A Beautiful Mystery
Updated: Apr 11
Written by Lacey Ryan
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” -James 5:13-15
We are commanded to pray. Prayer is the way we speak with God. We pour out our hearts with desires and sorrows, pain and joy. We plead for a miracle. We offer words of thanksgiving and praise. We cry when we can't form words. We sing when our joy is overwhelming. We speak words into the air, and they hang there, suspended above us, floating toward heaven. I know He hears and listens to every word I speak, every word I think. Although my mind can barely concentrate on one conversation at a time, He is not limited to such capacities. But how exactly are my prayers answered? By praying, am I changing my circumstances or my attitude and perspective? If I pray for patience, will I wake up the next morning full of grace and understanding? Or will I be given the circumstances to practice tempering my short fuse of annoyance? If I pray to know God in a deeper relationship will I suddenly have vast Biblical knowledge or will God pursue me in daily communion to teach me one truth at a time? Does the Lord really work in mysterious ways or is He more straightforward, more obvious? Years ago, the leader of a women's Bible study I was a member of decided it was her time to step down. She opened the leadership position to our whole group, asking each of us to prayerfully consider taking over her role. I immediately nixed the idea. I preferred the role of group participant, and I didn't feel the slightest bit guilty about dismissing the idea. God understood. He's the one who made me more of a behind the scenes person to start. I imagined him nodding in approval over my choice. Soon after her announcement, something very strange happened. I found myself quietly mulling over her proposal. I talked about it with a few close girlfriends. I started, here we go, praying about it. What was happening? In a matter of a couple of weeks, the idea turned from something I had no interest in doing (and, in fact, was resistant towards) to something I was strongly considering. I knew this change of heart had nothing to do with me and everything to do with God softening my attitude. He was nudging me out of my comfort zone and into new territory where I would have to trust Him for everything this leadership role would require. I led the group for a year and grew immensely in the way I trusted God for wisdom. I prayed for the courage to lead them confidently and for humbleness in the way I spoke and taught. (But let me be honest-I was still scared every single week before leading that group!) In this season, the Lord changed my heart, my attitude, and my stubbornness. He brought me to a place where I realized it wasn't about my agenda but His. He turned my attention from self-absorbed insecurities to focusing on a beautiful group of women who needed me to lead, needed each other for friendship, and needed Christ for hope and security. Still at other times He has changed my circumstances obviously and immediately. After losing my full-time job, I prayed for employment and aced my next interview. I prayed for the healing of friends and family members and test results came back negative. I prayed for friends to combat my own loneliness, and He flooded my life with beautiful people who became close companions. The way that I have come to understand the great and beautiful mystery of prayer is this: our Father wants to hear our voices calling out to Him. He wants us to release our control and give it to Him. He wants to hear our consistent confessions, praises, songs, requests, and musings. I'm not sure why certain prayers are answered the way they are. I couldn't even begin to figure out the reasons why God chooses to work in the ways that He does. But I am thankful that He does hear us and listens tenderly.