“When you pray…”
The follower of Christ has a unique privilege not available to the unbelieving world. Because of the finished work of the cross, we have the freedom to boldly come before God and pour out our hearts. We can talk and the creator and ruler of the universe will listen. And if we are careful to listen back, he will speak. Now, if we truly believed this, then nothing could keep us from prayer. And yet, almost everything does.
I don’t know about you, but I have prayer scars. I gave my life to Christ at a very young age. I’ve continued to grow in my faith, surrendering more fully at several points in the journey, as my understanding increased. I have, for the most part, lived according to my understanding of what it means to be a Christian, even to the point of pharisaical legalism. I have read and studied the scriptures, allowing them to direct me and influence me in everything I do. I have asked God for guidance at every major life point, and several times in between. But when push came to shove, when I put it all on the line and believed God to do what otherwise could not be done in my life… God let me down. I asked God for a miracle, and in silence he said, “No.” And it hurts. So what’s the point?
The ugly truth is, we all want a God we can manipulate. Truth is, we want a genii in a bottle, beholden to grant us our three (three is such a small number, let’s make it much higher) wishes. For some reason God (the creator and ruler of the universe) doesn’t feel any obligation to comply with our desires.
I believe with all my being that God is sovereign. That means that, since he created this universe, he is in control of everything that happens. So what’s the point of praying, if God is going to do what he wants to do in the first place?
Prayer goes awry when we think that by our prayers we will manipulate God. When that happens, we have put our own desires, our own ego in the preeminent place and demanded that God bow down to them and serve them. As James says, “you do not have because you do not ask; you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, so you can spend it on your passions.” (James 4:2-3)
Jesus didn’t suggest to his disciples that it might be a good idea to pray. He assumed that this would be a natural, normal part of their life and worship. God expects us to pray.
I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. They are so easily broken, and often lead to more guilt than transformation. But God has been convicting me that I need to be more faithful in praying. I need to pray for my children, that they will be drawn into a more intimate relationship with God, that they will shine as lights in the darkness of this world, for their marriage and spouse (even for those not married). I need to pray for my wife and my own marriage, that we will continue to grow in intimacy and that we will pursue God together. I need to pray for my brothers, that they would be men of God in their own families and that they would be spiritual leaders of their homes. I need to pray for my parents, that they would hold fast to the truth and finish well in the race that is set before them. I need to pray for those missionaries and organizations that receive my financial support, that they would be effective in doing the work of God in this world, and that they would have wisdom to face the decisions the come across every day. I need to pray for my government, the our leaders would be humble before God and would govern justly, that we might live quiet lives of peace.
I need to pray.
Will God act because of my prayers? I don’t know. What I do know is that I have a closer relationship with the people I talk with than I do with those whom I ignore. I will choose to obey rather than to manipulate. I re-affirm my position as subject and not sovereign. Whether I change God or not, I fully anticipate and expect to be changed myself.
And isn’t that really the point?