Wrestling To Pray
I don’t know about you, but I have been really upset and concerned about the current world events. As a conscientious citizen, I have looked into what I can do in addition to utilizing my one vote. I don’t feel called into the political world. There is the head-in-the-sand option, but it’s getting harder each day to ignore the changes in our country. Pursuing the activist route seems to be short-lived. Plus, I would worry about a knock at my door by someone wanting to know if the person in any particular video is me.
If I believe and trust in God, as I say I do, then prayer is my best option. Not as a defeatist, but as an active and effective way to cause change. However, I have wrestled with what and how to pray. On a good day, I pray for God’s will to be done. However, oftentimes, I have no clue as to God’s will for my situation or concern. On bad days I admit I have prayed for God to rain fire down on those I believe are responsible for my woes. That makes me feel good for the moment, but I know that‘s not what I should be praying for. James and John suggested that option to Jesus and were rebuked for it (Luke 9:54-55). And of course, I have prayed for everything in between these two extremes.
I finally stumbled upon, or God led me, to three interrelated prayers that have made my prayer life more meaningful. It addresses my emotional need to cry out, positively engages God with the situation, and seems applicable to every prayer-worthy situation.
Pray God’s Will
I would be remiss if I didn’t start with the Sunday School answer for how to pray. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus introduces the Lord’s Prayer by saying “Pray, then, in this way” (Matthew 6:9). He explicitly says “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10). Of course, this is right. Jesus declared it. But it doesn’t feel particularly effective in altering things. How do I know if the current world condition isn’t God’s will? If it is, why bother praying to change things? For that matter, since God is sovereign, everything that occurs is God’s will, one way or another. Considering that, why bother praying at all, other than we are instructed to do so (Philippians 4:6)? I will get to that answer, but first, let me speak to the effectiveness of praying for God’s will.
God is all-knowing
God is all-knowing (1 John 3:20, Isiah 46:9-10). That means He completely knows the circumstances, names, dates, specific words said, and lies told relative to any situation we are concerned with and praying about. We, on the other hand, have limited knowledge. We only know what we know, and don’t know what we don’t know. Even that level of insight is questionable. But God knows. God also knows the future (1 John 3:20, Isiah 46:9-10). That means He knows the ramifications of any intervention we request.
God is love
God loves us and wants the best for us (Jeremiah 29:11). That includes the ultimate outcome of any situation. What if the outcome of what we earnestly pray for causes an adverse result? We can’t know that. God does. When we get to heaven, we may be shocked to learn the potentially tragic outcomes of various Godly interventions we soaked our pillows praying to Him about. We may be so ever thankful God did not intervene when we naively assumed He did not answer our prayer.
Man is selfish
Like it or not, we all possess a selfish and deceitfully wicked heart. We can’t perceive it or completely know it (Jeremiah 17:9). How can we then know that our prayer is genuinely about others and not about ourselves in some way?
So maybe praying for God’s will is indeed the safest and best bet. But does it change anything if it was His will to begin with?
Pray to Change
What change is triggered by praying God’s will? This is the second thing we need to pray for. Change. A change in our hearts. Pray we can accept God’s will. That’s where the change needs to take place. God can and is taking care of the situation. It’s now up to us to take care of our heart situation.
This may be the most challenging thing to sincerely pray for. This may be more meaningful and life-changing than praying for changes in a situation, as this involves personal change. This is key, because we may think we are praying for a situation and instead, it’s us that may instead need a prayer of intervention. Wouldn’t it be interesting if God is using the situation we are legitimately concerned about for our personal spiritual growth?
We have all had a troubling situation unfold in front of us and wonder how God can allow this to happen. Many a person has hardened their hearts toward God over this exact thing. Good for you if you don’t let that happen. Realize each of us can take it to the next level and grow from it. Consider Job, after losing everything he possessed in one day, he put on sackcloth and ashes and then praised God (Job 1:20). No wonder God liked Job so much (Job 1:8). To be like Job can be our heart-change goal. Like most things, in time, as we pray the same prayer over and over, asking for relief from a situation, we may see our will slowly be transformed to His will. Isn’t that the goal of every Christian after all…to be conformed to Christ (Romans 8:29)?
Pray Our Heart
It’s not all sackcloth and ashes. Here’s the fun part. The Christian life is about having a relationship with God. For a relationship to happen, both people need to talk, listen, be open, and honest. The Bible is filled with many examples of people relating to God in just that way.
In Samuel, we read of Hanna praying desperately for a child (1 Samuel 1:9-11). Although God had closed her womb, (1 Samuel 1:2, 6) because of her prayer, God granted her request and she bore a son (1 Samuel 1:20). Abraham pleads with God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of just 10 righteous men in the city (Genesis 18:24-32). God agrees, but unfortunately for the twin cities, ten righteous men could not be found. The Jewish synagogue official, Jairus, asks Jesus to heal his daughter (Mark 5:23). Jesus does so. There are so many accounts of prayer in the Bible, affecting a situation, that we have to believe prayer can indeed change things). More importantly, we are told to “Approach God’s throne of grace with confidence in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
This third prayer is where we can wail, gnash our teeth, cry out, ask God why, or even plead for God to rain down fire and brimstone if we like. Essentially, vent and express our sincere feelings. We do have to be respectful of God, for Who He is, but in the same vein, He has broad enough shoulders to bear our burdens, sorrows, and feelings. If we can’t express our true heart, then what kind of relationship do we have? It is likely that when we get to Heaven we will be both amazed (at the power) and saddened at the lost opportunities we had to pray for wisdom and intersession for others.
A Note Of Warning
In time, as we practice these three types of prayers, we may find our heart conforming more to Jesus, and wailing less. Isn’t that what we ultimately desire anyway?