This blog post was originally published on The Happy Moron blog and has been reposted with permission.
I’ve come to believe that effective prayer hangs on discovering the heart and mind of God, and then praying *that*. The only trouble is, I find doing so really, really hard. This post is dedicated to my sister, who sparked these thoughts and whom I love dearly.
If a son asks his father for a scorpion, does his father give it to him? How about if he asks for ice cream? What if he asks for ice cream… and then again… and again… and again? There’s a time for ice cream, but there’s also a time for going to bed, no?
There are some things that even repeated asking will not produce, no matter how resolute or plaintive such asking may be. I wish I was so savvy as to apply this logic in my own prayer life.
I am convinced that for each of us, God has a massive long list of things which he is simply longing for us to ask him for. I imagine him shaking his head as I pray, “I can’t do anything if you keep on like that! Ask for this and you’ll get something fantastic!” He has a pained expression as I determinedly plow through my laundry list of wants, none of which are even close. I suspect that a great many of the things I spend my prayer time asking for are things of the wrong sort – things that I happen to want but which are actually Ice Cream Before Bed – or even scorpions! – not the necessities I believe them to be.
Every once in a while, I get brave enough to ask the question – “What if I stopped asking for the things I wanted and decided to seriously discover and pray for the things that God would like me to ask for?”
I have a sneaking suspicion that God answers in power when I pray, but that his exercise of power remains curiously stunted so long as I am committed to praying for things that just ain’t. gonna. happen. Odd, isn’t it? I can pray a very long time for God to change every circumstance and person around me. I’m well practiced at praying from a perspective where I am the center of all things. (“Dear God: Please restructure everything to suit me. Scott.”)
Of course, I’m also well practiced at sitting around and wondering where the power in my life is, asking why I am constantly falling short of the Victorious Christian Life (TM).
The answer, of course, is ridiculously simple. What I ought to be doing is finding out the sorts of things that God wants me to pray for, and start praying for those. Bring down the POWER!!! There’s only one wrinkle. I don’t want to pray for those kinds of things. I mean, seriously… I don’t want to. They feel disruptive and uncomfortable. These are the things which are right at the heart of God but which are really really far away from the things that are shiny and are distracting me right now.
These kinds of prayer items have a nasty tendency to stray into some pretty touchy areas, like the ugliness of my own sin or the pain of my own hurts. Worse still, into the ugliness of other people’s sins, whom I need to forgive – or the pain of their hurts, for which I need to ask forgiveness. The Holy Spirit came to lead us into all truth – but if the truth is that I need to change, do I really want to hear it?
Let me tell you – I get to thinking about a list of things I could be praying for, and I get rebellious and fearful. It’s a completely different reaction than my reaction to ordinary prayer – of wistfulness, regret, and pettiness. It’s a short trip for me, from “Lord, why are you not bringing The Power?” to “Lord, please not that Power!” I’m not afraid of these things because I think they’re bad, I’m afraid of them because of those parts of me that are bad don’t like them. It’s like John says: my darkness doesn’t want to come to the light because the light will reveal it. It’s a scary thought: maybe I ought to be praying for things which I don’t want.
So here’s a list of things that I don’t pray for. I believe that if I ever did start praying for these things, my life would shift – I would start stumbling over opportunities to follow God in testing, challenging ways that would reveal God’s goodness, power, and action in this world. This list will be skewed, because my understanding of God’s heart is skewed, but it is a starting point.
- Show me someone whom you love but who I am ignoring.
- Is there someone really unappealing who it would delight you for me to serve?
- God seems to really care about people who I loathe. The awkward and the socially incompatible and the immigrants and the distant rich. I get scared thinking about how much he loves them and how little I do.
- Can you imagine how much joy God would feel if I finally started asking him to empower me to help those who he dearly loves and is longing for me to help? You’ve got to believe that if I started praying for this that the Holy Spirit would start stirring in tangible ways.
- The inescapable irony is that if I ask God for a name of someone I don’t want to help, and he actually gives me a name… I won’t want to help them!
- Who would you like me to confess my unconfessed sin to?
- A real person? It’s not fair to demand that of me! I mean, that’s in direct conflict with my people-pleasing and my fears of rejection!
- Which of my hopes and dreams do I need to let go? Will you show me which idols I am clinging to, even if they are near and dear to me?
- Please give me an opportunity to witness to ____
- Is there a free-will offering that I can offer which will really delight you?
- Is there a habit that you want me to be free from?
Like I said, I don’t pray for these things. This bothers me. I suspect that this is closely tied to a lack of fear of the LORD – an unwillingness to give him due and proper consideration in prayer, which you gotta figure is pretty near all consideration.
The above list is a negative list, but probably just because I’m a problem oriented thinker and I react instinctively to things that are Wrong and Must Be Fixed. There are positive things that God wants, which I don’t pray for either, for a variety of reasons. Maybe I’m being deceived into an unhealthy focus on the negative list. Here are some more things that I never pray for:
- Is there a way that I’m not being fed but in which you are willing and waiting to feed me?
- Is there a gift or a blessing that I should be seeking after?
- What fruit do you love to see the most when you look at my life?
- Which of my friends has done something special for me that you want me to offer thanksgiving for?
- Will you show me a way that I can strengthen the church this week?
- What relationship would you like to build and strengthen? How can I pray for your consecration and blessing of it? Will you give us a special care and compassion for one another?
- Is there a psalm I can pray (or sing) that will be especially pleasing to you?
- What act of worship will you really delight in right now?
I suspect that, having listed these, I will now have to Man Up, be obedient, and actually pray some of them. After all, doing things I don’t want to is a necessary part of growing up (which I was never particularly good at, but which I’ve always suspected I ought to do). In the meantime…
What don’t you pray for?