Years ago, as an insecure Christian teenager in high school, I pinned up a self-made ad of our prayer group on the notice board. Anyone who has felt like the sole Christian in high school will know what a step of courage this was. Such an act certainly would not raise my score on the popularity charts. In fact, I felt a little like Esther walking unbidden to the king. Unlike Esther, however, the golden scepter of acceptance from my friends was not extended. My ad didn’t create much interest, although I had tried to make it sound interesting with a catchy phrase in large print. Move the hand that moves the world, it said. It was a phrase that made prayer sound powerful. (Obviously, I hadn’t invented the phrase myself. I had heard it in a song from a popular Christian band of the time and it had struck me as a motivating invitation into prayer.) I hadn’t stopped to consider the phrase in detail, however. Did I really believe that prayer was a way to direct God – to move Him to act according to my wishes? I had prayed for years but not yet learnt enough about the depth of the process.
As it goes, God develops our understanding of Him so gradually that we hardly notice the changes as they take place. Now, almost two decades later, I view that little phrase with a good deal less enthusiasm than before. Although it highlights the great possibilities of change through prayer, I now see that it may give rise to a mistaken idea of human power through prayer. Contrary to what can be understood through the phrase above, prayer is not the means for us to exercise power over God.
The power of prayer comes from a heart that communicates with God and yields to God. Man agreeing with God for His purposes to be accomplished.
Jesus Himself is the supreme example of this. In the garden of Gethsemane His prayer is a reflection of incredible submission. He pleads with the Father to not go through the suffering ahead, but then concludes His prayer by yielding:
yet not my will, but yours be done (Luke 22:42).
It is a sobering thought that our whole salvation hangs on this prayer of submission. In like manner, Paul, the apostle who wrote such deep prayers for the churches, “pleaded with the Lord” to be free from his pain (2. Cor. 12:8). Yet his request was denied, as God told him that His grace was sufficient for Paul. Just like it is for us – but only once we yield to God.
I have found that many times we mistake prayer as a possibility to control life or the outcome of a specific situation. Taken to the extreme, most of us recognise this idea as absurd, yet it seems to prevail somewhere in the back of our minds. At worst, prayer may become for us much like placing an order at the God shop – instead being the expression of a relationship with our God and Father. Some of the teaching circulating in Christian circles seems to be the outgrowth of our consumerist society where relationship with God is no longer in the centre, not even in moments of prayer. If we do not develop a close relationship with the Lord, prayer can quickly be reduced to a self-centred consumerist activity.
Below are a few questions to help us zoom in on how we view prayer.
When we pray in faith, who or what do we have faith in? In faith itself? In God’s goodness? In prayer?
Do we pray to get our desired result or to interact with God (whether through wrestling with Him or resting in Him)?
Do we yield our prayer requests to God through prayer – or do we try to push for what we want?
I believe our Father desires for us to have such a close relationship with Him that we will not view prayer as a possibility to have what we want but what He wants.
May we not pray from faith in prayer itself but from a place of deep relationship with God Himself.