The other day I saw something flash across my computer screen that at a glance looked like the words, “Need help praying?”
Taking a closer look, I saw that the words were actually “paying, not praying” and while I felt a little disappointed it made more sense.
Who doesn’t need a little help paying these days? Very few seem unaffected by the world’s changing economy, but for a half second I was thinking, Yes, I could use some help praying.
Other people seem to do it so easily talking about it online in Facebook and in their blog comments. I see it all the time and requests saying,”Prayers needed” are often met with a one word response, “Praying.” Sometimes my Facebook page looks like one big prayer chain with long lists of people joining in.
I never do. I watch from the edges not holding out much hope for the person in need especially if prayer is all they have left.
Don’t get me wrong, it looks like a comfort to be part of a support system where people believe that someone greater than themselves can heal their loved one, save their house from foreclosure, or bring them a loving partner if only they can raise enough voices to God in prayer.
I just feel so used to handling whatever happens that praying about it feels a bit like tossing my hands in the air and giving up control.
In my younger years when I heard people say, “I’m giving it up to the Lord” I would think and sometimes argue that I thought God gave us a brain to think with and we should handle things on our own.
And what if despite all the prayers … the loved one dies, the house is lost to the bank, and no loving partner is revealed? Does that mean God wasn’t listening?
I did a lot of praying when I was a child, when I believed that prayer was like a hotline to God’s ear and I will still offer up a gentle request sometimes when I’m on an airplane and someone else in control, but prayer feels more like a “just in case” sort of action now, rather than one based on any firm faith or belief.
It’s the contradictions of the seemingly faithful that give me pause, the people who pray out loud, “Bless us O Lord,” while turning away from those in need, or the church leaders who pray about avoiding sin and secretly commit heinous acts themselves.
Sometimes I wish for a burning bush. I know I’m not Moses and I don’t have any people to lead, but I sure have a few questions I’d like to ask God.
The seeker in me wonders if the praying versus paying ad might have been a spark for my burning bush moment, perhaps a flicker of a flame meant to catch my eye.
I know what you’re saying. Feels like prayer is sort of a last resort, right? I used to feel the same. What changed for me was that once I realized that praying for something specific was a waste of time, I began to simply pray for God to handle the problem. I used to ask God every night to help me find a husband so I could have a child. I thought I had to be married to have children. I finally realized [at age 40] that it was out of my control. I told God I wanted a family, and left it up to him as to how that happened. Within 6 months I was on a plane to Russia, where I saw my daughter.
I had to learn to quit telling God what to do, and trust him. Now my prayers are simply things like “please take care of us” instead of “please let me get that particular job.” He can and will solve problems, in his own time and in his own way, usually ways I would never have thought of. I still do everything I can to help folks and to take care of everything earthly.
I’m so much like you – never asking for prayers..never quite believing that there are any good reasons for praying..and that whatever comes along – I’ll be able to handle it. But -I admit. As I get older..the concept and possibility of prayer does offer up some comfort.
Hi, Elizabeth! I have “lurked” here at your blog for a few months & I enjoy reading about your adventures! I even thought about you this past Sunday when I visited a restaurant known as “The Pub” (http://experiencethepub.com/lexington). I couldn’t help but think that you, and especially your John, would find it absolutely ridiculous. The servers are wearing “kilts” (not even real ones, man skirts. And the ladies are wearing plaid pleated micro minis) for crying out loud!
Anyway. When I saw this post, I knew that I had to “fan the flames”. Bear with me, this is longer than I intended!
Burning bushes: Jesus tells of a parable in Luke 16:19-31 that I think you will find interesting, particularly verse 31. I do not know if the ad was your “burning bush”, but I do not believe in consequences. I firmly believe that God is fully aware of each & every detail in our lives & that we go through nothing without his allowing it. (Job 1:8-12) You have access to what God has to say about things and that is the Bible, which is his word (John 1:1). According to American culture, I was financially ruined & you know how most Americans feel about that!
I’m giving it up to the Lord: This type of theology, the “let go and let God approach” is referred to as Keswickian theology & I don’t believe that the bible teaches it. For example, when Joseph was imprisoned in Egypt, he could have cried around that his cell mate didn’t remember him (Genesis 40), but he didn’t. He was active, living as he was supposed to in obedience to God & he rose in the eyes of pretty much everyone he came across (even while in jail-Genesis 39:21-23), particularly Pharaoh (Genesis 41)! Another example would be “I’m giving my marriage up to you, God, because I love my husband so much. Why doesn’t he get it?” Then behaving like a shrew or being a nag, two things that love isn’t (1 Corinthians 13). Which brings me to…
Hyposcrisy (sin): I’m disgusted every time I see a church leader or any professing believer, for that matter, fall. I fall daily myself. I used to think that a church contained the biggest hypocrites (sinners) there were. There is this lie circulating that Christians (<-still sinners, but saved by grace) somehow become “better” than everyone else just because we got saved. Some Christians even believe it. And that is not true at all. Jesus warned his disciples about weakness before he was taken (Matthew 26:41). We don’t lose our fallen, sinful natures. Paul touches on this in Romans 7:15-25. We do battle with it until the day we die (1 Corinthians 9:24-27.) I will point out that people are known by their fruit (Matthew 3:8; fruit is: Ephesians 5:16-24, esp. 22-23). Believers, when they sin, should repent to God (& any others they’ve wronged) or their lives should show some evidence of growth over time. Unrepentant believers need to do a check to see what they really believe in.
Hope/hopeless: Those who have incurable cancer (my stepfather in law died slowly over several weeks from it this past summer, suffering is never easy to watch) and are believers, those who believe God, know that their hope is not on this earth. God never promised Christians freedom from suffering or the gift of an easy life. Trouble is part of living in a fallen world. Everything here is temporary. Our bodies are temporary, but our souls are immortal. Prayer, God, burning bushes, hope…it all boils down to this: do you believe that God is who *HE* says he is? Do you believe that Jesus was who *HE* says he is? The evidence of God is all around you (Romans 1:20). I do believe that he pursues us (2 Peter 3:9), because he opens our eyes to the truth (2 Corinthians 4:1-6). Do you believe? We never know when our time here is up. If you are seeking, keep seeking!! The Bible is an excellent place to start.
Yes, Elizabeth yes! Indeed a burning bush moment for you. God so desires intimacy with you and that cannot be achieved without prayer. He’s right there, in the wonder of it all. You can begin by just praising Him for your many blessings, and the love of your life. As you grow in prayer you begin to pray with faith in the power of His Holy Word, for He honors His word above His name. I would encourage you to read the little book of James in the New Testament…”But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering” James 1:6. Faith grows and builds as we commune in intimacy with God through Jesus Christ. Hebrews 11 is a great chapter to read on faith. I am cheering you on from the sidelines in your journey, and rejoice in your love. “These three remain, faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love”. 1 Cor. 13
Blessings in your pursuit of the Holy,
I have lots of thoughts about this and I suspect they contradict each other violently, but here are a few somewhat random observations off the top of my head.
– when i think about it, let go and let God probably saves years off a person’s life – all that useless fretting leading to no help at all is gone, and makes me (for one) much more clear-headed in finding solutions. ‘God’ here being a loose term, not any one in particular
– I think the idea of praying in a group is attractive, when it unites open hearted people in a unified direction. I walk away in disgust at the “let those unlike us fall into demise” so-called praying. But I’d say I’m of the ‘Let the best thing happen’ school of heavenly requests now. Maybe because I’ve found many silver linings in disaster, and hovered around clinical depression when specific requests went unanswered (and later had a much better result in the silver lining..). Point one, I guess. And plenty of helping myself, too.
– i see being grateful, and living gratefully, as being a prayer as much as requesting. I wish I was better at being grateful in a mindful way. and more often.
Finally, I think the fact that you even ask yourself these questions, is a form of prayer. May you feel blessed, God or no!
My prayer these days is most often: “OK, so what is the Universe asking me to do here?” I get some surprising answers.
Thank you for this post. One of the things I respect about you is your honesty.
As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in a Christian family, but because we chose voluntary poverty and chose to live in a ‘rough’ area, I also grew up where prayer was super practical. Mom and Dad, not knowing where the next meal would come from, praying for food and there would be provision. At the same time, we also grew up surrounded by death and violence. (in the same year–I was 4–our Pastor’s grown daughter was murdered by an ex-boyfriend and my godfather was hit in the head by a kid with a baseball bat and died 6-months later.) So my parents could never give us a simplistic version of faith where God would always make everything better. In fact my Mom often struggled with the idea that as much as she loved the Lord, she didn’t trust him to “do her good”. Toward the end of her life, while dying of cancer, she got a revelation of God’s Father love that really changed her. She wasn’t healed, but her joy in the midst of dying was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.
Part of what’s hard about prayer is that (at least in the Christian version) it’s as much a reflection of the relationship as it is about a formula or set of words. There’s a reason that Jesus’ revolutionary prayer begins with “Our Father”. Not “My Father” not “Our Holy Director”. It’s about community with others and communion in a loving relationship with God. The problem is that when we go through really crappy life events, it’s really hard to reconcile that with a loving Father and, and, frankly, the ‘gimmee’ faith that I’ve seen in many American churches makes that wresting match all the more confusing. It also makes it harder to find a community where honest struggle is welcomed.
My husband has been wrestling with these sorts of questions for much of our marriage. For three or four years I gave him a string of rah-rah answers, the lines that had been fed to me. In the end, I did a study of the book of Job where I went through and underlined in one color the things I heard him saying, in another color what people from our church told him, and another for what I was saying to him. It seemed like there were three approaches: God IS responsible and I want him to answer (Job/Jrex); God is always good and this bad stuff has happened because you deserve it (Job’s three friends/church); and It’s a mystery, we just have to trust (Elihu/me). In the end, God did answer Job, but the answer was mostly a non-answer where God basically says, I’m really big and most of what I do is beyond your capacity to execute or even fully understand. Somehow in the end, that glimpse of God’s reality is enough that Job says he gets it. I don’t fully understand it as an interaction, but it seems like there was something in that to reconnect the relationship enough for Job to return to a trusting relationship.
Again in the NT, Paul comes to the point where he questions why God does what He does and again, it’s a non-answer, “Who are you to question God?” I find that one of the really difficult things about the Christian faith: the reality that Why? won’t necessarily be answered. Perhaps Who? and What For? might get clarified, but going down the Why? road seems to lead to a lot of despair. There is a lot in the NT about counting suffering as joy and being thankful in all circumstances that I still don’t understand. That somehow mixes into the life of prayer and the living of life in a way I don’t often see modeled in the States.
For me, I’ve had enough relational encounters with Jesus/God that I can’t walk away from the reality of his existence. Some of the theology/philosophy around who he is can be confusing, but the core of knowing he’s real and trusting that somehow, somewhere along the road he’ll use all this still feels true.
I found this verse last night in Hosea: “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” As much as Jrex isn’t sure about a lot of the Christian faith, he trusts that Jesus died and rose and that heaven is real. Somehow that’s been the thin thread that he’s held onto and that verse spoke to me about God’s attitude toward that. The person who chooses to not completely walk away is someone of great worth to Him. I think of that in your honesty and hope that maybe there’s something worthwhile in prayer, there is great worth.
(Phew. This turned out to be really long. I hope you won’t mind if I now use my comment on my blog!)
I used to think that God was a cosmic vending machine, and I still do sometimes. But now that I treat him more like an all-powerful loving Creator, my prayers have changed. Right now, this very second, I am waiting to find out if my husband still has a job. I philosophically trust that our family will be fine, but that doesn’t mean my fears automatically go away. The amazing think about God is that he’s RIGHT THERE with me as I feel these fears and whispering to me, “I am with you. I love you. Trust me.”
This is my first time on your blog and I’ll be following where your journey leads.
I think prayer changes things. I agree about appreciating your honesty.
Whew! I am really grateful for the response to my post. Some of you feel like old friends having made yourself known in previous comments and some are speaking or showing up for the first time. Thank you all for taking time to share your thoughts.
Talking about God and spiritual matters in blog land can be off putting for many. I know I tend to flip off to somewhere else if I see a blog that seems God focused. It makes me uncomfortable on many levels.
It triggers too many questions that seem to have no answers and too many things that require faith. More immediate and disturbing for me though is the way it almost always makes me cry. I’m not even sure what that’s about, but I am searching for answers and you’ve given me a great deal to think about.
Important to me also is that you’ve done it in a way that feels gentle, constructive, and nonjudgmental. Thank you.
I have contemplated prayer quite a bit in my adult life and do not find myself wanting to pray very often. To me, prayer doesn’t seem like something where I put in my list of orders, like one would do in a lunch line. I do put in requests that loved ones will feel God’s presence and guidance during significant events. I think that so much of how things turn out has to do with how we prepare, but it is nice to feel a spiritual hand sending us in the right direction. The funny thing, though, is that I look back and feel like I have received spiritual guidance even without praying. HE knows the desires of our hearts!
My best experience with the power of prayer has been through my son’s medical care. He has had two surgeries on his skull and has to overcome developmental delays and a mild hearing loss. Each time we have faced surgery with him, we have had an entire community praying for us. Just knowing that so many people are behind us and care so much has made a world of difference in how we have handled things. Then, on the days of such big events, we have felt a calm peace like no other. In everything, our son has come through with flying colors. I don’t necessarily think that the prayers kept him safe, though. If Simon had to depart this world at one of those times, it would have happened. Still, we had the prayers of people to carry us through, no matter the outcome.
This is a fascinating post and the comments as well. I believe prayer can move mountains. I believe prayer can change the heart of God. This is evident in the Bible. God has mercy, because his children prayed. God administered his justice, because his children prayed. It’s all about your relationship with God. And prayer is one way of deepening our connection with God.
I was reading one of Corrie ten Boom’s books. She provided safe houses for Jews during the Holocaust and became imprisoned in a concentration camp herself. One day in concentration camp, she saw some bananas and had this desire to eat one. She desperately wanted to eat a banana. She knew, however, that it was not a possibility, given her situation. She prayed to the Lord. Lord, I want a banana but I know it’s not possible. (She had an immensely intimate relationship with God.) She didn’t believe that God could provide her bananas.
Later, a guard came in with a MOUND of bananas. I guess they just wanted to get rid of them as they were starting to rot or whatever. She wrote in the book that she could not TOUCH them. She felt sorry to God for doubting his abilities.
I don’t know why this story comes to my mind. I have always loved it. I think it’s because it shows me that God is so much bigger than my doubts. That he loves me beyond my comprehension, and that he is able to do (through mysterious ways) what I am not even able to imagine. Above all, that what God wants is a heart that is after him. Not to be a cosmic vending machine that I only turn to in times of crisis, but a very real presence in my life.
Les just showed me this pic. Wow. Blast from the past! What a strange day that was. Still searching myself.
So where are you living now? We’re still in east cobb. Time just keeps passing! Let me hear from you.