I have more questions about prayer than answers.
Prayer is a mysterious phenomenon. It is an act of faith, crying out to an unseen God who promised to hear and to answer. It is an enigma, making requests of and seeking to influence a God who is sovereign and who has ordained whatsoever comes to pass according to the counsel of His own perfect will. It is a practice that does not come naturally, so that we must be taught to pray and must develop the skill of prayer.
Pastor and theologian Sinclair Ferguson tells the story of being approached by a publisher who wanted him to write a book on prayer. He said he was wise enough as a man still in his 30’s to see past the flattery and to confess to the publisher that he did not believe he possessed the spiritual maturity necessary to write such a book. He said he still had much to learn about that most difficult discipline.
The publisher asked him if there was anyone he thought of who ought to write the book. He named a name. The publisher confessed they had approached that person before contacting Ferguson, and that person, much older and wiser, had turned them down for similar reasons.
He suggested another name, and they said they had asked that person too. And so it went for three or four more names!
I suspect many of us feel inadequate and unspiritual when it comes to prayer.
The first time I remember ever praying as a child was after I had lost my prized Super Ball.
My mom had told me when we bought the Super Ball that I needed to hang onto it. If I lost it, we wouldn’t be buying another one. And yet here I was, in despair, with my Super Ball nowhere to be found.
In that moment, I decided to put prayer to the test. I prayed I would find my lost Super Ball.
And I did.
But as soon as the lost item was retrieved, I found myself wondering if the link between my prayer and the recovery of my toy was coincidental or actual divine intervention. Had God really answered my prayer? Or would I have found the ball eventually whether I prayed or not?
Ever had those questions? Those doubts?
Author Paul Miller in his book A Praying Life tells about a time when he was camping with his family and his 14-year-old daughter had dropped her contact lens on the ground in the woods. She was obviously upset, and her wise father said “let’s take a minute and pray.”
Her response? “What good does it do? I’ve prayed for Kim to speak and she isn’t speaking.”
Ashley’s sister Kim has autism and is developmentally delayed. In a moment of frustration, Ashley was being transparent and honest about her skepticism about a God who invites us to bring our requests to Him and then, often without explanation, stays seemingly silent as we plead with Him.
Miller reflected on that moment with remarkable candor and honesty.
“Few of us have Ashley's courage to articulate the quiet cynicism or spiritual weariness that develops in us when heartfelt prayer goes unanswered. We keep our doubts hidden even from ourselves because we don't want to sound like bad Christians. No reason to add shame to our cynicism. So our hearts shut down.
“The glib way people talk about prayer often reinforces our cynicism. We end our conversations with ‘I'll keep you in my prayers.’ We have a vocabulary of ‘prayer speak,’ including ‘I'll lift you up in prayer’ and ‘I'll remember you in prayer.’ Many who use these phrases, including us, never get around to praying. Why? Because we don't think prayer makes much difference.
“Cynicism and glibness are just part of the problem. The most common frustration is the activity of praying itself. We last for about fifteen seconds, and then out of nowhere the day's to-do list pops up and our minds are off on a tangent. We catch ourselves and, by sheer force of the will, go back to praying. Before we know it, it has happened again… Then the guilt sets in. Something must be wrong with me.
“Other Christians don't seem to have this trouble praying. After five minutes we give up, saying, ‘I am no good at this. I might as well get some work done.’
“Complicating this is the enormous confusion about what makes for good prayer. We vaguely sense that we should begin by focusing on God, not on ourselves. So when we start to pray, we try to worship. That works for a minute, but it feels contrived; then guilt sets in again. We wonder, ‘Did I worship enough? Did I really mean it?’”
“In a burst of spiritual enthusiasm we put together a prayer list, but praying through the list gets dull, and nothing seems to happen. The list gets long and cumbersome; we lose touch with many of the needs. Praying feels like whistling in the wind. When someone is healed or helped, we wonder if it would have happened anyway. Then we misplace the list.
“It's worse if we stop and think about how odd prayer is. When we have a phone conversation, we hear a voice and can respond. When we pray, we are talking to air. Only crazy people talk to themselves. How do we talk with a Spirit, with someone who doesn't speak with an audible voice?
“And if we believe that God can talk to us in prayer, how do we distinguish our thoughts from his thoughts? Prayer is confusing. We vaguely know that the Holy Spirit is somehow involved, but we are never sure how or when a spirit will show up or what that even means. Some people seem to have a lot of the Spirit. We don't.
“Forget about God for a minute. Where do you fit in? Can you pray for what you want? And what's the point of praying if God already knows what you need? Why bore God? It sounds like nagging.”
Like I said, I have more questions about prayer than answers. That’s why I was grateful to have the opportunity recently to spend time talking about prayer with Pastor Alistair Begg. You can click here to listen to the audio interview. Once we had recorded that conversation, we stepped in front of video cameras to continue the dialogue. You can view the video interview here.
I’ve never met anyone who has confessed to me “I think I should probably spent less time praying.” I hope that in the days ahead, prayer will become a more consistent, more focused discipline in my life. I imagine you might share that hope for yourself. Perhaps the conversations with Alistair can help move us forward in that journey.
This has been a big week for Clay and Lydia Leatherwood, as they welcomed their new daughter Ruby Ann.
Here are the vitals: Ruby arrived weighing 7 lbs. 3 oz. and was 19 inches long. Mom and baby are doing great! Yea!
As of this week, we’ve received a total of $100,544 in gifts or pledges toward our new building wish list! And we still have about $4500 in available matching gift money. We’ve received special gifts of anywhere from $50 to as much as $25,000. So far, we’ve had a total of 18 special gifts given.
With Easter approaching, can we ask you again to pray about a special gift to the building fund wish list so we can move forward with the purchase of audio and video gear to have on hand to install in the next few months? Remember you can give on line or in the giving box on Sunday. And if you’re planning on making a gift later this year, we’d love to know about your plans so we can budget accordingly. Contact Tim Friesen or Walter Hill to let us know what you’re hoping to be able to give toward the project this year.
Our Good Friday service will be at 7:00 pm on Friday night, April 19. The service will last for an hour and will include communion. Please plan to be part of this very special time together.
Don’t forget the upcoming women’s worship night, Friday, April 26 at the church at 7:00 pm. All ladies are welcome to attend.
Here are details of a couple of upcoming special events:
What does the Apostle John mean when he says “God is light?” That’s what we’ll consider together in our Palm Sunday service this week.
See you in church.
Soli Deo Gloria!