Last week, I injured my back during a particularly difficult workout. The injury wasn’t significant and, truthfully, other than a quick visit to a chiropractor, didn’t even require any medical attention. And yet, it lingered and bothered and impeded. Small movements were just painful enough to remind me that I wasn’t quite operating at one hundred percent. I knew eventually it would resolve so I prepared myself for a few irritating days of discomfort.
But lying in bed a couple days later, I was having a difficult time getting comfortable and falling asleep. So I prayed. Simple, straightforward, direct. “Dear God, please heal my back.” I didn’t offer admirable reasons or arguments. I just asked for what I needed. The funny thing is that, as I prayed, I had absolutely no inclination to believe that God would answer my prayer. It’s not that I didn’t believe He could. I had no doubt that He could speak the word and I would wake up new. But, admittedly, there was no part of me that actually believed He would. I guess, looking back, I figured that my request was insignificant and therefore unworthy. Furthermore, there were so many requests I had offered up in the past, so many needs much greater than this that had resulted in God’s silence. There were far worthier supplications and petitions that had gone unanswered. So I figured that a mildly sore back certainly wouldn’t make God’s agenda.
And then something strange happened. I woke up the next morning and my back was completely better. Not less sore, not reduced to a dull ache, but completely better. And it threw me for a loop. Suddenly, I had to answer for my disbelief, for my doubt. But there were no answers that seemed acceptable. The bottom line is that I had put God in a box of my own assumptions and, like He always seems to do, He shattered it. Just when I thought I had an aspect of Him figured out, He broke through my arrogance and presumption and revealed Himself to be nothing like I thought. God has a way of doing that and every time He does, I find myself a bit more enamored, a bit more intrigued, a bit more in love with Him. I love that I have a God who doesn’t operate by my standards or expectations. I love that I have a God whose ways are so far out of my realm of reason and understanding. I love that I have a God who surprises me over and over.
But there was another lesson to be had through my experience. Something about prayer just wouldn’t leave me alone. I think that for most of my life, I have viewed prayer as a means to communicate with the heavenly Father. I have seen it as a vehicle to carry my requests, my concerns, my needs. And, without a doubt, it is that. But I think it is also so much more. It occurred to me that as I was laying in bed praying for healing, my prayer was an admission of my position. Beyond an entreaty, it was a recognition that there was something I needed that I had no way of attaining. What I needed, what I wanted, was out of my reach. I did not possess the capacity to help myself. But there was, there is, someone who does have the ability to give me what I need. And so I discovered that perhaps my prayer had little to do with expressing my needs but everything to do with expressing my inability and frailty. When we pray, we are acknowledging that we are incapable, that we are finite and limited. When we pray, we are accepting that there are changes we long for that are beyond our reach, beyond our human achievement. And when we pray, with head bowed, our hearts are looking up to the one who is more than capable. By recognizing our own position, we also recognize God’s position. In admitting what we cannot provide, we humbly accept what God can provide.
Prayer can transform, prayer can heal, prayer can alter circumstances and mold hearts. Prayer is so much more powerful than verbalizing what we need. Prayer has the power, with every word, to remind us of who we are and, more importantly, who God is. Prayer has the amazing ability to put us in our place. And when we are in our place, I believe our vision is so much clearer. When we are aware of our own inadequacies, we are free to throw off our pride, our presumptions and our misbeliefs. And when that happens, we begin to see with clearer vision that, just as Paul says in Ephesians 3:20, the God of the universe “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think…”