Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Coincidentally, it's the National Day of Prayer

"God loves us, and he knows what we need before we ask, so is it important that we ask for things?"

I was walking with a friend after lunch the other day, and we were talking about, well, prayer. It seemed to him that people treated prayer like a vending machine; they have a list of things they want, and in prayer they read it off. I allowed as God didn't need to be informed about our needs, but like me with my children, he might want to be asked.

This reminded me of something I heard about valid reasons for prayer (there are only two). One was something about getting closer to God, and the other was about getting me to accept God's will. My friend liked this thought.

But we do ask for things we want, don't we? Does that fit with the two valid reasons to pray? A few thoughts:

  • I have to remember to think about God, and my relationship with him, in order to ask.
  • In asking I recognize that I'm not self-sufficient.
  • When I ask I accept that he may say "No" -- hence I'm surrendering to his will.
  • I affirm that he has the power to give me my desire or to deny it; I recognize his authority.
  • As I pray, I say with my body that it's worth my while to talk with God.
  • I believe God is good when I ask him for what I need.
So we do ask, but we ask with surrendered hearts -- not like a vending machine.

He described how in his small group, there's a prayer request ritual where people offer their laundry lists requests -- typically something about exams or oral presentations or interviews -- that is, the sort of thing that triggered the "vending machine" feeling.

I think that once a person -- a group, rather -- gets in the habit of this sort of prayer, it becomes part of that group's culture. Last week the prayer requests were like this, so that must be what people expect, goes the thinking. If we want that to change, what could we do? One thought is to consciously ask for something different.

Could you pray for me that this week, when I'm feeling pressure because of a deadline or whatever, that I would remember God's great love, that I would remember to pray, that I would remember that I'm a citizen of heaven, and that's where my future lies? I don't want to come back next week and tell you that I worried rather than prayed, or that I was full of anxiety and hurry rather than faith and hope.
To be honest, many of the things I pray for will make no difference a year from now. But if I go through weeks at a time where I trust and pray and remember who I belong to... that'll make a big difference.

As I thought back on this conversation, I remembered one other thing about prayer. Jesus said in John 16:24, "Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be made full." What things, if I pray and receive, will make my joy full? I want to pray and ask God for those things. Not (only) because they might make my joy full, but also because in asking for such things, that will bring my heart closer to God, and help me to accept his will.

If I can do that at least part of the time in the coming days, I'll count them a roaring success. And to God be the glory!

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