Prayer is one of the most beautiful, powerful and also frustrating disciplines any Christian will ever practice. In one sense, prayer is a fairly straightforward concept. It is simply asking God to do the things in our lives we can’t do. Yet the act of praying can occasionally feel disheartening because sometimes it seems like God isn’t listening. However, one of the greatest challenges a Christian’s faith will ever face is not from a prayer going unanswered, but from a prayer being answered in an unmiraculous way.
We’ve all heard the compelling stories of a miraculous check appearing in the mailbox for the exact amount needed to cover an astronomical medical bill. We’ve been inspired by stories of cancerous lumps vanishing and dumbfounding doctors. However, these stories are the exception, not the rule.
For most of us, the outstanding medical expense was covered by a bonus you received at your job or a family member who wanted to help you pay it. While helpful, you probably wouldn’t equate the experience with an undeniable answer to prayer, any more than you would associate a surgical removal of cancer with the miraculous healing you prayed for.
God is working behind the scenes
The truth is, not every answer to prayer is a miracle. Often, God uses simple, natural processes to answer us.
Author C. S. Lewis addresses the struggles many Christians face with prayer in his book, The Screwtape Letters. The fictional demon Screwtape teaches his apprentice Wormwood how to discourage people from believing in the power of prayer:
“[Y]ou can worry [a Christian] with the haunting suspicion that the practice [of prayer] is absurd and can have no objective result… If the thing [a Christian] prays for doesn’t happen, then that is one more proof that petitionary prayers don’t work; if it does happen, [the Christian] will, of course, be able to see some of the physical causes which led up to it, and ‘therefore it would have happened anyway,’ and thus a granted prayer becomes just as good a proof as a denied one that prayers are ineffective.”
Lewis nailed it. Answered prayers are sometimes just as discouraging to many people as unanswered prayers because the answer doesn’t always come the way we want it to. We want an undeniable, explosive miracle that bolsters our faith. However, often God loves to work behind the scenes.
We love the big, crazy miracles in the Bible like Moses splitting the Red Sea with a stick or Jesus feeding 5,000 people with five loaves of bread. But these stories are actually pretty rare. Much more often, God is at work in the background, bringing His plans to pass.
One of the best examples of God working behind the scenes is in the book of Esther. The name of God is never even mentioned in the book of Esther. Yet, His fingerprints are clearly seen throughout the story. Scene after scene reveals, not miracles, but simple acts of obedience and frequent apparent “coincidences,” beginning with the fact that a young Jewish girl became queen overnight and eventually saved her people.
Another powerful, unmiraculous example of God working in the background was when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. After years of slavery followed by imprisonment, Joseph became the second most powerful person in the Egyptian empire. Similarly, while David’s victory over Goliath may have seemed unlikely, it was partially the result of a skilled shepherd who knew how to use a slingshot, not just an unexplainable miracle.
Yes, God still does miracles today. However, He often does His best work behind the scenes, in mysterious ways. You and I don’t need to bank our faith on how miraculous an answer to prayer is. Our faith rests on the death and resurrection of Jesus. An answer to prayer—whether extraordinary or simple—can simply be received as a gift we can thank God for. No matter how unexplainable or practical, He is the one behind the scenes bringing it to pass.