerful, all-knowing and compassionate, then why does he not answer the prayers of those who pray for others?
I have a long list of people I pray for on a daily basis. I don’t pray because I “have to” but because I love to help others and (seemingly) there is no better One to ask than God to give assistance with that. I will not paint the picture more bleak than it is. Sometimes things happen that could be an answer to prayer. But how do I know it is that and not just coincidence? Other times, when needs are desperate, there is nothing. No wind, no light, no movement. Just darkness and static existence. Silence from heaven.
On the other hand, I have explored my own questions so I don’t just ask them and then abandon all hope. If there is a God and if He is GOOD, then he MUST answer prayer. He cannot ignore the pleas of one who cries out to Him for help, and remain Good.
Something I have learned (it was a VERY hard thing to learn) is that God is so much bigger than we are, so glorious, so vital, so immense, that we cannot (literally) begin to comprehend his majesty. We are but dust and He is the Lord of the Universe. I visualize an image of Betelgeuse with a comparative image of our Sun and another image of our Earth. Then I consider myself in regards to them all and I am nothing. Yet this illustration is but a grain of sand compared to God. In one sense we cannot know God. How can we? He is wholly other and is ineffable…beyond possibility of comprehension. Yet, as a Christian, I believe that he is in the smallest things too and is personally present with me and makes himself known to me. How this is so is a mystery. I have no idea.
Another thing I have learned is that prayer is not exactly what we think it is. While it can be asking God for things (indeed, to ask is the meaning of the word, pray), what it really is, is communion, fellowship, union. Though no request is too small for God if asked from a sincere heart, who do we think we are to demand that God cater to our wants and desires? God works all things together for the good of those who love him, who are the called according to his purpose. If this is true, then oftentimes the difficulty of our prayer lives reveal more about ourselves than about God. We have wants. We have desires. We have needs. But do those wants, desires, and needs correspond to what God knows is best for us? Do they correspond to what He knows will work all things together for good?
And lastly, I am persuaded that God is never absent. Never. The reason we often feel alone and abandoned by God is very simply that we fail to realize that we have *never experienced the true absence of God*. He has always been there. Those times we feel alone? They are the result of our nature and our tendency to turn from God, even when we don’t want to, or realize that we are doing so.
God is so present with us that he is the very life source of our full existence and being. Think about that. Why then are we not more aware? The answer, I think, is much simpler than we might expect…and it has nothing to do with our “sinfulness”. Rather, it is because God is the foundation of our being, that he does his work at levels of depth in our person that do not often rise to consciousness. As Christians, we have a 2000 year history of saints and preachers, apostles and others who have told us of the glories of knowing God and how he can change one’s life. We all want that. The mistake comes when we expect God’s work to be done on a conscious level. God is working to change us from the inside out. He does this in the profound depths of our being, transforming us inside first. Of course, the ultimate goal of sanctification (theosis) is the full conscious communion with God. Face to Face as it were. But that is for the future for the most part. After all, *something* must be different after the resurrection! We do NOT have it all now. There must be something to hope for in the future.
So, though I sometimes doubt, even God’s existence, I remember that I am dust and that God is in me working in ways I cannot comprehend and I am comforted. I also remember that God is working in those for whom I pray as well. I rarely pray for anyone anymore for a short time. I pray for them for years. Some of them I will pray for until I or they die. I believe God is working. I believe not one word uttered in sincere prayer ever goes awry. I may never realize or see how it is answered, but that doesn’t matter. I trust the One who always answers and is always faithful to complete the work in us that he has begun in Jesus.