Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ebony and Ivory, Side by Side on My Piano Keys: Reflections on Prayer

I generally have a difficult time figuring out when to push and when to wait. Do I call someone every day until they respond, or do I call once and sit by the phone indefinitely? (I think He's Just Not That Into You probably addresses this quandry with respect to the opposite sex...) Do I go to the store one day for that sold-out book I want or return daily to six bookstores until it's finally in stock? Do I ask my manager for a face-to-face four times a week until he caves or put in the request on Monday and assume he's too busy if I don't hear back?
See,  there are two conflicting impulses within me that are always in tension. There's the go-getter that wants to hunt the person or thing down that I need to accomplish my goal and will not relent until that they succumb to the sheer incessant force of my will. There's also the passive people-pleaser whose desire is to be liked and not rock the boat, which too often morphs into laziness.
As I've been reading passages of the Bible addressing prayer, I can't help but muse on these tendencies within me. These stories shed light on 2 different perspectives... there are the stories of persistence, comparing God to a callous judge who will relent only to the incessant pleadings of an old woman, God as the annoyed neighbor who comes downstairs after lots of loud knocking, etc. Then there are the verses that seem to imply a one time dump of worries onto a God who will go off and come back with results ("Cast all your cares upon Him", "Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your request to God," "Ask and you will receive").
When it comes to down to it, I feel real conflict about the right theology in this area... and, traditionally, I am realizing that my patient (or passive) side overwhelmingly prevails in how this practically plays out in my life. While there are definitely themes about what is on my heart and therefore what I pray for, my mentality has always been that once I've asked, I can forget about it and move on. There's definitely something to be said for this- I think I can honestly say that I have a small gift of faith in this area, because I know that many people really struggle with philosophical mechanics as to whether God hears us or how we can know that prayer does anything. That has not been a large obstacle in my prayer life. I am coming to realize that I see prayer almost as a fact finding mission to a completely wise and fair judge. I bring the facts as I know them and my recommendation to Him and walk away assuming that He will do as He sees best.
However, I'm realizing that this view is what may keep me from praying persistently for something. The piece of the puzzle that I think I'm lacking is the faith that what I ask for will change what God does. I see prayer as bringing the situation to God's attention; I don't understand what it means to believe that I am bringing counsel to the Counselor that will be seriously considered. We have to be really careful here, because it is all too easy, especially in our current cultural climate, to morph our view of prayer as our rabbit's foot, a way to manipulate the Governor of the universe. Any such view is facile and, ultimately, just silly. However, God makes some embarassingly extravagent promises about His willingness to listen and act on our behalf ("He will give you the desires of your heart", "If your son asks for bread, will you give him a stone?", "Ask and you will receive"). The Bible is filled with people who bargain with God and get results (Abraham about Sodom, Moses about the protection of Israel). Frankly, these stories would make me a little afraid of trusting a God who was completely governed by the will of men, if they were not balanced by stories of people who do not get what they request (Job, Jesus in Gethsemene). The whole picture shows a God who is open to the desires and requests of man, but not dominated by them.
That's a bigger picture than my simple mind would develop on its own and I'm sure I'll never fully grasp the subtleties. The key to all of this, of course, is the heart behind it. "He will give you the desires of your heart" is prefaced by "Delight yourself in the Lord." Again, having the heart of delight isn't something I really understand- I suspect I have my moments of it, but we spend our whole lives seeking it on earth.
All of this to say, I feel that God has called me to pray for something persistently and consistently- try every day!- and I'm feeling like a wimp in the face of this challenge. I feel like a brat sitting in the backseat of the car on a long road trip saying, "Are we there? How bout now? Now? Now? Now? Now?" It seems so repetitive and frustrating. But I'm trying to think of it as the cute tow-haired tot who comes to her Daddy every day for a hug and an "I love you". I have to believe that a daughter's small act of obediance has to feel like love to her Father. And I have to trust that there are battles going on that I can't see or imagine- that I am throwing the my weight into the battle (Eph 3:18).
Both one time prayer and consistent petitioning have a place in our prayer lives. I'm curious- How do other people balance persistence and patience in prayer? Any insights would be welcomed.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts-they provide both encouragement and a challenge to me.