Recently I have been engaging in an email conversation with a lady who is deeply burdened by the sinful choices and ungodly thinking of a young man dear to her. As we have talked about what she can do, our conversation turned to prayer. Yesterday she asked, “How does intercessory prayer make/change/mediate the young man’s own will? How does the person we pray for ‘get the message’? How can we pray for God’s will to be done when it is against the will of the person we’re praying for? How does our prayer help the person to want God’s will for themselves? How does my intercessory prayer help the person I’m praying for yield their own will and turn it over to God’s will?”
I answered, “You’re asking about the mechanics of how something spiritual works, and I don’t know that the Word gives us that kind of information. But think about how you have changed your thinking about anything. How did you go from being dead in your trespasses and sins, to being alive in Christ? How did you go from caring more about yourself than anyone else (because sinful humanity is inherently selfish) to having a desire to pray selflessly for others?
“I would suggest that God gave you enlightenment, showing you more and more truth, at the same time drawing you into His own heart. You started gravitating toward what was true, and Jesus said, ‘I am the truth.’
“At the same time, God never violated your will, allowing you to freely choose to turn to Him in faith and in choices that matured you. How those work together, I don’t think anyone understands.”
Ah. Mystery. We keep running into it, don’t we? And that makes sense, since God is so other, so immense, so brilliant—do we really expect that we would be able to figure out how the spiritual realm works, much less figuring out God Himself? But with our modernist, Western, scientific mindset, we are set up to disdain mystery (and all things supernatural). The progression of scientific knowledge and understanding has stripped the apparently mystical and miraculous from things like how babies are conceived and how illness spreads. Our culture’s misplaced confidence in science to solve all problems extends to mystery; we tend to think, “Oh, we just haven’t figured it out yet. . .but we will.”
We want to know how things work, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think that wrestling with that question is one way we can love God with our minds (Matt. 22:37). But there are also going to be times to choose to be content with mystery, and let it serve its role of pointing us to the One who delights to weave mystery into life like a divine tapestry.
This blog post originally appeared at
on Aug. 2, 2011.