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The Pope and the Puzzle of Prayer

Sometimes even the Pope stumbles.

At least physically.

The latest photos of the pontiff show him sporting a sling to support a broken wrist.

When asked about his injury,  Benedict offred this slightly tongue in cheek spiritual assesment of the situation:

LES COMBES, Italy (AP) – Pope Benedict XVI said Wednesday that his “guardian angel” let him down when he fell and broke his wrist earlier this month, but that the angel was clearly acting “on superior orders.” The pope thanked law enforcement officials for being “like angels,” as he prepared to depart Les Combes, the Alpine resort where he tripped and injured his wrist 10 days ago while on vacation.

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The 82-year-old pope fell in his mountain chalet and fractured his right wrist. He had surgery at a local hospital on July 17 and spent the rest of his two-week vacation in a cast.

When asked why his guardian angel was seemingly asleep at the switch, Benedict replied:

“Perhaps the Lord wanted to teach me more patience and humility, give me more time for prayer and meditation.”

Did you catch something significant here?

Pope Benedict’s attempt to bring a little light humor to his undoubtedly painful set of circumstances does raise one of the most deep questions that inevitably arises when a bad thing happens to a seemingly good person.

Not so much, “Where was my guardian angel when I caught my little toe on the leg of the coffee table last night?”

But even more seriously, “Where did God go when we needed Him most?”

You see, one of the most encouraging things we can hear are the stories about God’s amazing interventions in crisis moments.

Physical healings.

Nick of time deliverances from certain death.

Unexpected financial wind falls just at the nick of time.

The list goes on.

But for every satisfied customer rejoicing in how personally God got involved with their life, their is probably someone within earshot wondering,


“So God, what about my situation?”

“Why aren’t you answering me  in a miraculous way?”

“Why did I get robbed or cheated?”

“Why is my child still suffering?”

“Why is this relationship getting worse, instead of better?”

“Where are your miracles now?”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a really tough question.

And here’s the kicker.

We may not know why God chose not to intervene until we see Him face to face.

There is an old, but reliable piece of wisdom that tells us that God answers every prayer.

His answers are “Yes”, “No” and “Not yet.”

I’d like to share with you one of the most supernatural experiences I have had with prayer in my relationship with Jesus.

Interestingly, I have seen all three of these answers to prayer in the same situation.

About 15 years ago my Dad was diagnosed with lymphoma.

He had gone through extensive chemotherapy and had enjoyed a time of remission.

During one of his regular check ups the bad news came in. The lymphoma was back – and with a vengeance.

My Dad called me on a Friday and told me his oncologist had showed him the results of his latest CAT scan.

A lymphoma around two inches long had grown on his adrenal gland.

According to his doctor, my Dad had maybe two months left to live.

They took another CAT scan to measure the progress of the cancer, but things looked very bleak.

At that point I asked my Dad if I could pray for him.

Now, at this point, my Dad was not a Christian.

In fact, my decision to go into the ministry had put significant strain on our relationship down through the years.

There was a silence, and then he said, “Sure. I would appreciate that.”

So I prayed for my Dad.

It wasn’t a long, emotional or theologically dense prayer.

I simply asked the Lord to heal my father, and to please show him how much He loved him.


My Dad thanked me, and told me he had a follow up appointment early the next week. He would call me back as soon as he knew anything more.

A few days passed and I got the phone call.

But surprisingly, my Dad was excited – thanking me for my prayer.

He told me that when he went back to see his oncologist, the first question he was asked was, “Mr. Richards, are you a religious man?”

He went on to show my Dad the two CAT scans of his adrenal gland.

One, clearly compromised by cancer – the other completely clear.

My Dad’s doctor said, “Lymphomas simply do not vanish like this. There isn’t even a scar. I have no scientific explanation for this, so I wanted to know, are you a religious man?”

So my Dad said to me, “Thank you so much for praying! Your prayers healed me.”

I was stunned.

But not so much that I failed to remind my Dad, “It wasn’t my prayer that healed you. It was God. He wants you to know how much He loves you.”

As a result of that experience, my Dad prayed and invited Christ into his life.

End of story?

Not quite.

Some five years later the cancer returned.

And although I prayed for a healing again, the answer this time was “No.”

Or perhaps more accurately, “Not yet.”

My Dad passed away at that time.

But the Bible tells us that when we die physically, those who know Christ as their savior are immediately in His presence.

In the book of Revelation we are told what an amazing moment that will be.

And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people.

God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.

There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” (Revelation 21:3-5)

My Dad got his healing.

And this time it is permanent.

And if it hadn’t been for that date with the Valley of the Shadow in his doctor’s office, I wonder if he would have come to know the Lord at all?



“Not yet”

God not only uses this to answer our prayers, but sometimes even give us more than what we asked for.

I have no idea what personal struggles you might be going through right now, but I know that God loves you.

Maybe, as Pope Benedict observed, He has allowed this circumstance to teach you a few lessons you need to learn.

Maybe this situation is your spiritual wake up call.

But whatever is happening in this life, God is working in deeper ways than we can even imagine.

An unknown soldier in the Civil War expressed what we could call the puzzle of prayer in these famous words.

“I asked God for strength that I might achieve. I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health that I might do greater things. I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy. I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men. I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am, among all men, most richly blessed.”

My God answer your prayers in that same deep and most wonderful way.


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