How Does Prayer Hit the Asphalt?
In Pray Harder! Are We Playing Spiritual Politics? I posed several questions for us all to chew on. Some of them were:
If I don’t get what I ask for, was it my fault?
Does my faith, or the lack thereof, directly regulate God’s answers?
What does it mean to pray “according to God’s will?”
I asked the questions because prayer is an element in our spiritual journey that will never be less than vital.
As I considered my own response, I realized the issue was already becoming denser. The initial question—How does spiritual prayer interact with God’s will?—was beginning to wind off in several related-but-different directions.
I felt, as I sat down to write this, that I could follow one of several trails. 1) A discussion re: faith as an ingredient in answered prayer would be very fitting. But then, I could also talk about the 2) specificity or non-specificity of our prayers—should we pray in general terms, or take aim at explicit outcomes? A hand grenade or a sniper-rifle effect? Then again, the issue of 3) discerning God’s will and then praying “in the center of it” seemed very pertinent.
Where to go? Should I head down trail 1, trail 2, or trail 3? As usual, in these instances, the right answer seemed to be Yes.
This won't be easy, and it may not be pretty, but I’m going to try and meld the three above areas together in my answer.1 So how does spiritual prayer interact with God’s will? Well,
Prayer must be powered by faith, fueled by a free-ranging desire for God’s work to be done, and underlined by the understanding that we don’t see God's mind with x-ray vision.
I like the way that sounds. Very clean, very flowing. I almost want to leave it at that. But I guess I need to break down my topic sentence a little more. So, spiritual prayer must be...
A. Powered by faith...
The faith issue, as highlighted in James 1:6-8 (“Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought…”) is unavoidable. Prayers can only be launched from the foundation of divine sovereignty, a big-picture trust. Praying to God without relying on his power, love, and compassion has all the effect of Irish luck. It’s humorous superstition, nothing more. I’m about to argue, however, that while dithering prayers lead straight to non-results, the relationship should not be inverted too quickly. Nothing happened when you prayed—because your prayer was weak-in-the-knees. This is too simple.
B. Fueled by a free-ranging desire for God's work to be done...
Praying with God’s will in mind means at least two things. One, we had better not ask God to bless our murder attempt with success or load us with gratuitous bling (limitations on the wish-list). Two, anything that conceivably could lead to God’s honor is fair game.
The second assertion may sound cavalier, but it isn’t. In the Bible, we find God inviting his people to air their personal concerns to him unreservedly: family concerns, money concerns, health concerns. God enjoys responding to his people, showcasing his ability. Elijah prayed for better weather. Paul asked God to remove his crippling disability, his “thorn in the flesh.” Jesus asked his Father to withdraw the necessity of the cross. Does this freedom, this childish initiative, extend to everything? Parking spaces? Locked apartment doors? I think so—with the acknowledgement that motive is central.
C. Underlined by the understanding that we don’t see God's mind with x-ray vision.
This may be the toughest sell. The question is, To what extent can we see, comprehend, assess-with-affirming-“hmmms” God’s specific, absolute will? To an adequate but not overpowering extent, I think. I would suggest that God’s unswerving, non-negotiable will for our lives, in terms of our knowing it, can be found in one place—a book. We could say that God’s will (again, in the absolute, perfect sense) involves our not knowing it completely—and living in light of this fact.
The dilemma is as follows.
- We want to pray according to God’s will.
- God’s will is in the Bible.
- But the Bible doesn’t mention my calculus test.
We want to honor God, want to obey him, but our sight is blurry, and God knows this. He intends it, for now. Therefore, as we pray, we exercise childish initiative—with the acknowledgement that our requests may not be answered as planned. We are free to fail in prayer. We can be assured, however, that God receives our requests and takes them into account. Having foreseen them before he framed up planet earth, he has long since factored their weight into his reckoning.
As followers of Christ, we are free to ask for his help in world-changing, day-changing, heart-changing ways. And in the end, if God answers my prayer for an unlocked door or a defogged mind, it can hardly be a trivial event.
:: end ::
Ironically, the briefer a piece like this is, the more potential there is for causing distress and irritation. I tried to keep this short, so I'll be happy to unpackage any aspect of it. (Then we can discover whether you misunderstood me, or
For those of you still mulling the original question over, I hope you persevere. As easy as it is to let the issue slide, I think the high dividends make the mental wrestling worthwhile. Feel free to append your responses and backlinks to this post or the previous Pray Harder! piece.
1 I realize that the phrase “my answer” is a little ironic, seeing as what I’m trying to do is simply take God at his word. “My answer,” therefore, should be understood simply as the Christ perspective, as related in the Bible—as clearly as I can make it out.