Prayer is something I know I’m supposed to do, but I’m not really sure what it looks like or if I am doing it.
It is one of the areas I feel very inept at when it comes to discipling my children. I know what I don’t want to teach them about prayer, but I don’t know what TO teach them, so I kind of avoid the topic. I hesitate to correct their prayer theology when it seems incorrect to me, because I can’t explain why or even how they SHOULD pray.
I know the Lord’s Prayer and “This is how you should pray.” But I can’t figure out how that looks in day to day life.
My kids love geography and people around the world. A friend has just started posting weekly photos with prayer requests for different people groups. So my kids and I went to the blog and read the posted prayer.
My four-year-old spontaneously said, “Jesus, help her to find food” (referring to the lady in the photograph). I asked if any of the others wanted to pray and they did. The blog had invited people to add their prayers, so I typed up my childrens’ sentence prayers, one by one.
On the one hand, I loved it that they cared about things like food, protection from malaria, safety and money to help prevent diarrhea (all things we talk about and have been reading about recently). On the other hand, I wonder, “Does it really make a difference to pray about things like this?” I mean, maybe this lady isn’t even alive anymore. The picture was taken in 2000 and she was already elderly then.
Besides, aren’t these types of prayers just going to God with our grocery lists? I do talk about that with my children at times. But, when it comes to specific prayers, I don’t want to squelch their enthusiasm or their faith. And I have nothing better to offer, I’m afraid.
Regarding the faith part, more than ever I believe deeply that God can do more than we can ask and imagine. I also believe I can absolutely trust Him to accomplish His purposes whether He ever answers a single prayer the way I want to or not. More than ever, I believe He can and does do miracles.
But also more than ever, I can and do avoid asking. As far as I can tell there are two main reasons:
1. I feel like in the asking, we turn God into a genie. Pray in faith and God will work. Or maybe He’s more like an internet shopping service. Here’s what I want. Here’s my credit card full of trust. Now I wait in confidence for you to act because I’ve prayed. I’d write off prayer totally because of this concern, except I can’t get away from the fact that I’m supposed to ask. Supposed to believe that God works because we pray.
2. It feels very presumptuous for me to be the one to say what I think God should do. This ties into the first point, but is not the same. Can God heal? Yes. Can He provide? Of course. Can He do the impossible? Absolutely. But I see things so limitedly, how can I even know which impossible thing to ask for. The last thing I want to do is tell God how I think He should work “all things out for good.” (Even if I’ve got plenty of opinions on it, I also have this deep trust that He knows WAY better than I do.)
One way around all of this is to add, “If it is Your will” to every request. But it still seems to say, “Well, I’ll accept whatever You decide, but, Hey, here’s what I think you should be doing, God.” Phrases like that feel canned and contrived, even a little manipulative (If I get the formula right, maybe God will be more likely to answer.)
I know prayer is about a lot more than asking. But the asking is the part I get hung up on. For the not asking parts, I have found incredible freedom in beginning to grasp that God sees and knows (and UNDERSTANDS!!!!!! Yeah!!!!!) all of my thoughts and feelings. So in my experiences and thoughts throughout the day, I’m mainly just acknowledging and consciously including Him in with what’s going on inside of me. Rejoicing that He gets it, that He understands what’s going on–my desires, my hurts, my longings, and knowing that I can trust Him to do His thing even through the most atrocious circumstances, whether my own or another persons’s.
As an introvert, that is wonderful! I don’t have to fight to figure out how to say it. I don’t have to put it into words (and then more words, because the ones I choose never really express what I’m feeling or thinking).
A lot of my prayers “for” other people end up being groans and cries of my heart directed towards God, fully trusting Him to understand what I’m saying, and fully believing that He’s going to accomplish His purposes. As soon as I try to put it into words, even more spiritual-sounding words than, “God do this or that for so and so”, it comes out sounding canned. At the very least, it doesn’t really express my heart.
So, I could say, “Oh God, please help them see you in this. Let your peace fill her heart. Help him to truly repent. Soften their hearts towards you.” And there’s nothing really wrong with those words, I guess. They sound right (safe, even–at least I know what I’m praying is in God’s will…..). But they also seem ridiculous. I mean, God is always calling people to Himself. His grace that leads to repentance is just as real and available whether I pray for it or not. His peace , well my prayers don’t make it happen, do they? (The worst of these kinds of prayers to me is, “Be there for so and so.” Isn’t He already there?)
So, even though I cringe at my kids’ simplistic prayers, there is a part of me that resonates (says, “Amen” so to speak) with them as they ask in faith. I hope with them that the lady in the photo doesn’t get malaria, that she does have food and water today. I hope her grandchildren don’t get diarrhea and die before their fifth birthday. And I say, “Amen” to my friend’s original prayer that the light of Jesus would illuminate the darkness of this lady’s people group.
I agree with all of those prayers, but for myself, I’m left with saying, “God, can you figure out the jumbled up mess of thoughts and feelings, reason and passion, joy and pain, that I feel when I look at this lady and think of her people. Will You do Your thing there?
“And can You use, in some way I don’t understand, my groanings, as part of Your plan for that people group? As imperfect as my prayers are (I’m not even always sure they are prayers), as imperfect as my children’s prayers might be (at least they are asking!), receive the trust implied in our coming to You about the things that concern us.
“We hurt for hurting people. And we don’t know what to ask You to do. But we do, all of us, believe that YOU, LORD, can make a difference (now, and even better, forever) for this lady and her people.”
How do you pray? What are you learning? What questions are you asking about prayer? What answers is God showing you about prayer as you read Scripture? I’d love to hear about it, and learn from and with you!