For the last two weeks, I have been teaching one of our young adult classes at Servant. We worked on tough questions that they submitted by email prior to the class. One of the questions I didn’t get to answer, I promised to answer here on the blog. The question is this:
How does someone pray when they know/trust that God either already knows the situation and is on the job or that God knows better what the outcome should be than the one praying? For instance, how does a person ask God to heal someone when that may or may not be God’s plan? I really struggle with this. I can be grateful all day long. I can ask for guidance for myself. But to ask for others seems like I am telling God something that I assume he doesn’t already know.
When someting is troubling, what do I ask for? Peace that passes understanding, I realize is the ultimate goal. But when that is all that is said in a prayer, after a while, the result is a bit of a disconnect. I liken it to an old couple who has been together for years. They still love each other, they still have their little jokes, but when they go out to eat, they don’t talk much.
Got anything for me?
This is obviously a tough question from someone who has really given this some serious thought, and there is a lot of theology underneath this question. The two main questions here, as I see them, are these:
- Why are we supposed to pray when God is already omniscient (all-knowing)? After all, we aren’t telling God something he doesn’t already know, and he knows far better than we do what to do in any given situation.
- If all I ask God for is generic things like “peace” or “comfort,” how can prayer be truly relational?
To begin with, I think we (this includes me, by the way) sometimes have a mixed up view of prayer. We are tempted to think of God as the “Big Vending Machine in the Sky.” We put in our quarters (prayer), and out pops the Snickers bar (whatever we ask for). This is how we sometimes hear verses like John 15:7 interpreted, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” And yet, Jesus also tells us, “…your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” in Matthew 6:8.
So, what are we supposed to do? Philip Yancey, in his incredible book, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? writes,
The main purpose of prayer is not to make life easier, nor to gain magical powers, but to know God. I need God more than anything I might get from God.
I think this is one of the keys to answering the questions above. Prayer, ultimately is about intimacy and relationship with God, and that relationship is no less dynamic or predictable than any other relationship we find ourselves in. God knows all the problems and needs in the world, and yet for reasons beyond our understanding, God still wants to be in a deep relationship with us. He wants to hear our thoughts, feelings, and desires for our lives and the world around us. We only need to look at Jesus’ prayers and the Psalms to see a great record of these kinds of prayers.
And somehow, in the middle of all of this, God responds to our prayers. We’re not in control of God, but we are given the privilege of working together with him. So, in a sense, the answer to question two is this: prayer that is generic isn’t the kind of relationship God wants to have. He wants to know our deepest thoughts, feelings, and desires both for our own lives and the lives of those around us. He wants us to ask for people to be healed, and even though we can’t comprehend how, our prayers are included and make a difference in the way God works and moves in the world. Again, prayer isn’t predictable (that would put us in control of God), but it is powerful.
In the end, the analogy of an old husband and wife is probably very much what God desires. A relationship that is intimate and deeper than words is only the result of a lifetime of conversation. So, keep praying, don’t be afraid to be specific, share everything with God, and get to know him more than you ever have before. That’s the kind of “abiding” that Jesus says is integral to prayer.
In the end, entire books have been written about these questions, and we are still asking them. I hope this begins to touch on wrestling with this question and gives you food for thought.