Rewind. Pause. Push Play. Aaron asks, “How do you view prayer?”
March 10, 2011
Rewind: You’ve just finished yet another inspiring and intellectual Lifegroup (bible study), and you’re feeling renewed, encouraged, and ready to take what you’ve learned and apply it to your life! But, before you all head home to recommence homework or studying (or procrastinating), your leader asks for prayer requests. You sit patiently, listening to Sam, Megan, and Tom talk about their weeks – maybe even writing their requests down, and after everyone’s gotten a chance to talk, you start to pray… And that’s when you realize that no one else in your group prays like you! Sam is pretty formal about it, almost like he’s following an outline, and Megan is really passionate –her words almost seem like poetry. Meanwhile, Tom is uber casual, using words like uber to talk about how awesome God is, and you’re somewhere in between those three – you strive for balance in everything you do.
So why is it that you each pray in different ways? Last night, Aaron attempted to answer some of these questions by exploring a few different styles of prayer, and explaining that the way you pray says a lot about how you view providence, or the way that God works in our world.
For example, some people pray, God, we know that whatever happens happens, and neither You nor Ican do much to change it right now, but please, Lord, give us guidance to deal with our struggles, and remind us that eventually, Your goodness will triumph. This kind of prayer seems to say that God takes a more hands-off approach when it comes to your life. It praises God for his goodness and his omniscience, but it also resigns Him to the role of a quiet, wise, comforting observer who will someday rescue His people, but is not currently an active participant…
Others may pray, God, we know that sin separates us from You and that sometimes what happens to us and what you want are not the same thing; sometimes evil wins the battles here on earth, but You will win the war. We come to You now because we know that You’ve told us to pray. Even though there is no guarantee, You said you would stand up for us, and we know You are fully capable of acting if You choose. This kind of prayer recognizes God’s sovereignty and goodness, but also acknowledges our sinfulness and how that separates us from Him, both of which are good and true. But, if you notice, it also seems to challenge, rather than ask, Him to do what He has said He would do and implies that, sometimes, God is incapable…
Still others pray something along the lines of, Lord, we know You have predetermined everything that will happen here, and that You are thus totally and utterly in control. We humbly approach You with our petitions because we want to share our lives with You. Even if we don’t understand Your plan right now, we know that You intended this to happen, and since You are good, that means this too must be good in some way, and that it plays a role in bringing You all glory and honor. This prayer recognizes and praises God for his omniscience, omnipotence, and righteousness. However, it also seems to minimize our role in God’s plan, saying that prayer is important because it creates a relationship with God, but it doesn’t really change anything…
The main thing Aaron said last night is that the way you pray is directly influenced by how you view God. Is He someone who sits back and watches? Do His good efforts get thwarted by our sinful ways? Is He a personal, loving God, who has a predetermined, unchanging plan for the world? Is it possible that the way you view God, that which you know to be true about who He is and what He does, and the way you pray to Him don’t line up right now?
Aaron challenged each of us to take some time over the next week or so to look through scripture and reaffirm, or perhaps change, our view of providence, because the more we explore God’s word, the more we find ourselves immersed in all that God is and all that God does. Prayer is, above all, a form of communion with our Lord and Savior, and it has been designed to satisfy that longing for fulfillment and connection that resides in each of our hearts.
“And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: “O LORD, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God. … Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that You alone, O LORD, are God.”” 2 Kings 19:15-16, 19
“Going a little farther, He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”… He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done.”” Matthew 26:39, 42
“…they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “You made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of Your servant, our father David… Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed. They did what Your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable Your servants to speak Your word with great boldness. Stretch out Your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”” Acts 4:24-35, 27-30
Push Play: Prayer can be intimidating, especially in a group setting. I know that the first time I was asked to pray, out loud, for our Lifegoup my freshman year, I was terrified. Praying had always been something that I did in the quiet of my own heart, and I’m relatively certain that, other than saying grace before meals with my family, I had never once prayed aloud before coming to college. I remember stumbling and stuttering through my first spoken prayer feeling more concerned with what my group members were thinking than what God was thinking. I also remember that I was painfully aware of how other people prayed from that point on; I was constantly trying to figure out the “right” way to pray.
It took a long time, and a lot of practice (which my friends and family were more than happy to provide), for me to get to a point where I was comfortable praying in front of people, but it took even longer for me to realize why it was that I had been so uncomfortable before. The fact is that God desires to hear from us and to walk closely with us, and that the more we seek His wisdom and understanding through scripture, the more confident we become in that relationship, and thus, the more confident we are in our prayer life.
Now, that isn’t to say that everyone should pray the same way; I think that our differences speak to the magnificent diversity and creativity of our God. Nor do I mean to say that you have to be comfortable praying out loud to somehow prove your confidence in God’s providence; I realize that some people may never volunteer to pray for a group, and that’s perfectly fine with me. Rather, I just want to encourage you to take Aaron’s challenge to heart and compare God’s word with your prayer life. And, if in the process you find the two don’t match up the way they should, don’t be afraid to try something new, even if it is outside of your comfort zone, because, a lot of times, that’s where God is.