It seems to me that we make prayer way too complicated. We think we need to get the words just right or the attitude just right or we have to use old Elizabethan English. Sometimes we think that the more specific and detailed the prayer request is the better we will be able to determine how well God answered the prayer. Somehow we think that if we don’t tell Him exactly what we want, He won’t be able to figure it out by Himself. I suppose that there are times to be specific, but I learned a lesson about prayer from the ten lepers in this story:
On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
In this story, the ten lepers did not make a specific request for healing, although that is exactly what they wanted, instead they simply asked, “Have mercy on us.” It was a request based on the character of Christ – merciful. They called upon Him to act according to His character and will without presuming to tell Him what His will was. The request they made was open-ended and left room for Jesus to respond any number of ways.
Jesus’ answer to them was really not an answer but a command. He didn’t tell them they were healed or even that he would heal them; instead He instructed them to go to the priests. When a leper went to the priest it was to confirm that he was healed of leprosy. But at this point in the story none of them had yet been healed. They had called Him Master and they had appealed to His mercy, now it was time to take action based on His words to them. Would they obey? Would they think He was messing with them and walk away? So often, we want God to give us the entire plan first, then we’ll obey. As long as we can approve of His plan, we’ll go along with it. But in this case, the lepers didn’t have that option. All they knew was that Jesus said “Go.” So they went and as they went, as they trusted in His character, they received the healing.
All ten lepers were healed but only one came back to give thanks. That doesn’t mean that the other nine lost their healing or were made sick again. But it does mean that they missed something even more important than the healing. They missed a blessing from Jesus. They missed a deeper understanding of Jesus. The other nine focused on the healing. The one focused on the Healer. The point is not that Jesus heals. He does. The point is to enter into that deeper relationship with Him. The one leper understood all the implications of what had happened and worshiped Christ.
So, I don’t know what healing will look like in your life, but I think it is safe to say that Christ will always act according to His character – loving, merciful, compassionate. So when we pray, do we pray according to His character? Do we give Him the freedom to respond in any way he chooses consistent with that character? I think we need to recognize God’s answers – whatever they may be – as a reflection of His multifaceted character. When we do that, when we respond to His “Go”, we will receive much more than just an “answered” prayer; we will see Jesus clearer, know Him better and worship Him more genuinely.