The Mystery of Prayer

This is the first in a series of blog posts that asks the hard questions about the process of prayer.

"Pray BIG prayers. God can do anything. If what you request is best - that's exactly what He'll do." 

A local pastor, whom I respect and admire, posted that on Facebook the other day. I can understand what he is saying and I can agree with it to a certain point.  However, it does open a few cans of worms, doesn't it? If you look at through the lens of a flow chart, it becomes problematic.
So, what we have here is a situation where God will answer your prayer if it is the best thing for His purposes, or He won't if it isn't.  In that case, it stands to reason that if you don't pray, God will just do what is best for His purposes - just without your input.  This begs the question:  Why pray?

You hear a lot of pastors say that prayer isn't to get God on board to giving you your desires and requests.  No, they say, prayer is to get you on board with God's.  I surely believed that. "God, align my will with yours," I would say. That is a dandy approach when you are wondering about that promotion or if you are pondering that new car.  If you don't get that promotion, then God has something better for you - even if that "better" isn't tangible in your life.  I could accept that.  However, when your 4-year old is hit by a car and dies after three days of prayer in the ICU, that is a little harder to reconcile.

Think about it; "God align my will with yours. Thank you for not answering my prayer about the promotion.  I have excited expectancy for what you have in store for me instead!"  Yes, that is palatable.  However, can you honestly pray, "God, thank you for allowing my child to get hit by a car and die.  I know that is "the best" thing that could have happened to fulfill your purpose."  Of course not.  The best we can muster is, "God, I don't know why my child had to die, but I trust you in this heart-wrenching time to lead me through it and I have the hope that I will reunite with my baby again someday."  If we are to be honest, that position is hardly asking God to align our wills with His, is it? 

That brings us back to the central question: If God is just going to do what He is going to do anyway, why pray?  Sure, we have the chance to see God answer our prayer.  That is rewarding.  However, we also have a chance to see God stand back and watch us suffer and hurt while knowing full well He could have prevented it. At best, to pray or not to pray is a push at this level.

There is another possibility that I haven't mentioned.  It could be that God ordains you achieving that goal IF you humble yourself and pray. Yes, it is a possibility.  However, what kind of person considers flow charts and probabilities to determine whether or not to pray to God for help - especially when God is synonymous with love, grace and mercy?   The answer is the kind of person that is hurting, confused, or having a crisis of faith.  That would qualify almost all of us at one time or another.  There must be a better way to get a handle on the process of prayer.



Amel said...

Interesting post. I think God wants us to be in a relationship with Him and that can also be achieved through prayers. Thanking Him for His blessings, asking Him for guidance, asking Him for a certain blessing, asking Him for peace beyond understanding.

When I'm having my crisis in faith, I really love saying The Serenity Prayer over and over again. One of the books that have helped me during my rough times is "Secondhand Jesus" by Glenn Packiam.

Jeff said...

I agree, Amel. I believe God has ALWAYS wanted a relationship with His creation. Prayer is certainly part of that give and take of a relationship. I am trying to uncover in these posts just what that means - especially when it seems there is more of a give (request, worship, etc.) and ignore vibe in that relationship.

There is more wisdom in that Serenity Prayer than in most things ever written. Sometimes it is tough when there are "things you can't control" but your "best friend" or "daddy" (Abba) has complete power over it but seemingly sits on His hands or gets out His heavenly popcorn just to watch the grueling human drama unfold before Him.

I realize that this response seems very cynical. However, there are reasons why this is a series of posts on the topic. I believe there are some answers forthcoming on this blog - or at least a less cynical take on the process of prayer.

Unknown said...

Great stuff,Jeff. This verse helps me enormously: "You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." (James 4:2-3). That tells me I DO have direct influence over what happens in my life. That I miss out on some things because I don't ask in faith. But I love the fact that when I ask God for something stupid (because I can't see into the future or understand all the ramifications), He tells me no - the same way I reply, when one of my kids asks to do something that looks good to them...but I know is actually harmful.

Amel said...

I've felt that "cynicism" as well, Jeff. I've yelled at Him and gotten angry at Him because I was really confused about what He thought I had done wrong. When I didn't get any answers at all, when I struggled to find meaning(s) to the suffering I was experiencing. At the end of the day, after yelling at Him and being angry and honest with my feelings, I felt Him cry with me. That was quite a revelation for me.

Btw I'm looking forward to reading the next posts and to read the kind of revelations you've encountered/uncovered through your struggles. :-)

Michelle said...

Excellent post, Jeff. So glad you're back. :D I really enjoyed reading this. You pose some great thought-provoking ideas. I like that.

As you know, I'm not mainstream in my opinions, so... my reply.

I love the flow chart. It sums up what irks me about a lot of religions. In the 1980s a lovely but fervent family friend tried to convert my dad to his section of Christianity. He told dad to pray to God for an answer. My dad did just that... and literally stumbled on the answer. He found a bookmark lying on the ground the next day, at work. It had a prayer on it. A prayer that summed up the connection to God as deeply personal. My dad took that as his answer that all churches were equal and happily turned down the offer of conversion as something he didn't need.

What did our friend do? He said, "No, that answer wasn't from God. It was from the devil tempting you astray. Pray again."

Uh? Really? On his flow chart a "Yes" = God. A "No" = the devil. Wow... what kind of an answer to prayer was that supposed to be? What kind of a God would allow darkness and evil to have the last word on a prayer? And he didn't see anything wrong in that concept, because he was so certain that his church was superior to other forms of Christianity.

Not good!

The other thing that always puzzled me was that Jesus said we don't need to pray much, because God already knows what we want, what we need, etc. So... why do people in church pray so much? That was my first moment of religious confusion as a kid, the few times I was in a church for funerals and weddings. The fact that the moment the priest/minister said, "Let us pray..." he started to talk! I would feel so annoyed at how rude he was! How could I pray to God with this guy talking over him butting in all the time?

I gave up on praying around the age of 12. I just talked to God instead. I chatted about my day. My fears. My hopes... my sorrows.
For me, it worked. It might not work for everyone. Doesn't matter really. I think it's all about your preferences.

Michelle said...


I wish there was a LIKE button! :-))
Your story was beautiful.

Jeff said...

Amel, I love that you had that fantastic connection with God just when you needed it.

Jeff said...

Michelle, your views may not be mainstreamed but maybe they should be. The account about your father . . . well, let's just say that applies indirectly to my next post in the series.

I also have some good news for you about prayer, as I see it. All those conversations with God about your day? From my perspective, what you call chats, I call prayer. I don't think God is all that impressed with flowery speech; He wants a relationship instead of a presentation.

I love the song "Love Song for a Savior" by Jars of Clay.

In open fields of wild flowers,
she breathes the air and flies away

She thanks her Jesus for the daises and the roses in no simple language

Someday she'll understand the meaning of it all

He's more than the laughter or the stars in the heavens

As close a heartbeat or a song on her lips

Someday she'll trust Him and learn how to see Him

Someday He'll call her and she will come running and fall in His arms and the tears will fall down and she'll pray, "I want to fall in love with You"

I get emotional every time I hear that song.

Jeff said...

Steve, I also love that verse. It applies probably 90% of the time by my estimation.

Michelle said...

Jeff. Your replies are as good as your blog posts. :-) I'm so glad you're back writing. (she says smugly LOL)

I enjoyed your song. Thank you! Here's the song that, for me, sums up my connection To God...

Amel said...

Oh, M, I wish I could also like the comments for this post. Loving this conversation. :-) And on to the songs you and Jeff have recommended. :-) Love youtube for that he he he...

There are really many things I'm also still struggling about Christianity and Christians, so keep the conversation going. :-)

Amel said...

Oh yeah, here's my song recommendation. Listened to it so many times when I was struggling so much.

Bring The Rain

Jeff said...

For some reason the settings on my current post didn't leave room for comments. I fixed it. Thanks Michelle for letting me know.

Michelle said...


Another video, but this time it's the choir I love, not any specific song. Soweto Gospel Choir. Go look and pick your own favourite. ;-)

Here's one of mine...

Amel said...

@M: I just saw your comment. WOW, the song really touched me. Gonna bookmark it and listen to other songs, too! Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!