Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Praying Against the Tide
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.