According to one dear saint’s definition, morning prayers are “that border which keeps the web of daily life from unraveling.” For someone suffering from major depression or symptoms called schizophrenia, prayers don’t seem to make much difference at all, whatever time they’re prayed. Day and night the mind reels and the soul feels agony. Surely our cries to God do not go unanswered. Did we pray “wrong?”
Something Beautiful, Something Good
I don’t think our prayers are the problem as much as our understanding of God’s ways when answering. “You pray and make your requests known to God,” says D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “and God will do something.” We want an answer that matches our request, exactly, fully, and clearly. What does Lloyd-Jones mean by “something”?
Something your scrambled mental or emotional state might prevent you from seeing.
Something your very specific asking could block you from seeing.
Something does not seem like a secure answer to a specific list of needs, but it is the best answer because God only does wondrous things (Ps. 79:18). Not logical things. Not according-to-our-plan things. Not comfortable things, but even better: provisions and preventions that glorify him as well as minister to us.
Something From the Bottom of the Pot
One helpful biblical example shows a variety of surprising ways God heeded the prayers of a man over a period of years. Elijah the prophet lived through a time of national and personal crisis, uncertain where he would get his daily bread. For three years he hid from a vengeful and corrupt ruler while his country suffered the effects of drought, famine, and idolatry. (The idolatry included human sacrifice and forced prostitution to satisfy the god of fertility).
This godly man no doubt prayed daily and specifically about the major issues in his life and world. Even though he had prayed that no rain would fall, had he considered that he would go hungry, too? Drought and famine continued, and the ruler who slaughtered followers of God did not stop hunting for hungry Elijah. The trying conditions of the prophet’s tousled life did not change at all.
He saw no remedy and no recourse and considered death. Exhausted, he flopped to the ground and wept. Did God do nothing?
While fear, exhaustion, and the sins of others threatened the prophet’s life, small somethings happened. God sent ravens to feed Elijah day and night. Later, a starving widow baked her last flatbread for him, which resulted in a miracle for the prophet, the widow, and her son—a bottomless supply of flour and oil. Not a buffet, but good enough! Even later, an angel visited and provided food and water when Elijah had all but given up hope. An ugly bird, a scrawny woman, and an angelic being brought enough sustenance to see him through (I Kings 17-19).
Elijah’s daily torment was relieved in the oddest ways. Unsuspecting ways. He certainly did not pray for a bird to bring him beaks full of food, raw. Unpleasant, but effective. He surely did not pray for a dying woman to give up her last measly meal for him either. Scripture does not record his prayers, but we don’t have to know the words, only that he was a praying man who reached out to God.
Something Near the Tombs
His story represents one of many that allow us to see the ways of God. Consider the tormented man from Gadara who lived in the tombs of the dead and paced the hillsides, moaning. No interaction with family. No social services in sight.
Surely he prayed and begged God for relief. Perhaps he longed for food, too, and someone who could understand his life. His torment did not lift for a long time yet we discover that villagers had visited him to prevent him from harming himself — not the healing he prayed for, yet a flow of mercy. His healing came later. Someone fed him in the meantime.
When he saw Christ in the flesh, he prayed one more time about his torment and in an instant “he was in his right mind.” In that moment he became a devout worshipper of God and an evangel. Who would have ever imagined such a day? God did many somethings up to that wondrous day to keep the man alive and his life story has encouraged men and women ever since. (Would he have considered his years of agony worth the wait? Only he and God know.)
Something Stops the Unraveling
Two men, holding on, barely at times. One God, holding them, unseen most of the time. You, holding on, too. God doing something almost unnoticeable much of the time.
Your daily prayers, like daily steps, move you along whether or not you notice the workings of God or the mechanics of your legs. You can read this page today because your life has not unraveled to death even though you have felt a wrenching yank on every thread of your being.
As much as you notice the chaos of mental disorder and despair, be careful also to notice the small comforts brought to you on many days. Don’t let the gnarled hands or tiny portions deceive you. Your unceasing prayers do call forth the ravens and angels and unselfish neighbors — surprising borders of sanity for what seems like an “unraveled” mind.