Prayer: Entering the Mystery
Prayer, on one level, is easy to understand. We have a need and we ask God to fulfill that need. But there is also a great mystery to prayer because, in real prayer, we enter into a relationship with God and the mystery of life.
The problem we encounter in prayer is that our human logic does not comprehend the abundance and depth of God’s logic. For example, in Luke’s Gospel we read how Joseph accepted his vocation from God and accepted Mary as his wife while she was pregnant. Now, we would expect that God would now make all the provisions necessary for Joseph to take care of his expectant wife. Yet seemingly that is not the case.
Just when Mary is about to deliver, their whole world is turned upside down.
Augustus Caesar had proclaimed a census and everyone, including Joseph and Mary, had to trudge to their ancestral cities to be enrolled. Mary was due any day now, and they arrived in Bethlehem, all the room had been taken. There simply was no room for them. But surely God knew this. Surely he could have somehow kept a nice, warm, clean room prepared for the holy couple. After all, they were faithful people. What was Joseph thinking at this point? He was following God’s will, had made real sacrifices. Yet things weren’t working out. Wasn’t God going to provide for His own divine Child? Wasn’t the Lord in control of this situation?
On the surface, it would seem that any prayers that Joseph had prayed for the provision for Mary and this Child were not being answered. To make matters worse, Joseph really was a holy man, a just man. Didn’t God care? If you follow God, aren’t things supposed to work out?
When we have needs we should bring them to the Lord. But our problem is that we think God is going to answer them the way we have already worked things out. That is, whether consciously or not, we want God to rubber stamp the solution that we have already come up with. But as the Lord tells us in Isaiah 55:8, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” He does indeed answer our prayers, but often in ways that are very different from what we envision the answer to be. God wanted His Son to be born in a stable, with animals, His first bed being a manager, a feed through where animals ate their food. The Father sent His Son, not in power, but in humility so that all could come to Him: rich, poor, sinful, faithful. The stable shows us that the real value of human life lies not in political power, manipulation, or human praise but rather in simplicity, lowliness, humility. He who is the Bread of life, food for all people, lies in a feeding through for us to receive.
God did provide for the needs of Mary and the baby. God did enable Joseph to take care of his beloved family. It was just in a way that far exceeded anything Joseph could imagine. (See Ephesians 3:20.) May we learn to see receive the answers to prayer that God is working out for us.