Thursday, December 08, 2005

A quick question about prayer

My husband came home tonight and gave me some bad news about our business that we own: one of our biggest clients is considering leaving us. If this comes to pass it would be a huge challenge for us and mean a ton of extra work for him, which seems almost impossible considering how hard he already works.

I was thinking about this while putting my son to bed and realized that this is a good opportunity to practice praying. But I got stuck on the same issue that always keeps me from getting very far with prayer (other than the obvious fact that I'm not sure if I believe in God): are you supposed to ask God for things? Isn't that kind of bossing him around? I mean, what if it's part of God's plan that this client leaves us?

I don't think I'm ever going to believe that every single thing that transpires on earth is God's will, but I do think it's possible that at least some things are. And considering that I have no idea which of those things might be part of God's will and which aren't, I feel silly and unjustified expressing a request to God that things go a certain way.

What do most people do when they pray about difficult situations? Is it OK to ask for specific situations to turn out a certain way, or are you just supposed to ask God to give you the strength to help him implement whatever it is that is his will?

Any thoughts on this would be helpful, because I've never really been able to pray because of this issue.


At December 09, 2005 10:13 AM, Anonymous SteveG said...

Are you supposed to ask God for things? Isn't that kind of bossing him around? I mean, what if it's part of God's plan that this client leaves us?

I think the flat answer is that yes, it is just fine to ask God for things, and I don’t think this is in any way bossing him around.

I think the key is that while we ask, we leave ourselves open to the possibility that what we ask might not be best for us (even though from our perspective we can’t see how some trial could possibly be ‘good’ for us), and that the will of God might be different from our desires.

The model of Jesus in the Garden is what comes to mind. I mean, even He, in a moment of pain, suffering, distress, and fear prayed…..

Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me (Lk, 22:42)

… in essence asking for a way that what seemed like was about to happen (his passion) could be avoided. But, he added after that….

nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.

… I can’t think of any better prayer than this simple one in such a situation

Father, if thou art willing, please keep this client with us; nevertheless not our will, but thine.

There is nothing wrong with that kind of prayer, and it’s not bossy in the least.

I am also going to ask a good friend of mine to give your question some thought, and see if he has anything to offer as I know he’ll have a better answer than mine.

I’ll be back shortly.

At December 09, 2005 10:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, I got a response from my friend. This guy is a Catholic author, and probably the most knowledgeable and 'best' Catholic I know. Here is his answer (It's both more direct, and far better than my own)....
My response is: Be a child. Jesus taught us to ask, so we should ask.

We should ask like little children, because God is our Father. We should ask and ask and ask, like little kids do.

There is no biblical model for getting caught up on theoretical snags regarding prayers of petition.

That doesn't mean our Father will give us what we want, when we want, as we want it. What father would?

I'm pasting here a piece I wrote on the subject many moons ago...

The Chainsaw Denied

Every now and then, you pick up a phrase wafting from a nearby conversation, and it sticks with you forever. Some 15 years ago, my wife, Terri, and I were eating at a fast-food restaurant. At a table across the aisle sat a weary mother and her obviously talkative and precocious 5-year-old. The patter of their conversation (especially his portion) ran nonstop as an accompaniment to our own. But only one line managed to push past our mental filters. In the most earnest maternal voice, the mom said to the 5-year-old: “And just where, do you suppose, you’ll get this chainsaw?”

Terri and I just looked at each other and tried to suppress our laughter. For some time afterward, we tried to imagine the context of that mother’s question. Had the boy been inspired by low-budget horror flicks about Texas massacres? Had he issued a threat? Did he want to build the family a log cabin? Or was he an aspiring postmodern artist seeking a government grant to destroy furniture?

We had never heard the boy’s request. But there was something so psychologically true about the mother’s deadpan question.

Every mother knows that children believe they have a right to fulfillment of their every whim and wish. To kids, parents seem obtuse or cruel when they deny things that, to mom and dad, are clearly unsafe, unhealthy or immoral — like a seventh helping of candy, or retribution visited upon a younger sibling, or a chainsaw.

As we grow, we put away such childish wishes. Only craftsmen, hobbyists and true psychopaths continue to hanker after that chainsaw. But we never quite outgrow the belief that we have a right to the things we so clearly see as good for us: this job or a home in that neighborhood, a healing or a lasting experience of human love. Like the little boy in the restaurant, we fume and we rail at God when He doesn’t grant our requests in just the way we want them.

Yet He knows when something we urgently desire would, over the long haul, lead to our everlasting destruction — would be, for us, unsafe, unhealthy or immoral. Only in retrospect (and sometimes not even then) can we see that the things God denied us were things that could have harmed us: a particular job or spouse or home. Only with wisdom will we see that even our privations are gifts from a God who wants only our happiness. We imagine a happy and productive life with our chainsaw (or whatever); He sees the certain carnage that would ensue.

God provides even when His denial seems most severe. Out of the desolate ground of the Nazi concentration camps — where so many prayers seemed to go unanswered — grew lavish flowers of holiness: in Edith Stein, Maximilian Kolbe, Titus Brandsma and countless others.

Part of growing up spiritually is learning to be grateful for all things, even our difficulties, disappointments, failures and humiliations. For all things work together for the good of those who love God.

At December 09, 2005 10:18 AM, Anonymous SteveG said...

Dang! That Anonymous was me.

At December 09, 2005 10:27 AM, Anonymous SteveG said...

Oh, and an aside. All tha in comment two that is in italics, that is from a piece he wrote that will be included in an upcoming book. He asked me to credit him for it for what I beleive are copyright reasons.

The Chainsaw Denied is by Mike Aquilina and first appeared in New Covenant Magazine.

At December 09, 2005 9:23 PM, Blogger Colleen said...

Jennifer, I know that this has been an ongoing worry for you. I think, again, that you expect of yourself some sort of pious feelings and that there will be, maybe, a whiff of incense in the air? Neither has to happen for prayer to be effective.

It seems like every time something amazingly terrible has happened to me, it has been at a time when I felt like I had been lukewarm and not at all the good Christian I ought to be. That made asking God for help that much tougher because it seemed like the only possible answer could be, "NO! YOU'VE BEEN BAD".

Actually, that is what I probably deserved. But it has never happened. I have always received help when I needed it! And many a time when I didn't even know I needed it.

So you do not have to be absolutely sure about believing in God for him to hear you and answer you. But I would add that to your prayer-- pray for certainty.

If I may make a concrete suggestion, I would encourage you to open up your Bible to the Lord's prayer (Luke 11, 1) and read it bit by bit. You will notice that it has a discernible structure:

1. Our Father These words, after 2000 years, are so familiar that we easily overlook how staggering it is that the Lord God, Creator of all that is, seen and unseen, wants a filial relationship with us! But so it is. And just as you trusted your mortal father to provide for you, so you can trust God.

Then, it goes on to remind us that he is the transcendent, creator God who dwells in light: hallowed be thy name

2. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. God's will will be done. We need to remember that he is in control.

3. Give us this day our daily bread. Now we get to the permission that Jesus gave us to ask God for what we need. Even in Biblical times bread was not all that was needed to sustain life!

So go ahead and ask for God to help you through this crisis either by saving the client or somehow making his departure less of a problem.

4. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Uh oh. This is a hard one. If you are at a point where you cannot let go of some anger or resentment, ask God to put you in that frame of mind.

5. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen

Here we acknowledge that trouble and snares are all around us. We ask God to give us strength not to fail when we are tested.

Again, it is perfectly appropriate to tell God that you fear what will happen if you lose this client. Admit to him that this is scary, particularly now (though you haven't said any more about a new baby). He already knows it, anyway.

Confiding in God is a way of reminding yourself that he cares about you and he wants you to trust him to get you through this crisis because he will.

So there it is. Your model. Jesus himself taught it to us. So, now with the prayer in front of you to encourage you, you can silently and in your own words, make it your own by telling God what you need. Don't feel that you have to pray for any length of time for it to be a real prayer. Just pray often! You need to know what God already does-- you aren't bugging him but, rather, reminding yourself that he is there and listening.

In the meantime, I will add your scary issue to the things I pray about and I have a sneaking suspicion that a certain other commenter already has.

At December 10, 2005 3:06 PM, Anonymous SteveG said...

I most certainly have added this to my own prayer intentions.

And Colleen's words remind me of another gospel passage you should read. It's something I can scarcely believe I forgot. It's the prayer I said constantly throughout my own time of 'wavering'.

Read the story in Mark 9 about the Father and Son.

20: And they brought the boy to him; and when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth.
21: And Jesus asked his father, "How long has he had this?" And he said, "From childhood.
22: And it has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us."
23: And Jesus said to him, "If you can! All things are possible to him who believes."
24: Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!"

There's more to the whole story, but that's the nugget...

I believe; help my unbelief was a constant prayer for me for a long time, and it's one I recommend highly.

It's nothing fancy, but it's humble, honest and clear. If said earnestly, I have no doubt God will honor it.


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