It’s time for us to have the talk.
No, not that talk! C’mon, I’m assuming most of you have figured out how to have sex and make babies and whatever else ‘that’ might mean to you.
I mean the talk about prayer.
Of course I realize that moving the subject from sex to prayer in one sentence immediately caused your interest level to drop from 100% to about 4%. Try to keep reading anyway.
I’m talking about something that is natural, intimate, honest, vulnerable, raw. (Still talking about prayer here, people…)
Prayer really is about all those things; the deepest expression of relationship and communion.
Come to think of it, sex and prayer are more alike than I realized.
On another level these are both more than just selfish activities. Popular culture suggests that sex is a selfish, temporary indulgence but popular Christianity often uses prayer much the same way. We pre-determine the most immediate and satisfying solutions to our problem and our ‘prayers of faith’ serve us in making it possible.
I was reminded of that as I watched the Chaplain of the U.S. Senate praying for wisdom and grace in the current proceedings and then observing how Senators continue to treat each other with only selfish ambitions in mind. I’m guessing that praying people on both sides of the floor are invoking God to act justly and crush the opposition.
But it’s true isn’t it? Ninety percent (or more) of our prayers are in times of need or desperation or to get a predetermined outcome. When money is short, we pray. When someone we love is in trouble, we pray. When we have a job interview, we pray. When our kids are late getting in, we pray. When someone is sick, we pray.
But guess what? Lots of prayers don’t get answered. There is still not a verifiably significant number of healings that happen in our ministries; our local churches often pray with a woefully low rate of success. We don’t say it out loud of course, but we have a highly developed language for explaining non-answers: “We need more faith”; “God answers in his own way”; “He has his own perfect timing”, etc.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to pray for our circumstances – Scripture encourages us to pray in times of trouble. To be clear, there are occasions when we believe God answers our prayers and in fact, I can tell you that I have had prayer answered quite clearly in my life.
And I’m not suggesting God ignores us or that events in our lives are always random; I’m simply saying prayer doesn’t exist solely for our happiness and comfort. Prayer is not coaxing or cajoling or conjuring magical answers from God as millions of suffering Christians through history have proven. We just fall too easily into the trap of asking God for favours and calling it prayer.
Prayer isn’t for ensuring a convenient or enjoyable life: accidents still happen; money still gets lost; families still break; corrupt leaders still get elected; people still get sick; people still die.
Rather, prayer is a continuing conversation with God where we live in his wisdom. Prayer is asking for goodness and justice for all rather than a preferred outcome for some. Prayer is being close to God because being close to him is better.
After all, what is ‘successful’ prayer? Is it having temporary fixes for a string of problems or is it living in the eternal, covering Presence of God?
If our requests are answered, then that is a holy blessing. But prayer is more than an add-on, it’s the simple practice of living consciously and honestly with God.
Prayer is not candy.
Prayer is daily bread.