Why Prayer and Faith are Linked
I remember as a kid, I had these half-mile to mile-long walks to school, often taken by myself. We didn't have a lot of kids on our street, so I didn't have a group of friends surrounding me. Plus, I was "miss introvert", so time alone never bothered me. But what I remember most about those walks? That's when I had long conversations with God. It just seemed natural then. Praying as I walked turned to journal praying and now I pray just about anywhere - but I promise I don't close my eyes if I'm riding my bike or driving the car! Posture of body is not nearly as important as the posture of our hearts.
There have been a few times in my life when my prayers became deeper, more intense. Sometimes such gut-wrenching pleas came because of some internal battle I faced. Other times I found unexpected eternal circumstances hit hard and remain completely beyond my control. Life has a way of doing that to us, doesn't it? Desperate times either cause us to turn to God or run away from Him.
Perhaps it's a bad medical diagnosis or a financial disaster or an estranged relationship with someone who was supposed to love you forever, or maybe it's a car accident that ruins a future, or a drug overdose that does the same. Perhaps someone we love suffers with addiction or mental illness or anger they can't get under control. Maybe we are caught in a spiral of depression or anxiety, or we're facing a job loss or homelessness or persecution.
The world has all kinds of ways to punch us in the gut, doesn't it? And for a while we think we can deal with this on our own. We can fix it. We just have to do this...or that...or...but there comes a time when we run out of "or". And we realize how helpless we are and how hopeless life can feel.
Jesus once told a story to his followers that has stuck with me as I am learning to navigate the waters of too many struggles. Too many changes. Too much stress and sometimes too much pain. It's a story that begins with an admonition, but it ends with a question. And I wonder...are the two connected?
Here's the story:
"And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”" Luke 18:1-8 ESV
My takeaway? I think the story of the widow and the unjust judge was not trying to tell us that God is unjust, but rather, as Christ said at the beginning: We ought always to pray and not lose heart. Don't give up.
And that's the point. I look around today after over fifty years of walking with Jesus, no longer on my way to school, but on my way through life. The journey has been good and not so good. It's been amazing and despairing. And trust me when I say I've come oh so close to losing heart. But then I remember Jesus' words NOT to do that, so I cry out desperately once more to Him in prayer. And a lot of my friends tell me they do the same.
In my circle of friends (my age, older, and much younger) I see a deep desire to pray and not give up. I hear testimonies of God's answers that give me goosebumps and encourage my faith. (True stories of amazing grace.)
Then on the other hand, I see too much truth in Jesus' final question after He told that story. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?
And I wonder...are prayer and faith linked? Do we start to lose faith when we stop talking to God? When we stop listening for His answer or seeking Him through His Word? Did Jesus tell us to not lose heart as we wait on God's answers because prayer is so intricately linked to faith?
The apostle Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of God so we can withstand in the days when evil reigns. Part of that armor is the shield of faith, which protects our vital organs where our heart beats strong. But did you know that the last piece of that armor is prayer? Prayer is like the invisible shield that holds the armor together because prayer admits that we need God. We subject ourselves to the General in charge of the battle. Any soldier can put on all of the pieces of armor or battle gear, but if she doesn't follow her commanding officer, she's a lone wolf, a rogue warrior who has no backup. She will only get so far on her own.
And I believe that's why Jesus linked faith and prayer in the same story. We pray persistently only when we believe unflinchingly. But if we lose our ability to pray...is it not because we have lost our ability to believe? To trust? And we think that we know best?
I have a lot of things in my life that are completely beyond my ability to control. I bet you could say the same. We desperately want to see a change in circumstances, like the widow wanted justice. We want to find peace and joy and love yet somehow it eludes our grasp. And we find ourselves walking alone with no one to turn to.
Maybe it's time to invite Jesus back into that conversation and learn again to pray and not lose heart. To pray and not give up. To know that just because we aren't seeing answers just yet, doesn't mean He doesn't hear us. But it's possible that He's waiting to answer for a reason. Just don't lose faith by giving into the notion that God is silent or does not care. Because one day we will look back, if we don't lose heart, and see that He was working behind the scenes and His answers are going to be amazing.