I can’t say that I’ve been wrestling with prayer – that would be an overstatement. Rather, prayer has always been perplexing to me and continues to be one of my biggest issues and questions. Lately, as others around me have been wrestling with prayer, I’ve been processing through some of the same questions and concerns.
The dominating understanding of prayer in terms of pop-culture seems to be asking for something from God – maybe asking for a healing or a miracle or a raise or a new car or for a particular candidate to not become the next president of the United States.
For Jesus-followers, the Bible says that:
I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
Mark 11:25 (NLT and NIV respectively)
Now, while I can tell you stories about praying for a million dollars and a big house and a fast car and how I have none of those things, I’d rather complicate the matter by talking about friends who have prayed long and hard for physical healings and deliverance from sicknesses. They pray with all the faith in the world. And nothing changes. Their loved ones continue downhill.
Religion usually gives one of two very easy answers for this: 1) you didn’t pray hard, long, faithfully enough or 2) it wasn’t in the will of God.
These aren’t good enough for me. This says that God rewards the people who are faithful, the people who’ve got it all figured out and the rest of us who are still struggling – well, it sucks to be us. This says that once you reach a certain point, only then will God hear your prayers.
And this from a God who “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and and the unrighteous?”
It’s not a good enough answer for me.
My reset here has been to starting thinking about prayer as more than just making an ask. It’s talking. It’s a conversation: a two-way flow of words, thoughts, wishes, intentions, feelings, concerns, questions, and answers. I’ve understood this for a long time but it’s felt very one-sided. Almost as if I trusted God was listening but never really heard much from Him. This is more experiential than anything else. I don’t know where this “casual” approach to prayer came from or is referenced in the bible. Then again, I don’t know how it become so holier-than-thou and elitist either.
I’ve WANTED to hear a voice. I rarely ever have.
I used to think I had to do something special to get God to listen to me. I know that’s not true either. He listens to all of us. He probably gets annoyed at all the bickering and back-biting and ill-will wishes via the prayer line, but I really do believe he listens.
So, my biggest questions now revolve around the answers.
I don’t expect that I’ll hear an audible voice much. I’m not ruling it out and I’m not convinced that I HAVEN’T on one or two occasions heard something “real” but I’m not counting on hearing words.
This whole prayer business raises lists of other questions, not the least of which are major, major challenges like “the will of God,” or WOG. The WOG is thrown around so haphazardly and inserts itself as a matter of convenience, ignorance, or indifference.
Why didn’t I get into that school? Not in the WOG.
Why is the sky blue? Well son, it’s the WOG.
How will we know the right thing to do? The WOG will work itself out.
Perhaps this is the next thing to talk about.
There are some core issues surrounding prayer that I still don’t know if I can answer. Example: How does God decide “who” to listen to? Bruce Almighty shows us the chaos that follows a blanket yes to all.
I think the central premise of prayer is off. Prayer can be a very selfish endeavor. God bless ME. God forgive ME. God heal MY friend. And it’s hard to approach without this selfishness. We’re interested in self-preservation.
Perhaps it’s fear. Do we come to God more afraid of hell and suffering than with love and awe? Is it the “he holds our fate in the palm of his hand” mentality? We only have limited face-time with the big man upstairs so we should make all our big asks now.
And at the end of the day, I don’t have an answer. Maybe putting all the big asks on the table is the right thing to do. I have a hard time processing prayer and I’m sure I will for a long, long time. I don’t need to understand the mechanics of it, but it sure would be nice for me to have some rationale behind it.
Paul says to pray without ceasing. That to me does, in fact, make sense. I do feel pretty online at most times during the day, and in those moments when I encounter something notable, I’ve got no problem being thankful or making an ask for it.
And perhaps I’ve not asked with the right faith, believing that I’ve received something. Or perhaps I’ve already received everything and don’t know what to do with it all.