Getting My Way with Prayer

The success of love is in the loving – it is not in the result of loving. Of course it is natural in love to want the best for the other person, but whether it turns out that way or not does not determine the value of what we have done. ~ Mother Teresa

What do you usually pray about?

I think I frequently get prayer backwards.

When I first began my attempt to follow Jesus, I found fascination in the public prayers of more seasoned Christians. They prayed about every event in life, every choice and decision. They prayed for safety and health, for pregnancy, and for nearly any imaginable result.

Christian athletes prayed for success, Christian soldiers prayed for victory, and Christian business folks prayed for increased profits. No matter the arena or desired outcome, it seemed that someone prayed about it.

Curiously, there were always profuse thanks from the winners, the success stories, the prosperous, those who realized their dreams. You didn’t hear much from those on the other side of the ledger.

This common model for conversation with God envisions Him as a cosmic vending machine. You choose the preferred product, put in the right payment, turn the handle, and expect Him to produce the right result. And when God meets your expectations, you say thanks.

And if things don’t go your way, then perhaps God is saying, “No” or “Not now.” Perhaps He’s preparing you for a future challenge, or maybe you didn’t pay the right price. Maybe you just don’t have enough faith.

Frankly, the whole thing seemed a bit pointless to me, since He already knows my wants and needs anyway. It felt a little superficial, like I was reading the lines of a script because I was expected to read them. Prayer seemed like an exercise, a sort of false piety intended mostly to say the right words and ultimately get what we want from God.

I think this vending machine model misses the entire point.

I do believe God cares about every event in our lives. I think Jesus grieved when I fell and endured the struggle of paralysis. He weeps at the death of a child, and hates to see us disappointed, sad, or hurt. He does not minimize or dismiss our desires, needs and concerns, but they are clearly not the main point to Him.

Jesus spent most of His time telling us, in Steven Covey’s words, that “…we are not human beings on a spiritual journey, we are spiritual beings on a human journey.”

Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. … For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:27-31,34

So how does this relate to prayer?

I think the focus of prayer shouldn’t be asking for results and thanking God when we approve of outcomes. We’d do better if we sought help in doing things His way.

  • I think He cares what we do; I think He cares much more about how we do it.
  • I think He cares about results, but they’re always temporary; I think He cares more about character, which is permanent.
  • I think He cares about the path we’re traveling; I think He cares more about the direction we’re heading.
  • I think He values me because of my identity as His child, because of who I am in Christ, and not because of what I accomplish.

When things don’t go my way, or when they do, I’d do better to stop seeking a rational, human-created explanation. Sometimes there’s an answer to Why, but mostly the logic is shrouded in the mystery of eternity. Rather than demanding cause-and-effect clarification, I’d do better to ask Him how I ought to respond.

That’s really the central premise of SetFreeToday. Where you’ve been matters less to God than where you’re going. He offers the chance to choose a new direction, a new beginning, each day.

“Thy will be done” isn’t a request for favorable circumstances. It’s a longing to understand how God wants me to respond, the direction He wants me to travel, the kind of person He wants me to become. I need to stop talking, asking, and demanding.

I need to listen and follow.

What’s your take on prayer?

Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ. ~Billy Graham