A few years ago, while Katie was steadily declining in the hospital in Cincinnati, our church planned a 7-day, 24-hour prayer week for her. As the planning was happening for the week, she was actually in the ICU there. But would you believe it was smack dab in the middle of that week of prayer when she was released to come home? And, after months of an intense battle against cancer, she walked into church on that Sunday and sat in her usual seat near the front - as if she had been there every week prior.
Now, I don’t know exactly what words people were saying when they talked to God about Katie. I don’t know exactly what people were asking. However, I assume most people prayed for her healing. For a miracle. For God to show up and do something utterly amazing and we would all give him the praise for that.
My favorite chapter in the Bible, Romans 8 says in verses 26-27: In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts (that is, God) knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
I love this. The Spirit knows our hearts and he knows God’s will, and he takes that knowledge of both and interprets our prayers before God the Father in words we cannot even express. Do you hear that? Our requests get re-interpreted by the Spirit because he knows our hearts and he takes our prayers to God in ways we cannot do ourselves.
That Sunday when Katie walked into church, I imagine a lot of people thought their prayers had been answered. And I would like to propose God did answer those prayers because, for the next few months, Katie lived life to the fullest. I could share a lot of great stories, but I will simply say that if Katie had ever written a bucket list, she could have checked most of it off during that time. She was so incredibly sick on the inside, but somehow her body and spirit just kept enjoying life. When she died just three months after the week of prayer, perhaps some people questioned that. They had prayed so faithfully, so urgently and so long for Katie to be healed and she wasn’t. But God did answer all of those prayers for Katie because the Spirit had interceded in a way that corresponded to his sovereignty.
Prayer and God's sovereignty are intertwined in such a way that it is impossible for my little brain to comprehend. And for quite a while after Katie’s death, I wrestled with the benefit of intercessory prayer as I struggled to make sense of my role in God's plans. I don't pretend to have a full understanding of it, but let me share with you one very strong lesson God taught me about prayer.
In January 2018, as I grappled with this in my times with God, I found a psalm of praise (Psalm 21) written by David for answered prayers and victory in battle. At that time, I often cringed slightly (or even moaned loudly) any time I read about God granting our requests. So, that day I decided to write my own rendition of these verses. With an air of defiance, I took out my journal and began my own lament for prayers that end in the answer NO and for victories that God doesn’t give. I began writing . . .
O Lord, I, your servant, rejoice in your strength. I find joy even when you do not give the victory! You have not granted us the desire of our heart and you have withheld the request of our lips. You didn’t bring rich blessings. We asked you for life and length of days and you did not give it. (Psalm 21:1-4)
And then God stopped me. Right in the middle of it. He held my pen as he firmly said, “You write it again. And this time, you write it from her perspective.”
So I started over . . .
Your daughter, Katie, rejoices in you, O Lord. How great is her joy in the victories (the salvation) you give! You have granted her heart’s desire and have not withheld her deepest request. You welcomed Katie with rich blessings and placed a crown of pure gold on her head. We asked you for her life on this earth, and instead, you gave her length of days for ever and ever. Through the victories you gave, God, your glory is great; you have bestowed on Katie splendor and majesty. Surely, you have granted her eternal blessings and made her glad with the joy of your presence. For Katie trusts in you, Lord. Through the unfailing love of the Most High, she will not be shaken. (Psalm 21:1-7)
God showed me this is Katie’s perspective. This is her psalm of praise. Not mine. While I may struggle to see her death as a victory or a blessing, Katie is overjoyed with the results of God's sovereignty in the situation as she basks in the eternal joy of His presence. Her heart's desire truly has been granted. When I wrote it from Katie’s current perspective, it read the same as it was written in my Bible – the way God and David wrote it - not the way I wrote it. And as I sat there, completely in awe at this realization, God said to me very clearly and very sternly, “I answer prayers from the perspective of Heaven. Not earth.”
That morning completely rocked the way I view prayer. And it changed the way I pray. Interceding for others is a beautiful way to love them and asking for yourself is something God tells us to do as well. But we must remember that our perspective on a situation is influenced by a lot of things - mostly our humanity. God’s perspective is entirely different. And while he will always answer our prayers, he will answer them from the perspective of heaven.
There is a beautiful song of worship by Kristian Stanfill titled Glorious Day. The lyrics read … When I was broken, you were my healing, now your love is the air that I’m breathing. I have a future, my eyes are open, cause when you called my name, I ran out of that grave. When I recall Katie’s last moments, breathing in the air of earth, I cannot separate that image from the image of her running into Heaven. Arms wide open, eyes wide open, lungs wide open breathing in the love of Jesus firsthand. That was Katie’s deepest desire. And that, my friends, is healing for all brokenness.
Thank you, Jesus.