Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Praying Against the Tide

Remember when Pat Robertson was going to pray away a hurricane?  We are victims of as much confusion in prayer as we benefit from its enlightenment.  I have often told the story of a parishioner who told me he did not want to give me the named of his loved ones who were ill so that I might pray for them.  He felt like when I prayed "according to Your will" that meant that I was hedging my bets and acting as if it was not something I really wanted.  Better to ask people to pray who will give it their all than to ask Pastor to pray and then allow something as ridiculous as the will of God to get in the way.

Why is it that we get in our minds such foolish thoughts of things?  Why do we presume that sin is what makes us happy and that God is trying to steal our happiness by making certain things wrong and giving us guilt when we do them?  Why do we assume that God is automatically against us and we must therefore use some major word wrestling to convince Him to change His mind and give us what we want?

‘Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of God’s willingness.’  —Julian of Norwich

I heard President Harrison once speak of the problems we have in praying because we pray from our need instead of from God's promises.  We do not know those promises and so prayer becomes difficult to us.  If we knew the promises of God, then it would be easier to pray.  I think he is right.  We do pray from our need but we also pray from the vantage point of a people uncertain if God has our own best interests at heart.  We pray to get what we want from Him and not because we have confidence in His good and gracious will, not because we trust in Him to give us what is good and needful for this body and life as well as eternal life, and not because He knows our needs until we inform Him of the shopping list.

I have never met a Christian who has found it easy to pray or feels that their prayer life is what it should be.  Our prayer lives are the Achilles' heels of our spiritual lives.  We are vulnerable there.  In part, at least, because we pray from need and then judge the success by the outcome -- getting what we want or what we asked for from God.

When Jesus said we do not have because we do not ask, He was not suggesting that we have failed to provide God the Christmas lists of things we want.  He was speaking of the asking that proceeds from our awareness of God's promises, our confidence in His good and gracious will, and our trust that He will provide what is needful in every circumstance.  We do not ask in this way because sin has taught us not to trust, to be cynical and fearful of God.  It is as if the cross meant nothing to us when we shut the door to our private prayer rooms.  If God has given us all things in Christ, will He not care for us now and grant to us all things needful for this moment and for this life?  If you who are sinful know how to give good gifts to your children, don't you think your heavenly Father knows how to give good gifts to you?  It is the persistent question of faith that dogs our prayer lives -- not can God but will He?

The "amens" of our prayers are less the confident seal of our faith than they are the affirmation that this is what I want, I think I have made a good enough case as to why You should give me these things, and, I will wait for You to deliver to me my requests.

It reminds me of the wonderful words of a hymn -- that is not directly about prayer but surely descriptive of it.  All Depends on Our Possessing...

1    All depends on our possessing
God’s abundant grace and blessing,
    Though all earthly wealth depart.
They who trust with faith unshaken
By their God are not forsaken
    And will keep a dauntless heart.

2    He who to this day has fed me
And to many joys has led me
    Is and ever shall be mine.
He who ever gently schools me,
He who daily guides and rules me
    Will remain my help divine.

3    Many spend their lives in fretting
Over trifles and in getting
    Things that have no solid ground.
I shall strive to win a treasure
That will bring me lasting pleasure
    And that now is seldom found.

4    When with sorrow I am stricken,
Hope anew my heart will quicken;
    All my longing shall be stilled.
To His loving-kindness tender
Soul and body I surrender,
    For on God alone I build.

5    Well He knows what best to grant me;
All the longing hopes that haunt me,
    Joy and sorrow, have their day.
I shall doubt His wisdom never;
As God wills, so be it ever;
    I commit to Him my way.

6    If my days on earth He lengthen,
God my weary soul will strengthen;
    All my trust in Him I place.
Earthly wealth is not abiding,
Like a stream away is gliding;
    Safe I anchor in His grace.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey, great hymn!

Thanks for sharing.

Irenaeus said...

Thoughtful post, Pastor Peters. A secretary told me once of her Pentecostal pastor who could name seven (count them!)reasons why she did not receive an answer to her "heartfelt" prayer. Not surprisingly, every one of them had something to do with something she did/din't do, should/shouldn't do, etc. Not a word about prayer and God's promises. With "counsel" such as this among Christians today, little wonder prayer is a challenge for many today. And, yes, I agree with Anonymous: it is a great hymn, one to which I have often returned.

Anonymous said...

When we make a PHYSICAL request in
prayer to the Lord, we add the words,
IF IT BE YOUR WILL.

When we make a SPIRITUAL request in
prayer to the Lord, we already know
it is His Will for us to have a
stronger faith, more love for Him and
our neighbor, to be more forgiving.
So WE DO NOT ASK IF IT BE YOUR WILL.

Anonymous said...

When we make a PHYSICAL request in
prayer to the Lord, we can not assume
that it is His Will for us to get
a higher paying job, to have a
successful surgery, to retire with
financial security, or to avoid
cancer. This is why we add the words
IF IT BE YOUR WILL.

Robbie F. said...

Magnificent homily & a great hymn to go with it! Thanks for posting this!

Unknown said...

Dear Rev. Peters: yours is a wonderful, edifying, and very appropriate homily. I too have never met anyone who is completely satisfied with their prayer life, and that, of course includes me. It also troubles me when corporately, or personally we give God a to do list as if we are more merciful and kind than He is.

As you may have noted, I repeatedly refer to what I think is a fact, that our people do not know all of the Gospel. So that when you write, “If we knew the promises of God, then it would be easier to pray. I think he is right“, I have to ask, “Is not knowing the promises of God the same as knowing the Gospel?” Moreover, I believe that even when we do know the Gospel fully, we find it hard to believe that, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The old Adam keeps arguing that He simply cannot regard us as perfect, and love us as if we were perfect, because we know that we sin continuously, deliberately and even unconsciously. So that among our prayers might be to ask the Holy Spirit, who dwells in each of us, to stir up our faith, so that we could believe the incredible, absurd, unimaginable, wonderful, consoling promises our God has made to us through His Son.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

Pastor:
I would really like to hear more from you on this topic.
For example, my son has lost his business. He and his wife have a newborn.