A Prayer for Things We Don’t Understand
By Rev. Kyle Norman
“He saw and believed. As yet they still did not understand from the scriptures that Jesus must rise from the dead.” (John 20:8-9)
The bumblebee should not be able to fly. At least that is what I am told. According to the common understanding of physics and aviation, involving complex equations relating to body mass and air resistance, the bumblebee should not be able to lift its frame off the ground. But every summer we see it buzz from flower to flower. We may not understand it, but we know it to be true.
Understanding can only get us so far. This is true for our spiritual lives as much as it is for our physical lives. Despite our best efforts, and our diligent attempts to understand the intricate ways of God, our understanding will inevitably break down. God’s ways are beyond our ways, God’s thoughts outside our own (Isaiah 55:8). So, what do we do when this occurs? We believe. Daringly. Boldly. Stubbornly. We see this illustrated in John’s Gospel. Mary has just reported the empty tomb to Peter and John. She can’t understand what has taken place. The only rationale she can come up with is that someone has taken the body away; someone has desecrated the tomb of the one they loved but lost in the most demeaning and vile of manners.
Peter and John race to the tomb to witness this for themselves. John sees the linens and the cloth that enwrapped Jesus’ face separated from the others. It is as Mary had described it. In response we read that John “saw and believed” (John 20:8). Unlike Mary, John believed that something amazing had happened; that somehow God’s power had been revealed, and that Jesus had been vindicated. Somehow, in some miraculous way, the absence of Christ’s body testified that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. But then scripture reveals something curious. Scripture says, “As yet they did not understand that from the scriptures that Jesus must rise from the dead” (20:9). For John, his belief comes before his understanding.
When it comes to our spiritual lives, we sometimes think that we need to have everything all figured out. We believe that our life with God should make complete sense to us. We may even hold our beliefs at bay until our understanding is fully met. Only when faith makes logical sense, we think, when all the pieces fit together in a linear and rational order, will we then get on board. The problem, however, is that if we wait to understand all the ins and outs of our spiritual life before we take a step forward in faith, we may be waiting for an understanding that will never come.
Don’t get me wrong, understanding is a good thing. I am not suggesting we must cease questioning or exploring. As Christians, we are invited to ask our questions. Jesus encourages us to seek understanding and to dive as deeply into our faith as we can manage. There is a litany of life-giving, soul-enriching insights just waiting for you. But instead of making belief contingent on some level of understanding that you may never achieve, what if we saw our understanding of God’s ways as flowing out of our daring belief? C.S. Lewis once wrote, “I believe in Christianity like I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything.”
What do you have a hard time understanding? Is it forgiveness – the daring belief that Jesus has removed every mistake or sin that mars your spiritual life? Is it Christ’s unyielding love – the belief that no matter who you are, or where you are, the love of Christ enfolds you? Is it a new direction, a new vocation, or a new ministry? Whatever it is, do not let a lack of understanding hold you back from where God is leading you. Just because we don’t understand something, doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Gracious and Almighty Father, I thank you for equipping me with a mind to think, and an intellect with which I can wrestle with the deep matters of my faith. I thank you for not shying away from my questions. In your gracious love, you invite me to seek always to understand our life together. But your ways are not my ways, and your thoughts are infinitely higher than my own. Thus, there are things about my faith that I do not understand, and at times, this lack of understanding keeps me from stepping further into the life you call me to. There are times when I have a hard time believing what I don’t understand. When this happens, I pray for you to fill me with your grace. Give me the boldness to believe in your direction in my life, even when it makes no earthly sense. Help me to be open to your presence when it catches me unaware.
O Holy Spirit, I pray that you continue to lead me into all truth. Enlighten my mind to understand your ways more deeply in my life and may this understanding always flow from a heart of faith. May I seek to understand you, not as a combat to doubt, but as a road to deeper intimacy and faith. And in those times when my belief wanes, give me the strength to pray “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). pray all these things in the name of my Risen Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Sergey Turkin
The Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman is the Rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral, located in Kamloops BC, Canada. He holds a doctorate in Spiritual formation and is a sought-after writer, speaker, and retreat leader. His writing can be found at Christianity.com, crosswalk.com, ibelieve.com, Renovare Canada, and many others. He also maintains his own blog revkylenorman.ca. He has 20 years of pastoral experience, and his ministry focuses on helping people overcome times of spiritual discouragement.
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