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Archive for June, 2014

This post will be longer than usual, but it deals with a subject that is so important to me right now that I ask your indulgence.

C. S. Lewis once wrote an essay entitled, “Petitionary Prayer: A Problem Without An Answer.” He described how the New Testament gives what appear to be contradictory instructions regarding petitionary prayer (prayer in which we are asking God for something). Interestingly enough, James gives examples of both. In James 1:6 we read, “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” At the same time James 4:13-15 reads, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” Other examples could be given such as Matthew 17:20 which talks about having the faith of a mustard seed and Luke 22:42 in which our Lord asks the Father to take away the cross, but ultimately submits himself to God’s will. So, how should we pray? Do we pray with the assurance that God will grant what we ask, or should we limit our prayer to praying according to God’s will?

If I understand Lewis’s essay, he ultimately gave up and admitted that he could not adequately reconcile the two views. While it may appear the epitome of arrogance to suggest that I can resolve anything C. S. Lewis could not, perhaps my current situation (stage 4 lung cancer) has given me plenty of time for reflection, as I have pondered in my life just what I should pray for. Do I pray for healing when my oncologist has said categorically that ultimately my condition is terminal, or should I pray according to God’s will? And if I do the latter, does that very prayer indicate a lack of faith?

When I was growing up, it seems that almost invariably petitionary prayers used the second model, especially if the condition was critical. I do not wish to judge peoples’ hearts, but it appeared to me even then, that these were not prayers of faith. Rather, the ones praying felt the need to “hedge their bets,” so that if the prayer was not granted, they could fall back on the  explanation that God’s will was that it not be granted. We did that, so that our faith would not be threatened by the petition not being granted.

So, how do I reconcile these two models for petitionary prayer? Here are my rather simplistic explanations.

The model that simply asks God to grant what we ask, because we have faith in him is valid, because it recognizes the nature of the relationship God wants to have with his children. I often fall back on the family relationship as an illustration. When our children come to us with requests, loving parents delight to give them what they seek. We want them to come to us, and it makes us happy to see the pleasure they receive from granting those requests.

At the same time, children do not always get what they ask for a variety of reasons. It may be that the parents do not have the ability to give what is asked, and in that instance the analogy to God breaks down. Sometimes, however, the parents do not give what is asked for either because they recognize that in the long run it would not be good or wise, or there are other issues that the child may not be able to understand.

So, how does this relate to our own petitionary prayers? The prayer which simply asks God to grant the request is a prayer of faith, because it recognizes both God’s power as well as his loving nature that cares for us.

But I am coming to believe that the prayer that subjects my desire to God’s will, when properly invoked, is an even greater expression of faith. It recognizes both God’s power and his love, just as the first model does, but it goes further. When I pray this second model, it tells God that I have enough faith to leave the outcome to him. It is also an admission that I cannot see the whole picture.

I believe that God has the power to remove my cancer completely, even when the physical laws of this universe say it is impossible. Of course, God could have just as easily prevented the cancer from developing in the first place. The fact that he did not causes my faith to ask a more difficult question. Is it possible that God wants to use this situation in some way that I cannot comprehend? As painful as it may be to contemplate, perhaps I should recognize that God did not cause my cancer. The physical laws of the universe did that. At the same time, he can use my circumstances just as he has promised to use every circumstance of my life (consider Romans 8:28). What if God is challenging me to allow him to walk with me through this circumstance, even if the end is my death? Am I willing to do that? Can I recognize that perhaps there are others struggling with their own doubts and their own demons who might read my words and be strengthened in their own faith? And if that happens, am I ready to acknowledge that my death might be worth that kind of transformation?

In conclusion, the first model is a prayer of faith; however, I have come to feel that the second model is an even greater prayer of faith. It reflects a trust that goes beyond my asking God for what I want. Instead, it says to God, “I trust you with this situation, recognizing both your power and your wisdom, and I willingly submit myself to your working in my life — no matter what the end result might be.” This kind of prayer is not “hedging my bets.” Rather, it is the response of a mature faith, that says to God, “I feel that the safest place to be is in your hands.”

Today, do you have the faith to place your situation in God’s hands and allow him to do whatever he wills with you? But I caution you (from personal experience), do not pray that, unless you really mean it.

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