I’m not sure I believe much in prayer.
Now, hold on! Taking that statement out of context might ensure I’m never tapped to be pastor of a mega-church. Good! A blessing for all concerned! And if it shakes up the “Expect a Miracle!” plastic piety crowd whose answers to pain and suffering are strings of pious platitudes, fine. I’ve had my fill of such.
As the umbrella title of this column/blog is “Focus on Faith,” I ask, “Who or what is the focus of our faith?” My answer is, “God.” In that very literal sense, the answer is not “prayer,” it is God.
But I’m not always so picky or prickly. If I’m asked, “Do you believe in prayer?” I usually just truthfully say, “Yes, I do,” without being a jerk and over-explaining. But what I mean is, “I believe in God, and in his Son, who taught us by word and example to pray deeply and often and expect to be heard, believing that it matters. Yes, I pray.”
But I do not believe in approaches to prayer that are more akin to rabbit’s foot magic and witch doctor superstition than the faith we see in the Bible. They are so unlike Jesus’ example and teaching about prayer, and seem to me thin, wispy, and, at heart, cruel, no matter how popular they are.
I can’t talk about faith for long without talking about prayer. And I can’t talk about prayer long without talking about the problem of pain and suffering. The answer to both centers on trust in God. But real answers and real trust are never easy, however strong our faith.
Even a little honesty about prayer is a breath of fresh air. C. S. Lewis, great defender of the faith and serious “pray-er,” in the midst of writing profoundly on the subject, admitted frustration, realizing that his whole day had a feeling of holiday about it once his morning prayers were dutifully done! Such candor comforts me far more than the stories—some mostly true—of great people of faith who regularly prayed for 25 hours a day, 26 on particularly busy days.
If you prefer moonshine and stardust to harder and more genuine faith, don’t read Philip Yancey’s book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? But I love his biblical and faith-building view—especially what he writes about Jesus and prayer: Jesus prayed. We learn much about praying from the way he prayed, what he prayed for, what he didn’t pray for, and the way he dealt with his Father’s yes—and no.
Did Jesus believe in prayer? Yes! If you mean that he believed so completely in his Father that, whatever the answer, talking with his Father was more important to him than food or shelter or breath itself!
When I pray, I ask for the moon. Like Yancey, I believe that miracles happen, but, by their nature, rarely. I also remember Christ’s cross, Paul’s thorn, and . . . Sometimes the answer rocks me on my heels because it is so delightful. More often, it rocks me more profoundly and sends me beating on my Father’s chest before I collapse in his arms of love.
“Oh, respectfully, Lord, did I not make myself clear? I did not in the least want “power to get through this.” I wanted around this!
Sometimes I almost wish there were a formula, so if I got it right, I’d get the right answer. But that’s magic, not faith. I don’t need a better rabbit’s foot; I have what I need, a Father who loves me completely. To him, I’ll pray. With gratitude. Love. Hope. And sometimes anger and hot tears. And he’ll love me still.
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Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.