What is the nature of prayer? Is prayer always asking God to do something? Or, is prayer a way to align my living with God’s direction?
Jesus tells us to ask, seek and knock. Matthew 7:7 promises we will receive, find and see doors open. Is prayer a tool to get God to do my bidding?
Like many folks, for years I prayed asking God to do something for me. My prayers ran more like “Lord please do” than “Guide me, Oh Great Jehovah”. Somewhere after college, my prayer life began slowly evolving into something other than asking.
In high school: I prayed a lot, kept a running prayer list, attended youth and spending 30 minutes each weekday reading the Scriptures. I often wrote a particular teacher’s name in my prayer journal. Eight years before, my fourth grade teacher would read my dyslexic and generally jumbled sentences aloud to the nervous snickers of my classmates. “The Gril ran down the strett,” she chortled. “Mr. Purdue, how can a grill run?” So, by high school, I had a few trust and authority issues. Something in Mr. X rekindled the wound. I prayed that he might see the light, ease up, get a transfer, realize how far I had come, and stop painting my essays with red ink. I prayed “Lord change Mr. X.”
The Almighty surely listened with love to my cry. Yet, I wonder if God as Father wished his child might have asked: “Lord, what should I do? or prayed, “Lord, align me with your will.” Perhaps God might have whispered into my bucking spirit: “Love your neighbor,” “show honor to elders,” “let no unwholesome talk come from your mouth,” “forgive,” “study,” or recall that doozy from Romans 13, “obey the earthly authority for it is God’s instrument for your good.”
A prayer that asked God for nothing but direction might have reframed those red marks. An aligning prayer might have let me see that Mr. X never made red marks on my cover page and even in criticism affirmed potential. Indeed, Mr. X called me to not repeat my fourth grade failure by dwelling in residual dyslexia. Perhaps if I prayed, “God guide me,” I might have realized during my season with Mr. X that he longed to birth a stronger student, deeper thinker, and better writer.
Prayers, seeking to align with God more than asking God to do, might open us up to transformational living. Is our prayer life a compass to align our living with the life of Jesus Christ? Do we ask: “how in this moment can I live as Christ lived?”
Surely, when sinking fast in grief, fear or pain, we must cast the burdens of our hearts upon a loving God. When kneeling by a sick child, walking through a season of grief or choking on the evil fumes of this world, let us come naked, honest and unfiltered to God. Let us turn to God as children enfolded in a mother’s embrace. Let us not worry over how we phrase our hurt, fear or anger. Jesus instructs us to ask for our needs, telling us to pray: “deliver us from evil, lead us not into temptation, and to give us our daily bread.”
Authentic prayer empties our hearts and unfurls our longings. Yet, even in our most troubling moments God, perfect in love, longs for us to seek more than comfort. As a mother comforts her child, the Creator longs for us to seek not just solace but direction.
Perhaps God calls us beyond comfort or miracles to do something about the injustice, hunger or grief that tramples, stings and wounds. Perhaps, God longs to empower us to bring solutions for ourselves and others.
Maybe God’s will is for us to shoulder the cross and help save the world. Maybe God is calling us to align with Christ more than to ask. May we not always come asking God for this or that. May we come asking God to align us with the way, the truth and the lifestyle that is Jesus.