Prayer is a big topic. There is an endless supply of books and writings about prayer. What it is, what it can do for you, how to pray to get what you most desire, how to pray the “right way”. I’m not going there. I want to reverse engineer the principle of prayer. I want to dig into what prayer is not.
Let’s make a list. Prayer is not:
A last resort when all else fails
A vending machine
Special magic words
An attempt to escape natural consequences of our actions
A wish list
I could go on, but I feel that’s enough to deal with today. I am guilty of all of these types of prayer.
When I was in crisis and had tried everything I knew, I was a last resort kind of pray-er. Kind of like,
“God, I know I should have been able to handle this situation. I’m sorry I failed yet again to fix this. Apparently my boots have no straps with which to pull myself up. If it’s not too much trouble could you please fix this for me and let me get back to an uncomplicated convenient life? It won’t take long, and then you can get back to the really important stuff like world peace.”
I treated God like a malfunctioning vending machine.
“OK, listen up God. I did everything you ever asked of me. I was a good little church girl. I was a (mostly )good Christian school girl. I married the bible college guy. I was still a virgin when I got married. What’s the deal with this infertility?? YOU gave me the desire to be a mother. You are definitely not holding up your end of the bargain! I checked all the boxes. I put my efforts in, so it’s time for you to put out for me.”
Maybe I wasn’t using the right words. I need to find the special magic words. But how many times can I say the Our Father without it turning into meaningless ritual? Pray the scriptures! YES! If I pray God’s words back to him he has to come through right? Because he has to make good on his promises, right?
This is where I need you to take a breath and let me explain. I absolutely agree with using the scripture to pray. It is a powerful tool to bring me closer to God’s will for me. But at the time, I was using it very selfishly. I thought I could trick God into answering my prayers my way if I used His words in my request. Foolish. And arrogant. How have I not been struck by holy lightening yet??
I have lost count of how many times I’ve prayed to get out of consequences. Flashing lights in my rearview mirror – “I know I was speeding God, but can you pretty please make the cop let me off with a warning? Just this once? I promise I will never speed again!” Or the ever popular “I know I overslept and now I am crazy late. I’m sorry, ok? Can you please just part traffic for me? You parted the sea for the Moses and the Israelites, and they were complainers and jerks and constantly disobedient to you. I’m not as bad as them. So you can part traffic for me just this once, right?”
And then there is the wish list. “Dear God, thanks for everything. Today I need my husband to bring me flowers, my kids to stop fighting, to lose 10 (cough30) lbs, and if you don’t mind, I could really use two weeks on a beach in Mexico. In your name I pray, Amen.”
Ok, I admit my mother tongue of sarcasm broke through a bit just now. But seriously though! Isn’t that how we pray sometimes? Like we are ordering stuff from Amazon? Fine – maybe not “we”, but I definitely have my hand raised for this.
So where does that leave us? I don’t know your story, but I can tell you mine.
Chaos and pain reduced my prayers to groanings and utterings that could not be understood by anyone else than Jesus. All my hopes and wishes and expectations vanished in the presence of God’s will for me. I was, quite literally, face down on the floor, finally brought to a place of submission where nothing else existed but my need for a Savior. A Healer. A Redeemer.
Jesus said, “I understand. I will take your groanings and utterings to the Father, and I will translate them into prayers for you.”
The Holy Spirit said, “Finally there is room here for me to move!”
The Father said, “Thank you my child. All I ever wanted was for you to bring me your brokenness. Now I can take the pieces and create something brand new and beautiful. But remember to keep your hands off my work. It is mine to do. Your hands will get in the way and slow me down.”
I learned that prayer in its purest form exists to glorify God.
Not just to get me what I want. Praying scripture doesn’t manipulate God to do what I want. It brings me in line with His predetermined will for me.
I had spent years begging God to fulfill His promises. Then someone gave me an analogy that made sense to me. I apologize for not remembering their name – I would happily give them personal credit for this lesson!
What if your child came home from school. He was hungry. He fell on his knees before you crying and begging “Please mommy!! PLEASE can you make dinner for me tonight? I’m so hungry and I need you to feed me. Please mommy please!!”
My response would be “Are you serious right now?? Tell me exactly when in your entire life have I ever failed to feed you. Here’s an apple. Go do your homework.”
I realized then that I had been treating God the same way. Begging for things that He had already promised me. With fear and trepidation that it might not happen. Ridiculous.
So instead I learned to use the powerful weapon of praise and I started praying with real faith. I flipped the script. Instead of begging God, I thanked Him for already providing every need. For already being busy at work on my behalf and on behalf of those I loved. For already having a solution to every problem.
But here’s the thing about praying with that kind of faith. You must pray with no expectation to see what God is actually doing. Sometimes He will show us, sometimes we are completely blind to His plans and actions.
Have you ever played blind volleyball? It’s a blast!! It’s just like regular volleyball, except there is a huge tarp over the net. You can’t see where the ball is coming from but you know it’s coming. Only the referee can see both sides and make calls on the play.
Praying with faith is like blind volleyball.
You can’t see what’s going on, but you know something is coming and you need to be ready. But I like to know. I like to understand. I like to “more accurately pray for the situation”. (Which is church-lady code for “give me all the dirt.” But that’s a topic for another time.) So I try to climb up into the referee chair to get a look at what is happening. I try to get involved with what God is doing. Sounds reasonable right? But that’s when God calls a stop in play. I’m slowing things down. Preventing God from completing what He started. For some ridiculous reason I think God needs my input. (Insert holy lightning strike here)
God needs me to stay out of the way until He calls me in. Then and only then do I have a role to play. And I need to stick to His play book or it won’t end well.
That pray with thanksgiving muscle was pretty weak in the beginning. But it grew stronger as I continued to practice it. And it grew my faith. Like, A LOT!!! Maybe you would like to join me on my knees. Let’s play some prayer-style blind volleyball together. You’re on my team, by the way.