Have you ever wondered why we pray? If God is sovereign and He has this whole cosmic thing worked out beforehand then why pray at all? What’s the point? If He’s going to do whatever He wants anyway then why put any effort into praying?
Why do anything at all really?
On the other hand, have you ever wondered why we don’t pray more than we do? If God leaves it all up to us to change His heavenly plans, then what in the world are we doing wasting precious time praying for good weather for our upcoming church softball game or bothering Him about things like “be with so-and-so at their job interview”and “please let us have a good outcome at the bake sale???” Come on! Aren’t there more important things to pray about?
With God, it’s either one or the other. He simply cannot, and will not be both a sovereign God over all, executing His perfect and holy plans as He desires AND be a passive Holy Parent waiting and wondering about the actions of His children. He’s not both. He’s either one or the other. It’s disturbing to me that He can’t be controlled through prayer. Very disturbing. So again, why pray? Why ask Him for things?
We’ve all tried to find a middle ground about God’s sovereignty in order to placate our misgivings about God. Is He a big fat meaner or does He make holy exceptions based on the fervency and volume of our prayers? If we REALLY want Him to do something we need to get more and more people to pray. And pray HARD. Right?
Do you remember those quarter-balancing rip-off machines at local carnivals? I do. The ones with the horizontal machine-arm, repetitiously forcing a group of coins toward an obvious reward-cliff, just waiting for us to pump at least $20 bucks worth of quarters into them? I remember playing with those. Mostly to no avail I might add. Coin-Pushers I think they were called.
As a kid, I’d come up to these well-lit, blinking-bastard scams just absolutely sure that if I slid the quarter in slowly enough and aimed the faulty arm at just the right spot, I’d definitely get a convoy of quarters to slide off (and of course, I’d also get the AC/DC – Zippo lighter teetering on the edge along with them).
It rarely happened. And when it did, like an idiot, I would gleefully celebrate my negative return on my investment. It was all about the emotion of getting something positive to happen regardless of the fact I’d blown $20 to get fiddy cent. (Yeah you know I’m hip, yo).
We mistakenly relate to God that way with prayer. Sometimes we forget He’s not like us. We think pragmatically. Logically. We think in terms of volume and intensity, or using the right amount of enthusiastic words in our prayers so the rest of the prayer group will fervently agree with it…..YESS LORD!
Mostly it’s because we don’t know Him like He really is. We want to ascribe earthly attributes to our Heavenly Father. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.
As much as we want Him to, He won’t be cajoled into being anything other than who He is.
We misguidedly think that more prayer, and more prayees (is that a word? More people praying? The more people we coerce to pray? Whatever). The more people we “Facebook Post” into sending thoughts and prayers for a thing we want, the more likely God will reach His tipping point and spill out coins of blessing, relenting to our desires for good weather for our church picnic.
You guys, listen. Expressing our heartfelt prayer to a sovereign God isn’t about volume. It is also not about getting Him to change His mind so He’ll relent and do something kind for us. He’s always kind, and His ways and means of orchestrating things on the earth are ALWAYS good regardless of how they make us feel. To wax biblical, let me share a few insights into who He claims He is. Read these. Don’t just blow them off as a list of “scriptures.”
Ephesians 1:11– “In Him we also obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”
Romans 11:36– “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”
Job 23:13– “But He stands alone, and who can oppose Him? He does whatever He pleases.”
Psalm 115:3– “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him.”
Psalm 135:6– “The Lord does whatever pleases Him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.”
Isaiah 46:10– “I make known the end from the beginnings, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.”
Daniel 4:35– “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: What have You done?”
Lamentations 3:37-38– “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?”(Lit. The evil and the good)
Isaiah 45:7– “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things.”
1 Samuel 2:6– “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up.
Micah 1:12– For the inhabitant of Maroth Becomes weak waiting for good, Because a calamity has come down from the Lord To the gate of Jerusalem.
Amos 3:6-7 – If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the Lord done it?
Proverbs 16:4– The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked for evil
I don’t know about you, but in many ways, according to my human conditioning about what is “fair” and “right,” the portrayal of God as Sovereign can be disheartening. He does what He wants in the heavens and the earth? He makes evil and good come to pass? WHAT??? What about praying to Him to change things? What if I don’t like the means He uses to bring about His purpose? What if it rains on my parade or makes me starve or causes me any discomfort whatsoever?
I’m like you. I don’t get it.
But we also know Jesus prayed. This life was also lived by the Lover of our souls. Our Hero. He prayed to the Father. He suffered. He doubted. He desperately cried out with the deepest of angst, hoping the future would go a different way. Do you remember how He pleaded?
“Father, if it can go any other way, ANY other way, please take this suffering away from me. But if it pleases you, make it happen your way and not mine, no matter what the cost.”
Jesus….God Himself…. PRAYED. Knowing the outcome, He still prayed.
Except that I kind of do. Because I’ve learned a thing or two about praying to a sovereign God who has pre-determined all things, yet relates to us in the most precious and intimate ways.
We don’t change God’s mind. But we do change. We don’t coerce Him into producing a different outcome, but we do sometimes tearfully, inevitably become changed. We travel along this relational path becoming different, and not always getting what we want. Because there’s something greater than what we want….it’s what He wants. Don’t like that? That’s probably because you’re an American like me. We suffer under the delusion that if something doesn’t feel good, then it must be bad. That’s a whole other thought and I won’t go into it here, but suffering is the way of the tried and true warrior.
So what does all of this have to do with not praying for the weather and playing the lottery?
His Sovereignty. The one thing that God doesn’t ask us to be is sovereign. He is love. He asks us to love each other. He is merciful. He asks us to be merciful to each other. He is holy. He tells us He will make us holy through His loving trials. He is kind. He asks us to be kind in the face of unkindness. But He never asks us to be sovereign. Not ever. That is His most Holy way of being. We can’t ever be that.
That’s why I sometimes play the lottery. Better known as the “Luckery.” Why, you ask? Because there’s no such thing as luck. God chooses the way the lot falls. Every time. So why not me? I know this sounds silly but it’s something I’m still working out.
More importantly though are the things we find ourselves praying for. Do you know how silly our prayers are sometimes? I don’t mean to say that God doesn’t care about our hearts or the simple things that make our lives function. He cares about our budgets and our jobs and health and whether or not the grass gets cut on time for our garden party and our sicknesses, our job opportunities and whether or not our boyfriends or girlfriends or spouses come back to us or go to church more or drink less and whether or not we get that promotion at work or have a good conversation with a sinner, etc.
What I find an alarming disparity between are the things I hear Christians pray for, and the things I see being prayed for in the bible. Jesus prayed for unity among the believers. That they would become one as He and the Father are one. Paul prayed for the enlightenment of people’s hearts so they would see the light of the revelation of the love of Jesus. These were people who were being KILLED he was praying for! He didn’t pray for a good parking spot at Walmart or that the job interview at the blacksmith would go well! He asked the Father for revelation that they would SEE him as He is. That they would experience humility and a lack of fear in the face of persecution and murderous intent.
We’ve become so soft in our American Dreams that we pray for the dumbest things imaginable. Instead of praying for the things that God wants for us, we waste our breath on trivial things like good weather for our outdoor parties instead of the real stuff like revelation of Jesus and confidence in the grace of God amidst our shitty condemnation.
Here’s my prayer: God give us Your light to see what we can’t see. We’re in great need. Teach us what prayer is. Because we obviously need help with it.