In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. Then Jesus instructed him not to tell anyone what had happened. He said, “Go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.” Luke 5:12-14
When it comes to praying and asking the Lord for things it seems to me that there is always this tension. We want to pray boldly. We want to show God our trust and faith in him. At the same time, we want (or should want) to submit to God’s will and recognize that giving us what we are asking for may not be what God has in mind for us. Under all of this I wonder too if sometimes we want to pray boldly but are afraid. What if God doesn’t answer? What if we stand strong in our conviction of what is needed and ask and trust and have full assurance that God will do something and then…he just doesn’t?
It may be that I am the only one who feels this tension, but somehow I doubt it. There is this delicate balance in prayer. It’s not that we have to say things a certain way in order for God to hear us. It’s not that if we don’t use the right language God won’t answer our prayers. It’s more that how we pray reflects something about our hearts. About how we see God and see ourselves.
In the exchange recorded in Luke 5 I think there is much to consider regarding what it looks like to balance coming to God in bold faith with coming to God in submission to his right to do as he wills. Along with an attitude of trust that what he wills is always best.
Lord, if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.
What would have happened had Jesus said, “I am not willing this time.” The beautiful thing about this man’s prayer is that it leaves room for this response. Sometimes God doesn’t heal. Never because he can’t. Not because he doesn’t care. Sometimes God doesn’t heal because God has other things in mind. Coming to god acknowledging both his ability and his right to choose any response reveals a true heart of submitted trust.
I have always wrestled with the idea that praying boldly by demanding things of God—as some prayers tend to sound—doesn’t leave room for God’s right to say no. These types of prayers seem to imply that if I believe it’s right and good then there is no reason to think that God might see it differently. But sometimes he does. And so I love the attitude of the man with leprosy. He is taking nothing away from the ability of Jesus to heal him. But he acknowledges that Jesus may have something else in mind. That, for whatever reason, Jesus may not be willing. And this man doesn’t imply that he should be given the explanation if Jesus isn’t willing. In fact, he comes on his knees. His posture—as well as his speech—convey this attitude of surrendered, bold faith.
I’m not the best at praying. I want to be. I need to be better. This man who is healed by Jesus gives me an example of what it looks like to come boldly and still come humbly. It is wholly right and possible to come before the Lord with great, unwavering conviction and confidence in God’s ability and still surrender to his ways and insights which may run contrary to what I am asking for. It gives me hope and reminds me that God’s plan may not be visible to me. He will do as he pleases and it will be best.
My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.