It's hard to know just how to pray for all the needs in and around us, isn't it? Tragedy surrounds us! Keri Wyatt Kent offers the wisdom we need today.
Praying through Doubts and Questions
By Keri Wyatt Kent
Wildfires are raging on the west coast; Houston is mopping up from Hurricane Harvey; and Florida, the Caribbean, and SE United States are reeling from Hurricane Irma.
I'm seeing posts all over social media to pray for these situations, and while I do pray and I think prayer can actually change things, I'm skeptical. There is nothing like natural disasters to kick up your doubt.
If enough people pray, can we change the path of a hurricane or extinguish a wildfire? Why did some folks in Houston lose everything, while others were fine? My grandmother lives there and just got a bit of water in the yard but her house was spared. I don't think she (or I) prayed better or harder than other people. I am sure many folks, rescued from the roofs of their homes as the floodwaters poured in, had prayed fervently that God would protect them.
Does God hear prayers about wildfires and hurricanes? Does God then sift through those requests and decide to answer some prayers, but delete others from the inbox?
Is it okay to ask these kinds of questions?
I believe such questions not only okay, but that they can be a tool for growth.
What will strengthen our faith? Not easy answers, that's for sure. When we ask the hard questions, when we dare give voice to our doubts, something happens. We wrestle, we wonder, and surprisingly, God meets us. We experience presence, and come to prefer it.
God invites skeptics and long-time believers to think carefully and critically about matters of faith, to not accept easy answers.
Critical thinking, which ultimately strengthens our faith, means not just accepting answers but discerning by using the mind God gave us to seek deeper understanding. It means asking good questions, and being comfortable with ambiguity, mystery, uncertainty.
When we first discover God, so to speak, we're delighted. We have found all the answers to our problems, our longings. The problem is, we might become a bit rigid in our thinking, seeing things as black and white. That works until something doesn't go according to plan. We ask God for stuff, or to keep us safe, and it appears that prayer goes unanswered. Hurricanes, cancer, divorce-stuff happens. Questions bubble up.
Those questions either frighten us, or push us to engage in critical thinking about our faith. If we are willing to discard our easy answers, willing to see nuances of grey on the margins of our black and white world, we come to a new level of faith. We worship God because we realize we are not God.
Ironically, realizing that we can't know everything about God or predict how prayers will be answered (or not) ultimately leads us to deeper worship. It provides a right-sized view of ourselves. God becomes greater, and we become less. We are not God; we cannot control the world. We don't know all the answers or even, really, all of the questions.
To engage in the practice of critical thinking, begin with the questions. Maybe about something you've read in the Bible, or heard a preacher say. Maybe about hurricanes: south and east in the ocean, or the hurricane that might be raging through your marriage or family right now. Dare to speak candidly to God about any of it. The questions will ultimately lead you to a deeper faith.
Keri Wyatt Kent is an author and speaker. She writes more about the practice of critical thinking (and six other spiritual practices) in her new book, GodSpace: Embracing the Inconvenient Adventure of Intimacy with God. Learn more at www.keriwyattkent.com.