When You’re Not Sure How God Works

Audacious Prayers

It’s Sunday morning, 10:30 a.m. We’re crammed in the choir room after first service is over but before second service begins (pre-Covid days).

Someone closes the door. This is serious now. A choir member has asked for prayers for healing. It’s time to get down to business.

In the church I grew up in years ago, we weren’t bold with our prayers. Sure, we asked God to help us…if he wanted to, if he didn’t have anything more important to do, if he thought us worthy enough.

It felt a little flimsy.

But the prayers in this choir room are of a different flavor.

And they make me nervous.

They’re outrageous. They don’t just ask for future healing; they declare it to be so. And further, that it’s already occurred.

Everyone in the room needs to agree.

I’m not used to this.

Um, should I walk out if I don’t fully believe that the healing has already occurred? I don’t want to be a hindrance.

But my leaving would be quite noticable. I would be embarrassed. I would be pegged an unbeliever.

Is It Okay to Ask?

But I can’t fully convince myself I know what God will or won’t do.

And I further can’t convince myself that if God DOES want to heal, my belief or unbelief wouldn’t outstrip his ability to do so.

Does that make me a heretic? Of little faith? A lesser believer?

Are questions a bad thing?

I understand how more certainty and less doubts can bring more peace, less stress.

Science agrees that those who regularly participate in religious practices with strong beliefs report greater well-being than those who don’t, for a variety of reasons.

Psychologists also examine how certainty comes into play.

“With belief—that God will intervene, that a ritual will heal—comes certainty. And with certainty comes a kind of inner peace.”
– David DeSteno, How God Works

People who are more certain that God is at this moment killing all the cancer cells as they pray are more likely to be calm. They’re more at peace. They have less stress.

I’m Not Convinced

But my questions remain.

What happens if the choir member finds out at next week’s scan that his cancer has not gone away, but in fact has grown? What does that do to his faith? To the faith of those who prayed away the cancer already?

Start the process over and believe even harder next time?

I’m not convinced this is how faith works. I’m not convinced this is how God works.

And I’m not convinced that God is bothered by my questions.

God created some of us more inquisitive than others. My dad was that way. He was always asking questions. Always curious. Always wanting to learn more. Maybe I am this way, too.

I don’t think it’s a negative. Or a sin.

It doesn’t mean I love God less. Or trust God less. Or have less faith. It just means I’m inquisitive.

God is stronger than my weakest doubt. My faith isn’t dependent on my certainty about how God works.

I’m not even capable of understanding how God works anyway.

None of us are.

Uncertainty Is Uncomfortable

As I walk through this year of Uncertainty as my One Word, I’m learning that making peace with uncertainty is both harder than I ever imagined, but also more necessary than I thought.

Because, after all, if I’m never uncertain about anything, I’ll never change. I’ll never grow. I’ll never move closer and closer to actual truth.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to be sure about things. There are plenty of things I feel sure about. And yes, it comforts me (or, depending on what it is, it disturbs me).

But we can’t be sure about everything. Too much of life is volatile. It’s unpredictable.

When I am positive I already know everything, I shut myself off from learning new things.

And I can’t afford to do that. There is always more to learn.

I need to learn new things. I need to grow. I need to be transformed more and more into the image of Christ by experiencing him in new ways and by thinking new thoughts and by learning new behaviors.

Better ones. More accurate ones. More godly ones.

I believe it’s what God wants me to do. He wants me to keep searching for him. And he’ll keep providing evidence to prove his presence.

Uncertainty can be a bridge between here to there. It requires humility to cross over. It requests arrogance be left behind.

Am I wrong even now about some of the things I’m certain are true? Most assuredly so, even though I can’t see which ones yet.

I trust God to continue revealing truth to me all my life, if I’ll remain open to receive it.

But Uncertainty Is Okay

I stay in the choir room that Sunday morning. It feels rude to leave.

But I pray my own prayer, my honest prayer.

Like the others in the room, I want to believe God has already stripped away the cancer cells from my friend and that the doctor will find nothing on the next x-ray. I ask with audacity for complete healing. I’ve done so many times in the past and will continue to do so in the future. 

But I just can’t demand God to do it.

And I can’t guarantee his answer.

Uncertainty is okay. Even good. It leaves space for God to show up in unexpected ways.

Even when it’s uncomfortable.

How does God work?

I can’t say for certain.

I’ve just seen that he does.

Even if I don’t understand how.


Share your thoughts in the comments.

My thanks to NetGalley for the review copy of How God Works: The Science Behind the Benefits of Religion by David DeSteno. It’s a fascinating look at how religious practices themselves affect our lives from birth to death (but it’s not about how God does or doesn’t act through the practices).

I’m sharing at these blog parties

15 thoughts on “When You’re Not Sure How God Works

  1. Martha J Orlando

    I call these “name it and claim it” prayers, Lisa, and they certainly don’t work for me, either. God is too vast for us to even begin to think we can know what He will or won’t do. Yes, we can pray boldly, asking Him for healing, etc., but then we simply have to let go and let God act in His way.
    Blessings!

  2. blankJinjer

    I think about all the people on 9/11…people in airplanes praying and believing God will do something to stop the hijacking and deliver them safely to their destination airports…the people in the Towers praying and believing God will send the firemen up to rescue them just in the nick of time. I’m sure some of them had NO doubt they would make it out alive.

    At the same time, the hijackers also prayed and believed that God would allow them to complete their mission successfully.

    Yah, no…I can’t even BEGIN to say or understand how God works.

  3. blankDonna

    Lisa, I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts here. I feel it is presumptuous to demand or even “declare” healing has taken place in anybody’s life. The fact is, we are NOT God. God chooses suffering in the form of cancer sometimes to “heal” in deeper ways than we can ever see. These types of prayers cause more harm than good because they operate on presumption; that we should not suffer and all of our diseases will be healed by God, what happens when God’s perfect will is not to do that? May we rest in an all sovereign GOOD God, sitting with our uncertainty in His kind and gentle Presence.

  4. blankLauren Renee Sparks

    I love this “it leaves room for God to show up in unexpected ways”. I actually think that the greater faith is praying for exactly what you want, but adding “even if you don’t, I believe in you. I believe you are for us. And I believe you are loving and kind.”

  5. blankBarbara Harper

    I would have been uncomfortable in that situation, too. We can’t demand God do anything. We can only ask for His will. And sometimes He chooses not to heal on this side of heaven. We wrestled through a lot of this a few years ago when our pastor died of pancreatic cancer. I don’t think anyone prayed demanding prayers–we asked God to spare him, but we were willing for His will. It didn’t make sense to me that God would take a man so interested in ministering to other people, while still in his prime, just when two of his daughters got married. He would have been a wonderful grandfather. But his appointed time had come, and he had lived his life full out for God. It’s a reminder that none of us knows how much time we have before God calls us home. There weren’t any answers that really satisfied, except that we can trust the Father’s love and goodness even when we don’t understand.

  6. blankLynn

    “As I walk through this year of Uncertainty as my One Word, I’m learning that making peace with uncertainty is both harder than I ever imagined, but also more necessary than I thought.” I so resonated with this today, Lisa. I am certain God wanted me to read your words. I am uncertain today about a decision I made that led to uncertainty around my next job position (I turned down a second offered position as did not seem the right…but was that the right thing to do?). I pray for wisdom daily, and how to navigate the uncertainty that can lead me to anxiousness. That God can (and does) show up in unexpected ways gives me comfort.

  7. blankDonna B Reidland

    I loved this statement, Lisa, “God is stronger than my weakest doubt.” It reminds me of the beginning of Romans 3, “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written …”

    I’m with you. I don’t believe we can demand anything of God. We need to be more like Job who said, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” The only way to do that is to remember that He is not only sovereign but also good and His plans for us are good even when they don’t seem so to us. Thanks for a great post.

  8. blankDavid

    Dear Lisa, Uncertainty can be very upsetting, especially uncertainty about something we hold close to our heart. When I was first starting to move towards faith I found the story of Doubting Thomas reassuring: not only did Jesus respect Thomas’ uncertainty, but so did the community of believers.

    Uncertainty is perhaps one of those “gifts”. It is unruly but it can be a blessing. It certainly doesn’t mean you love God less (imho). It could even be a way to express love of God – uncertainty leads to investigation and clarity … and then more uncertainty. Perhaps we need to find a way to enjoy and celebrate it, rather than trying to check it or explain it away.

    My doubt and uncertainty brought me to God after all, and that is something to celebrate.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      What a beautiful perspective on uncertainty, David: “It is unruly but it can be a blessing.” That’s how I’m learning to view it as well. I do indeed want to find ways to enjoy and celebrate it rather than trying to immediately turn away from it to get comfortable again.

      This warms my heart: “My doubt and uncertainty brought me to God after all, and that is something to celebrate.” Yes!

  9. blankLois Flowers

    Thanks for letting us in on a little of your mental processing about this, Lisa. I’ve seen God work too, but definitely not always in ways I like or appreciate! I think I tend to be more of a worrier than a questioner, but I understand where you’re coming from with this and am grateful that God isn’t bothered by our questions too. 😊

  10. blankCorinne Rodrigues

    What a great reflection and sharing, Lisa. I believe that we can pray and ask God for what we want, but trust Him to give us what need. I think we can pray for healing but even more for acceptance of God’s will, for after all He does know what’s best for us.

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