Last Sunday (Mother’s Day at Pleasant Bay) I spoke from the end of 2 Corinthians 1 on prayer. I referenced a C.S. Lewis essay, a favorite of my friend Merlin, titled The Efficacy of Prayer (from a collection: The World's Last Night). It was a great resource when considering questions about how and why prayer works.
I didn’t spend much time talking about when prayer doesn’t appear to work… when prayer appears to go unanswered. Lewis reflects on this near the end of his essay. He noticed that it appears that prayer (especially petitionary prayer for ourselves) seems to be more effective when we are less mature in the faith. During our infancy and childhood in the Faith, it could be that we get more of what we ask for… but as we mature we may not get simple provision, but rather gifts of patience and such in order to persevere in the Faith.
Maybe the best tact for mature Christians is to focus on intercessory prayer for others. When it comes to our needs we ought to find new Christians to pray for us. (There’s a good motivation to be evangelists, and keep ourselves around new Christians!)
When it comes to prayers (unanswered and answered), Lewis’ final sentence is stunning. I’ll provide it here in the context of the last paragraph:
Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.