June 03, 2003

In the past week or so, three different Christ-followers have shared with me more or less the same fear about prayer. It came out sounding something like this:

"Sometimes I'm afraid to ask for what I really want for fear I'll be disappointed..."

"I'm not very good at praying for myself...it makes me feel selfish..."

"I asked a friend to act on his sense of what God is doing in my life, rather than act myself based on my own understanding..."

Why are so many of us afraid to go to God asking? After all, Jesus encouraged his followers to treat his Father as their own, and to make their requests of Him accordingly:

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:9-11 NIV)

I wonder if what really keeps us from asking for what we want is fear of what it will do to our faith if we don't get what we've asked for. The subconscious reasoning (oxymoron?) goes something like this: I believe that God says He answers prayer; if I pray and God doesn't answer, either God is lying or my belief is wrong. If a person was afraid to face either prospect, the fall-back position would naturally be not to ask at all.

I guess I've come to see prayer from a different perspective. In our church's Members' Covenant, we have the following statement:

"We will pray to God in faith, trusting in His promise that if we live in HIm and allow His Word to live in us, everything we ask will be listened to and acted upon to bring us into complete conformity with the sovereign will of God (John 15:7-8)."

So may Christ follwers (and churches, and whole denominations!) have turned the Scriptures we referenced into a sort of divine gumball machine -- "If you put enough holiness (or, in another version, faith) in, you'll get what you want out." I think there's more to "abiding/remaining in Christ" and "letting his word abide/remain in me" than simple holiness or faith. The divine gumball machine ignores the link between the asking and bearing fruit for God's glory, a link that redefines prayer under the New Covenant as "an act of spiritual interface with God by which my will is aligned with His." Jesus' own prayer in the Garden of Gethsemene on the night of his betrayal is the perfect example: "Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will" (Mark 14:36).

(I find blogs that are actually sermons or one-person debating societies to be both boorish and boring, so I'll stop now. More later, if the Spirit moves me...)

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