Monday, August 04, 2008

Prayer: Fact or Fiction

photo by xandert on Morguefile dot comThe most recent SoulPerSuit was a study of Colossians using Sandra Glahn's book Cappuccino with Colossians. The one thing that the group agreed on was that this letter from Paul was a very tough to study. It isn't a peanut butter & jelly sandwich kind of book but more like a Toulouse Cassoulet with a list of ingredients as long as your arm taking days to make.

About half way through the study I stalled. Prayer is not a major or even minor theme in Colossians but this is the topic that shut me down. The times prayer is mentioned (from my quick review of the book), it's not to exhort or instruct but to encourage (Colossians 1: 3-4, 9, 12; 4:12).

The reason I stalled is probably because prayer had been a slow stew in the back of my mind for quite a while. It was even difficult to admit to the group, near the end of the study, that I was struggling with prayer - prayer in all its basic and not so basic aspects, the validity and effectiveness of it. I couldn't imagine starting a conversation with, "I don't think I believe in prayer" without getting, "Are you kidding me?" in return.

When I finally got brave enough to think about what my struggles were with prayer, I was able to nail down where it was at. I don't have a problem with prayer as worship, praise, mediation, or contemplation. Where I struggle is with the requests - asking God to do something.

I've heard a wide range of things asked of God in prayer: to "open a door" or "give direction", to heal someone sick or with cancer, to come through with needed funds, or even to raise the dead. But do these prayers really have an impact? My struggle is this: if I don't ask God to heal my mother-in-law of cancer, will He not do it? Is my prayer necessary for that healing? I don't believe it is. So why do we make these prayers to ask for healing? Doesn't God have a plan? Isn't He working all things together for good? Then what role does my prayer play?

Now I know simply saying this might cause some of you to drop to your knees with wailing and gnashing of teeth, praying for my doubt but I'm not doubting prayer; I'm questioning its use. I believe I'm experiencing a healthy journey into the character of God and the practice of prayer. I mean, we've all got questions about it. Do a search on Amazon for books on prayer and see how many come up. Those books are popular for some reason. Obviously I'm not the first.

No, I don't believe prayer is fiction but maybe some of our uses of it are. That's what I'd like to find out.

I'm going to do my own study on prayer and try to discover what it is really used for, what power it has, and how we are instructed to use it. Don't ask me next week for an answer! I won't have it. I don't know if I'll ever have it but maybe I'll know God a little better. It couldn't leave me anymore confused than those 327,671 books on Amazon.

What are your questions about prayer?

1 comment:

Erin said...

I've been turning this over in my mind ever since you wrote about it.

My questions regarding prayer are similar to yours, I think.
- If God does not need my prayers, and already knows what I'll pray, then why does He still want me to pray?
-How did we develop this attitude that prayer's main function is to get God to do something for us, as though He is a vending machine?

As I have reflected on the purposes of prayer in the life of a Christian, it has kind of nestled itself right in there with giving, serving, and fasting. It's clear to me that God does not NEED any of that from me. He owns the entire earth, He can do anything He wants, He doesn't need my "alloted portion" of food/TV/Internet/shopping (or whatever I might fast from). And prayer seems to be the same way... He doesn't need for me to inform Him of what's going on in the world. He doesn't even need for me to tell Him my desires. He knows it all.

So if God doesn't need any of that, the only person left to impact in this equation is me. Is there something(s) that prayer is meant to accomplish within me? And if so, what?

As far as the vending machine mentality to prayer, my best guess is that when Jesus admonishes us to ask our heavenly Father for good gifts, our human nature likes to take the reins from God and define what is "good," what we "need," and what "love" looks like.
Real love looks like getting everything I want when I want it. No pain, no illness, financial provision, job security, no conflict... eternal peace and happiness. God would heal Aunt Judy because I asked Him to, and He loves me so He has to do what I ask. And what I'm asking is such a good thing anyway, He can't possibly argue with me.

I don't know where we got this idea that we are on the same intellectual level with God that we can argue with Him and prove our case. That ain't right.
(But I still think we need to pray for sick Aunt Judy.)

P.S. There is a great thread over on Seedlings in Stone that made me think of your prayer question as soon as I read it. Seedlings In Stone