What Do We Pray For?

In the movie Bruce Almighty, after a round of disappointments, the main character complains that God is not doing God’s job right. God responds by making Bruce God for two weeks. How many of us have often wondered what it would be like to be God, or better yet, imagined the things we would change in order to improve the world The movie explores this very reality as Bruce now finds himself authorized to make the changes he has so often wished for. But there is a catch, to be God for two weeks, Bruce must endure the reality of what it means to be God.

The scene that continues to burn in my memory is that of Bruce trying to keep up with prayer requests. In this case, prayers came in the form of emails. No sooner would Bruce manage to read one prayer request, hundreds, if not thousands more would come flying in. He kept hearing a din of voices praying in his head. It wasn’t long before Bruce found himself totally overwhelmed and developing a greater appreciation for everything God keeps track of within creation.

I chose to share this scene with you because as I read the opening verses of Psalm 5; “Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation. Hearken to my cry for help, my King and my God, for I make my prayer to you.” I began to get the sense our psalmist wasn’t quite sure if God was really listening. I can imagine the psalmist felt a need to fight for God’s attention.

As I meditated on these opening lines, It felt as if our prayers become part of a cosmic lottery in which we hope and pray our requests of the Divine will be chosen and we will be the lucky ones. And the question I find myself asking is; what happens when we feel God is not listening and it feels as if our prayers are not being heard?

If you find yourself asking this very question. If you feel frustrated with God over the direction your life is taking or due to the struggles you are facing, let me assure you, you are not the first one to feel this way. Throughout the Book of Psalms the writers consistently petition God to “listen” to them. The opening line of Psalm 22 brings this sense of despair to fruition when the psalmist writes, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, and seem so far from my cry.” If these words sound familiar, this is because they are the final words of Christ used in Mark and Matthew’s Gospel during the crucifixion.

Yes, even Jesus felt a time of total alienation from God. But what is it that can cause this sense of alienation with God?

It begins with how many of us approach prayer. Subconsciously most of us approach prayer as the ultimate way to control our world. At eight or nine, many of us prayed or asked God for a puppy or kitten, and although we are more sophisticated as adults, many of our prayers are not much different than our ten year old selves asking God for a new pet. I can only imagine how many of us a few weeks back found ourselves praying to win the lotto, promising God all the good and wonderful things we would do with the money? Only to be disappointed in the end. Or, how many of us use the majority of our payer time asking God to physically heal our loved ones? Or, how many of us find ourselves asking God to smite our enemies in the same way the Psalmists often do?

When we approach prayer strictly as a means of asking/telling God what we want and desire, we ARE, in essence, hoping to control or sway the will of God. But this is not what Jesus taught us to do.

When Jesus taught us to pray, he did not teach us to pray, “my will be done” but “thy will be done.” This is the point of prayer. Prayer and meditation is about letting go of our desire for control and accepting that God is in control. Prayer is about opening ourselves to the words of God through Isaiah when God tells us “my ways are not your ways, nor are your ways my ways,” and coming to accept God’s ways over our own.

When we approach prayer as an opportunity to open ourselves up to God’s ways, prayer becomes effective. Paul Tillich states, “prayer begins when the talking stops.” Because when we stop talking to God, we allow ourselves to begin listening to God and our hearts are opened to being led by God.

Over the years, I know my prayer life has changed. Like the Psalmist, I too have prayed for God to smite my enemies. Whether the enemy was a difficult boss or a crotchety colleague, the Walter Mitty in me often asked God to make all sorts of terrible things happen to them, or I prayed to be empowered to make their lives as miserable as they have made mine. Today, when angry, I still pray for smiting, (yes, it still feels good.) yet in time, I am now able to ask God to help me let go of the anger, to find understanding, and to accept that I cannot control the other person but simply how I respond to them.
Hoe I pray for healing has also changed. Yes, I still pray for physical healing, but I also pray for God’s peace to be part of the healing process.

This past year, a college friend of mine suddenly found himself with his young adult son’s battle with leukemia. Every day this year, I have prayed for his son to be healed along with others. I have also prayed for the whole family as well, not just for them to be able to endure caring for their sick family member, but for something even deeper, that all of them, no matter what the outcome, may find a closer sense of connection with the peace and love of God. For I have come to understand that true healing is not about the physical but about the healing of our souls and our relationship with the Divine.

The prayer I hold for my friend is not that different from the prayers I said when my father was critically ill two years ago. Even now, I am amazed at the peace I felt during my father’s illness. My prayer for him was truly, “thy will be done.” And somehow, beneath the fear and sadness at the time, there was an inner sense of peace. It was a peace in knowing no matter what happened to my father, it would somehow be okay.

As I look back on that experience, I realize the benefit of prayer is not about getting what I want. Instead, a life of prayer is more about being at peace with not being in control. Prayer is about finding peace in the midst of the messiness and chaos of this life and knowing with certainty that God’s will for us is greater than what we can hope for or imagine. That prayer is about accepting the words, “thy will be done” and knowing even when it feels as if God has forsaken us and seems so far away, God is still in control and with us, and all will be alright.
“Give ear to my word, O Lord, consider my meditation. Amen.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Dorothy pierce says:

    Love this sermon, Craig! It is sometimes to easy to forget what real prayer is to be. Thanks!

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