I have a secret. And for a Christ-loving, church-going Jesus girl, it’s kind of a dirty secret.
I struggle with prayer. I struggle with the idea that God, who knows every word before it’s on my lips wants me to pray. He, who controls the universe and who is unchanging, wants me to pray. Why?
I get the relationship aspect of prayer. I wouldn’t be much of a wife, mother, daughter, friend if I never communicated with my loved ones. Why would I expect my relationship with God to be any different? I am also fully on board with thankful prayers. I am so very grateful for my Savior and His goodness to me.
But intercessory prayer? Asking God for healing, help, anything really—this I can’t wrap my mind around. I can fake my way through those prayers, but the truth? I don’t really believe God will answer. Oh, I know the Sunday School answers: God always answers with “Yes, No, or Wait.” But if that was the case, why waste time asking God for action when He already knows what the issue is and already has a plan in place?
The other day, my son Will asked my husband about his glasses. “Why do you wear glasses, Daddy?”
“Because I can’t see things far away without them.”
“I hope I can wear glasses someday just like you!” Will responded.
“I hope you never have to wear glasses, my son. They’re a pain and expensive and you must be very careful with them.”
Sam, my youngest, spoke up, “Let’s pray so that you don’t have to wear them!” And he proceeded to do just that: “Dear Jesus, please heal Daddy’s eyes so he doesn’t have to wear glasses. Amen.”
Justin and I were both incredibly touched that Sam’s immediate, knee-jerk reaction was to pray. Yet, part of me worried about what would happen the next morning when God did not give my husband 20/20 vision overnight. What then? How do I talk to my son about spiritual disappointment?
The verse, “You have not, because you ask not” is often quoted. Yet, so often, what we ask for is not given—even when we ask in faith with pure motives, or what we perceive as pure motives. Isaiah 64:6 says that all my “righteous acts”—even my purest motives—are like dirty menstrual rags compared to the righteousness of God. (Yes, you read that right. Look up the Hebrew meaning of “filthy rags” in Strong’s concordance.)
So what do I tell my 5-year-old when his daddy has to put on his glasses again in the morning because God did not heal his vision?
This morning I read the tragic story of a couple I knew distantly in college. One child with special needs, one child dead at three-months-old, the husband is now a quadriplegic after an accident and has had multiple problems since. My heart broke for the trials and devastation this family has faced, and I was humbled. Through the hardness of their circumstances, they continue to trust in God’s loving kindness and they encourage others to do the same. They don’t sugar-coat the truth of their trials, but in what I’ve read I can see Paul’s statement “Rejoice in the Lord always…” (Phil. 4:4) actively lived out in their surrender to the Lord’s plans.
As I began to pray for this family, my inner skeptic piped up, “What good will your prayers do? God will do what God will do.” It’s not that I think that God is unkind or vindictive. I know and believe that God is always good. I can’t see the full scope of it, but I trust He knows what he’s doing. But why pray? He isn’t going to change his mind or His plan just because I ask.
As these thoughts were trailing through my mind, it’s as if the truth of those statements came into focus. The reason for my skepticism is that I’ve been approaching God all wrong. I’ve approached prayer with the puffed-up idea that I know the situation better than He does and I know how to get everyone out of this mess and if God would just “get on board,” we’ll all be fine! Have you ever had those thoughts? I’ve heard variations on this theme in books and sermons on prayer: if we just say the right words, if we just take the right approach, God is beholden to answer prayers in the affirmative. If we just do our part right, then we can strong-arm God into doing what we think is best.
But this isn’t prayer. This is Santa-in-the-sky thinking: Re-imagining God as a holy Father Christmas who will bring all the good boys and girls of the earth just what they ask for.
And this kind of thinking couldn’t be further from the truth.
Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, facing his own execution, prayed that the cup of wrath be taken from Him, “But not my will, but yours be done.” This is the key. Not even God’s own Son received the answer to His prayer that the crisis He was facing would be averted. But His attitude in prayer was that He would be brought into alignment with God’s ultimate will, which is ALWAYS for the good of His people.
I recently heard a speaker talk about “praying spiritually.” Praying not for a change in circumstance or for material blessing, but rather for a changed mindset. Praying not to just get past the current trials, but praying for the Spirit to help me grow deeper into Him as I surrender my plans, opinions, preferences to the ONE who saw all my days before I’d drawn a single breath. This is the prayer of surrender that Jesus prayed: “Not my will, but yours.” This is the prayer God will always answer, “Yes my child!”