What the what?
Good question. We’re doing this series in youth group where people can submit any question they want about anything and then I attempt to tackle at least one question per week. I got a variety of questions on prayer and I usually skirt the issue because it’s something I’m undeveloped, uninformed, ill-equipped and under-practiced in. I’d rather answer a question on lapsarianism than prayer because I’d rather talk about issues that have no bearing on how I conduct myself. So here it is, this is hardly exhaustive but begins to scratch the surface on something I’ve fought with for a long time.
The vulgar and the blunt
“It is easier on our faith not to pray” – Paul E. Miller
Prayer can make me feel cynical, guilty or even hopeless. If I pray hard for something and don’t get it then despite my capacity for theological rationalization, I begin to lose hope. When I hear other people pray for stupid things and they do get it I feel cynical. When I give up on prayer and praying then I feel guilty.
It’s a losing proposition right? I try not to bother God with little things, only big and important things and then I don’t get them. Some moron prays for a parking spot or a sale at Nordstroms and they think they’ve had an answered prayer and seem to derive joy from that.
Regardless of my cynicism I still feel the pressure and need to pray from pastors, the church and other Christians. I want to want to pray but just don’t have that desire.
My realization lately has been that there is a deeper theological issue behind the practice of prayer that cuts to the core of the gospel. Real prayer is centered on our dependency on God. The gospel is also centered on our dependency on God, it is the realization that we are not self-reliant and we cannot be self-justifying. Once the gospel sinks in we should realize that we are wholly dependent on God. Many of us attempt to partition our lives into a spiritual realm and a physical realm. We see the two realms as unrelated or having minimal overlap. This leads to thinking that Jesus is the lord and savior of all my spiritual needs but as for my physical, day-to-day or “real” stuff I take the approach of, “I got this”. I don’t build my life in such a way that I need God for my physical daily needs despite the Lord’s Prayer explicitly stating my daily dependence on God for my physical needs (daily bread and such).
In reality the spiritual realm is much bigger than the physical world. If we adapt a new way of viewing ourselves and the world around us (which is the definition of repentance, to change your mind/worldview) then we see that all of life is spiritual and when we admit our need for God it will consume all of who we are not just some spiritual fragment of ourselves. Everything has spiritual ties to it, nothing is purely physical and even if it were it wouldn’t be worthy of our attention.
Most Common Questions About/Objections to Prayer
What is prayer?
There is a popular notion floating around that prayer is a conversation with God. That sounds neat but I don’t think prayer is a conversation. Prayer is us communicating with God. God speaking to us doesn’t qualify as prayer (as I understand it), that would either be revelation (God revealing something new to you) or illumination (God shedding light on his already revealed Word).
Too Busy to pray
If you feel that you’re too busy to pray then you are probably taking a legalistic approach to prayer. You feel it’s an obligation you must check off of your list. Dig deeper. Underneath that belief is the assumption that God needs you to pray which is backwards. A Christian (I’m speaking to myself here) should (in theory) need to pray to God not because God needs it but because the Christian needs it. If a Christian, me, finds themselves not in need of prayer, their life is likely not built on Christ. Now we may say, “Jesus is my lord and savior” but if he is truly lord of all your life then you will depend on him for everything not just spiritual salvation.
Don’t know how to pray
There is a lot of good news associated with this problem. It’s been a struggle for me for years and what I’ve noticed in scripture is that God wants us to approach him like little children. Anyone who reads the new testament is aware of that saying but pause for a second and ask yourself this: How do little children act? They are blunt, often rude, possibly selfish and are quick and inconsiderate with what they ask for and how they ask for it.
Typically when I approach prayer I don’t approach him with my “real self”. I try to present some polished and elegant version of myself as if I’m fooling anyone. The truth is, the only way for God to work on your real self is for you to present your real self. This is why God wants us to approach him like little children, he wants us to be ourselves and he will work on that self.
I frequently go through a pre-prayer ritual where I weed out things that are on my mind that I think are too selfish, too small and too petty for God’s time and then I don’t pray for those things. Those things are precisely the things that God expects me to offer up in prayer.
Not sure what I get (or am suppose to get) out of it
“Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life, it offers us a less busy heart”. – Paul Miller
I think I’m a full-bred American when I ask questions like this. I’m used to my relationships being transactional. By that I mean, I do things in order to get things. I go to school and do my assignments so that I can get good grades, I get good grades so I can go to a better school, I go to a better school so I get a better degree, I get a better degree so I can get a better job, I get a better job so I can get a better house, better car, better life, etc. That’s what we’re programmed to do in America. In a sense it’s pragmatism but it’s truly shallower than that. Prayer doesn’t operate within those perimeters and it seems the effects of prayer are more qualitative than quantitative.
I realize I didn’t answer that question/objection instead I just rambled but that’s all I’ve got for now.
What Good Does it Do?
Now this is a deep theological question with lots of implications. I’ll post on it later so keep your eyes open although I’ll point you in the direction of Hezekiah (2 Kings 19ish?) with a disclaimer that I am not an open theist.
In the words of a famous pig, that’s all folks.
Feel free to comment, object, question or direct my thinking as I hope to continue these thoughts in future blogging.