by Mark Batterson
“This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” — John 9:3 (NIV)
The primary purpose of prayer is not to change circumstances; the primary purpose of prayer is to change us! But either way, the chief objective remains the same: to glorify God in any and every situation.
My friends John and Tricia Tiller experienced a parent’s worst nightmare nearly a decade ago. Their three-year-old son, Eli, was playing by himself in his room when Tricia became concerned because it was too quiet. When she walked into his room, Eli was nowhere to be seen. That’s when she saw a table out of place. It had been pushed beneath his second-story bedroom window, and the window screen was conspicuously missing. Tricia’s worst fears were realized when she ran to the window, looked down, and saw Eli lying thirteen feet below.
Eli was medevaced to the hospital, where he fought for his life in the ICU for three weeks. He miraculously survived, but not without significant brain damage. He has virtually no peripheral vision on his right side, and the left side of his body has very little motor skills or muscle development. Eli speaks with a severe stutter and walks with a pronounced limp. Yet twelve-year-old Eli Tiller has as sweet a spirit and as courageous an attitude as anybody I’ve ever met. He recently sang at National Community Church, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.
John and Tricia have thanked God countless times for saving their son, but their prayers for complete healing have gone unanswered. In the aftermath of the accident, John dueled with doubt.
I began to interrogate God. “Why, God? Why do little boys fall from windows?”
Why did my little boy fall from that window? Why him? Why me? I looked to Scripture for an answer, and it turns out that “Why, God?” is not a new question at all.
In John 9, Jesus encountered a man who was born blind, and the people falsely assumed it was the result of sin. They asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” Jesus told them it was neither! The people assumed it was a generational curse or a lack of faith. But Jesus set the record straight by revealing the real reason: “This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Since Eli’s accident, Tricia and I have done everything humanly possible to make our son well. We’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on uninsured medical equipment. For the first three years after the accident, Tricia and Eli literally spent 80 percent of their waking hours in therapy. We had faith that he would be completely healed. We knew it was going to happen, so we just kept praying and kept waiting. We waited and waited. We knew that one day we’d be standing in front of crowds saying, “Look what the Lord has done! He has completely healed our son.” But that’s not what happened.
After three years of doing everything we could for our son, it was time to accept his current condition and choose to live life with disability. This disability was something we couldn’t remove, and evidently God was choosing to not completely heal Eli. So we had to burn our old scripts and look for what God could do with our new script. So for the past five years, we’ve accepted life with disability. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped praying for my son. Like any father, I’d give my right arm to see my son healed. But instead of getting discouraged or getting angry, I choose to look for what God can do.
What is the Purpose of Prayer?
Sometimes the purpose of prayer is to get us out of circumstances, but more often than not, the purpose of prayer is to get us through them. I’m certainly not suggesting we shouldn’t pray deliverance prayers, but there are times we need to pray prevailing prayers. We need to ask God to give us the grace to sustain, the strength to stand firm, and the willpower to keep on keeping on.
There is a big difference between praying away and praying through.
We’re often so anxious to get out of difficult, painful, or challenging situations that we fail to grow through them. We’re so fixated on getting out of them that we don’t get anything out of them. We fail to learn the lessons God is trying to teach us or cultivate the character God is trying to grow in us. We’re so focused on God changing our circumstances that we never allow God to change us! So instead of ten or twenty years of experience, we have one year of experience repeated ten or twenty times.
Sometimes we need to pray “get me out” prayers. But sometimes we need to pray “get me through” prayers. And we need the discernment to know when to pray what.
The Purpose of Prayer: Glorify God
If we’re being completely honest, most of our prayers have as their chief objective our own personal comfort rather than God’s glory. We want to pray away every problem, but those shortsighted prayers would short-circuit God’s perfect plan. There are seasons and situations when we need to simply pray through.
Can our prayers change our circumstances? Absolutely! But when our circumstances don’t change, it’s often an indication that God is trying to change us. The primary purpose of prayer is not to change circumstances; the primary purpose of prayer is to change us! But either way, the chief objective remains the same: to glorify God in any and every situation.