Monday, October 20, 2014

Prayer is about Submission, not Manipulation

God responds to what is in our hearts, not what is in our heads.~ Jennifer Rothschild 

A recent blog post by the women's ministry leader Jennifer Rothschild has stirred up more thoughts regarding the attitude of prayer. In the last two years, the theology of prayer penetrates my actions.
Questions balloon around my head like a brainstorming diagram:
What motivates our prayers? Does prayer change God's mind? What does it mean to "just have faith"? Should our prayers be more specific or less so? What is the purpose of prayer anyway?

(I'd daresay not all believers will answer those questions the same way. Our thoughts on the subject of prayer are rooted in various theological backgrounds, Biblical interpretations, experiences, and specific callings. These thoughts demonstrated my journey and desire to honor God with prayer.)

Rothschild addresses the ignorance of Joshua's prayer over battle. Joshua requested that God make the sun stand still. Obviously, he didn't realize that the sun didn't move--the earth did. Still, God honored his request and said, "yes," albeit not in those specific terms.

“In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart. ” 
― John Bunyan

So, we know from Scripture that God assesses man's words and actions based on the condition of the heart. ( I Sam. 16:7) What is motivating his request? Is it fueled by a passion to know God and make Him known or is it motivated by lust, greed, and covetous desire? (James 4:1-10).

Many Christians heap guilt on believers for just not having enough faith...often in relationship to physical healing. In other words, "they didn't want it bad enough."  This approach takes on an almost mystical manipulation, making us a force to control Deity. For after all, God's desire is to heal everyone of all physical ailments, right?  Hmm...

As a point of my own personal experience, I often think of Dad's battle with cancer. He had no desire to leave this world--though he was fully prepared to do so--but wanted to stay here for us, his family. He believed, as many of us did, that God was going to heal him.  My parents obeyed in everything Scripture commanded (laying on of hands, having elders pray over him, anointing him with oil, etc.) They went to prayer rooms, healing rooms, prayer meetings, and believed, even when Dad was on Hospice care and unable to walk, that God could raise Him up from that bed in a miraculous way.

But, He didn't. Despite our faith, despite our eager supplication and constant pleading, God's answer was, "no."  Actually, God's answer--if we look at it in terms of eternity--was "yes", I will heal him and restore him as he has never before been. With full assurance of the truth, I believe Dad is more alive now than we ever have been on this earth.

Still, many would argue that God's "no" was merely demonstrative of our weak efforts. If we had just had a little more faith, prayed a little harder, etc., than we could have turned the dial, changed the answer and gotten our wish.  This idea fails to encompass God's sovereign plan or ability to control a situation. What we seem to be saying is that we are capable of taking the lead and dictating our own destiny.  But as Scripture says, it's God who numbers our days--not us.

In regards to faith, we need to ask ourselves what we are putting faith in. The power of faith is rooted in the Object of our faith not the efforts of our will.

Matthew 13:58 says that Jesus didn't do many miracles in their town because of their lack of faith.  Many people take this verse as evidence that Jesus will only accomplish His healing over a person if they have a certain level of faith, but what Matthew is referencing is not a person's power of faith, but their lack of belief.  They didn't have faith in Jesus; they didn't believe He was the Son of God. Therefore, Jesus didn't demonstrate who He was to them, because they didn't believe He was the Messiah.

When we pray for healing or restoration, we should always open our hands to God's will.  Jesus prayed a specific prayer in the Garden: that the cup would be taken from Him, BUT not his will but the Father's will.  In like manner, we pray with full confidence that God is more than capable of overcoming anything, but we trust His answer and don't rest our belief of Him on what He says (be it "yes" or "no").

My husband has been helping our daughter understand what prayer should look like.  He took Jesus's prayer in Luke 11 and modified it into syntax a six-year-old could comprehend.

Here's how the Message puts it:
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right.
Keep us alive with three square meals.Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.”
 God promises to give us everything we need--no, not everything we want, but certainly everything we need.

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.” ― Mother Teresa

God doesn't owe us anything.  Our finite thinking pushes God into a box that dictates,"The only way you can be good is if you answer my prayer this way, make me comfortable, keep all my family members safe and healthy..." and on and on we go.  As if God's grace isn't more than enough. As if we somehow deserve prosperity and ease. As if God's authority hinges on His ability to submit to our demands.  But the Lord never promised us that life would be comfortable or easy. In fact, Jesus promised that in this life we would have hardship, but to remember that He has won and the eternal victory is ours as well. Would our faith in Who God is hold under the fire of "no"?

“Sometimes I go to God and say, 'God, if Thou dost never answer another prayer while I live on this earth, I will still worship Thee as long as I live and in the ages to come for what Thou hast done already.' God’s already put me so far in debt that if I were to live one million millenniums I couldn’t pay Him for what He’s done for me.” 
― A.W. Tozer

There's a section of Beth Moore's prayer for Awakening that I want to share with you (taken from Children of the Day study on I & II Thes.). To me, it captures many of these concepts of passionate belief in God without limiting God to answer on our terms and within our boundaries.

We willingly confess to You our sinful arrogance. We have prescribed to You 
by what means You, the solitary Healer, should heal souls. You have refused to sign
Your Name to our prescriptions. We ask You this day to write Your Name across our sky
and bring revival! Save by whatever means brings You glory. Bring it any way You like.
We free You from using our methods. [...]

We confess to You our appalling narcissism in asking You to mirror us.
Do what You want. Make Your Name glorious.

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