The Australian bush fires have been raging for five months now. And, like many War Cry readers, I’ve been praying. But when pitted against the ferocious appetite of the worst fires ever recorded on the planet in terms of hectares ravaged, my prayers seem so utterly feeble.
I’ve caught myself wondering what the people directly impacted by the fires are thinking about God, and indeed about prayer. Are they asking—when so many people claim to be praying—why are the fires still raging? Are they wondering if God is even listening? Are they feeling abandoned by God—questioning his very existence? It’s not hard to imagine doubt rising at times like this.
Yet, despite this very real potential for doubt, I’m reminded that throughout history countless Christians have testified to the nearness of God during times of extreme hardship, despair, illness, persecution and even natural disasters. The image of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego standing in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace is uppermost in my mind as I think about Australia—God stood with these Bible heroes in the fire and his presence was tangible.
When 9/11 occurred in 2001, I recall hearing someone pray that people would be drawn near to God through the terror attacks—that their pain and suffering would not be in vain, that people would grow spiritually and God would somehow be glorified. As a new Christian, I struggled to wrap my head around this request. Wouldn’t the best prayer be simply to ask God to take the pain away and make the terror stop?
Fast forward, and not only have I personally experienced God using my own pain to grow my faith and even point others to him, but I’ve prayed similar prayers for others going through horrendous ordeals—and marvelled as God has worked in ways I could never have imagined. And recently, I’ve listened to the experiences of people who testify that God is in fact at work amidst so much loss and tragedy in Australia.
Could it be that the ‘answers’ we seek in prayer come as much through the process of actually persevering in prayer than immediate outcomes? I’m not saying God doesn’t answer prayer—far from it. I’m simply highlighting that prayer is (thankfully) mysterious. Often the benefits of prayer reach far beyond the parameters of our requests, out into time and circumstances we have yet to arrive in, bringing meaning in ways we don’t immediately recognise.
What if the purpose of prayer really is less about answers and more about intimacy with God? Less about results and more about relationship? What if the goal of prayer is not what God can do for us, but the simple reward of his constant presence with us?
I’m so grateful God can see what I cannot—that’s what keeps me praying and trusting against all odds. God continues to redeem and work all things together for good—be that the devastation wrought by the Australian bushfires, or the ordinary but often complex lives of you and me.
The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition present your request to God. And the peace of God which transcends understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6).