Prayer continues to be a mystery to me. Sometimes God answers in the way I wanted Him to. Things work together and the outcome is just what I wanted, but at other times, the opposite occurs. I was speaking with a friend who asked me a question about prayer. He is scientifically minded and wanted to know why we prayed if the answers were so sporadic. As a scientist you would do things that promised results and avoided those that didn’t. It’s a question that all serious-minded Christians need to deal with. And behind that question is another – what is the purpose of prayer? Is it to have God fill our grocery list of needs or are there other reasons to pray?
Suppose you have a friend who is an excellent mechanic. Not only is he very good but he repairs your automobile and never charges you for it. Now wouldn’t that be the kind of friend we’d all like? But what if the only time you ever contacted him, was to get him to fix something on your car? You might have a vehicle that was in fine running order, but could you really call the mechanic your friend? If you only talked when the car needed brakes or an oil change, would you be getting to know each other and deepening your relationship? Probably not. I believe that prayer is more about us getting to know God better and not having Him take care of our problems.
As Christians we believe that God is omniscient, that He knows everything, so why would He have to wait for us to pray before He knew that we needed help. Imagine that the Trinity were having their weekly staff meeting when God the Father informs Jesus and the Holy Spirit that I had just had a PCR test at the airport in Calgary and wanted a negative result so I could participate in my niece’s wedding that Saturday. They then decide to give me the result I wanted. God knew what I wanted before I ever mentioned it to Him, so why should I pray? What if the ultimate purpose of prayer wasn’t to eliminate problems but for me to get to know God better? May I suggest that with that assumption the specific answer to a given prayer isn’t nearly as important as what is going on in our relationship. Do you remember the old Julie Andrew song from the Rogers and Hammerstein hit musical The King and I – Getting to Know You? “Getting to know you, getting to know all about you.” What if getting to know God is really the most important thing about prayer.
Here’s a harsh reality – Christians aren’t exempted from the problems of life. We still get sick, we still have financial setbacks and ultimately we will all die. Jesus was very straight forward when He said John 16:33 (NIV) “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” In this world you will have trouble. And we have. I wish following Jesus was a free pass through problems that beset others, but it isn’t.
If we take our focus off prayer as receiving answers, to getting to know Jesus better, we will see prayer differently. Yes, we will still pray. Paul told the Thessalonians to pray at all times. Jesus told us to ask and to keep on asking. Prayer is part of what it means to be a Christian. When I pray, I have to keep my eyes open to what is going around me. What can I learn about God, about my relationship with Him, and about myself through the circumstances that I am experiencing?
One last thought before I close this post – I believe God is much more concerned about my character than He is with my convenience. Which will foster greater growth in my character – a yes or a no answer to my prayer. God is continually chipping away at my character to make me more like Jesus, giving root to His divine fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.
I am looking forward to hearing what you think and until then Keep the Son in Your Eyes.