Friday, December 29, 2006

Prayer: No Apologies

Lately, one thought has recurred to me frequently concerning prayer: the goal of prayer is not to prove (or disprove) the existence of God.

It seems to me that prayer can sometimes become a game we play, either with ourselves or with others. If God “answers” our prayers - that is, gives us what we want - we feel affirmed in our belief. If God “doesn’t answer” our prayers - that is, does not give us what we want - we wonder whether he is there at all, or what good is he anyway.

Do you relate to this?

This approach to prayer sees prayer as, first, an opportunity to get stuff from God and, second, an opportunity for God to show himself to us. This is far removed from the biblical picture of prayer, however.

The biblical portrait of prayer is complex, and certainly contains examples where answered prayer provides a testimony to God’s existence or power. But generally, prayer is not seen as a way for God to prove himself to us by conforming to our wishes. Instead, prayer is a gift that allows us a chance to conform to his will.

That is why Jesus gave instructions such as these:

* “Pray for your enemies.”

* “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

* “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

* “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

In each of these instructions, Jesus urges that we make requests to God – but not the kind of self-serving requests that we often fill our prayer time with. These requests are those that conform our desires and direct our minds to God’s will rather than our own.

Of course, Jesus' most powerful example in prayer is when he prayed, "Not my will, but yours be done."

Should we make requests in prayer for personal concerns? Certainly. The Bible has many examples of such prayers being answered to the glory of God, and I can add a few of my own. But if our prayer life is solely concerned with self-oriented requests, well… this is a very strange and unhealthy relationship to have with Almighty God, and perhaps no relationship at all.


Makeshift Renegade said...

Asking God to do stuff for us -- Dennis Prager calls this the "cosmic butler" view of God.

On a related note, one of my big questions about God and doing his will is not what's in it for us, but what's in it for God? God's will is that we do such-and-such, and if we do not, then therefore what? God's will is then not done? Isn't God's will always done? What is the point exactly -- from God's point of view -- of having man behave in a certain way and not some other way? Are we doing some "work" for God like a computer program does work for us? If we don't do it right, do we "have a bug"?

Ken Shomo said...

Some initial thoughts...

God is personal, meaning that he desires a relationship with human beings. That relationship cannot be other than one in which he is the authority or, to put it in a gentler fashion, one in which he is the parent.


God created human beings in his image, which means (in part) that when we "function" as intended it a) teaches us something true about God and thus b) glorifies/exalts God.


We have to remember that there are two meanings of the word "will." God may will something in the sense of commanding it (that is, he expresses his desire/preference) while not "willing" it in the sense of forcing it to happen. So in one sense, you can rightly say that God's will is not always done: when his commandments, which express his wishes and what's in our best interest, aren't followed.

As for the computer analogy, I think it breaks down (or crashes) because a computer is not personal but impersonal.

And while I'm at it: Happy New Year! (Fireworks just alerted me to the fact that it's now 2007.)

Joseph Adrian said...

Kens response was excellent,if I may I'd like to add a few comments.
When we willingly do what God desires(from a motive of love with a desire to please Him),our actions are showing that we delight in doing the Lord's will(this in turn brings delight to the Lord). Its like when parents see their children grow and mature into responsible adults(it brings delight and deepens the love and affection they have for one another).When we live in a way(which is in harmony with God's intended purposes),there is a beauty when someone or something fulfills what it was designed for.If an athlete or a singer shows great promise and then that promise is fulfilled,there is a sense of beauty in that.