We demand in our prayers instant healing, instant riches, instant love, instant solutions to all our problems. We insist God intervene consistently with miraculous answers to all human dilemmas.
A few weeks ago, I attempted to answer this question: What good is prayer, in a practical sense? When I try to pray for the nation these days, I remember the many people who prayed for their lives during WWII. What use is prayer, at the doors of the gas chamber? If God did not/could not save those innocent lives, He certainly won’t help us now.
When I wrote my struggle with the silence of God and too many easy answers for that silence, I received a large number of comments. The two below represent what many said. Both gave me permission to publish them in this follow-up column.
Why pray? Doesn’t God have a perfect plan for your life? If you pray for a cure for cancer say, aren’t you trying to circumvent that perfect plan? Does that not imply that you know better than God? Isn’t that blasphemy?
Thank you for your article. I was taught that “sometimes the answer to prayer is ‘NO’ ” and that is why my x-husband kept embezzling, and my friend died of cancer, etc. We can blame everything on the “wisdom of God” both good and bad. I wonder then, if “God is in control,” why the Evangelicals are so aghast at same-sex marriage, because after all, “God is in control.” If “HE” doesn’t approve of same-sex marriage then He could have stopped the supreme court from ratifying it. And on, and on, and on . . .
As I read the responses and once more visited my struggles with prayer, I saw an article that suggests much of US Christianity bases its theology on the need for God to intervene consistently with miraculous answers to all human dilemmas. We demand instant healing, instant riches, instant love, instant solutions to all our problems.
We act as though the nature of life, the rhythms of life and death, of winter sleep, spring awakenings, summer growth and autumn harvests, all mingled with hard work and often much disappointment, can be escaped by praying the right prayer and getting the miracle from God.
We have left behind written prayers
One thing that much of US Christianity left behind, and this is particularly the case in the Evangelical world, is the emphasis on written prayers, the ones prayed for eons around the world. We most easily find these in the Book of Common Prayer (freely available online), first published in 1549, and very much in use by those where worship patterns hail from the more strongly liturgical lines.
However, other Christian groups like Baptists, Pentecostal, and Independent Bible churches have simply discarded them. In those traditions, prayers are not to be written or prepared in advance but are to come spontaneously, poured out from the heart.
And that may be our problem.
Some years ago, I stumbled on Phyllis Tickle’s incredibly helpful work, The Divine Hours: A Manual for Prayer, which makes these historical prayers so much more accessible to people not schooled in liturgy or able to decode the mysteries of The Book of Common Prayer.
They liberated my prayer life.
I think that many who find the “God answers ‘Yes, No, or Wait’ to all prayers” an overly simplistic response to “Why doesn’t God DO SOMETHING” prayers would benefit from these.
Three daily anchors
Below are three examples, great ways to anchor the day, morning, noon and night.
Upon awakening: “Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day: Preserve me with your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen”
At noon: “O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing. Send your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
In the evenings, before bedtime:
“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.
Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised; for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see: a Light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen.”
Give it a try. You may find peace.
Note: A version of this column is slated to run in the Denton Record-Chronicle. The Thoughtful Pastor, AKA Christy Thomas, welcomes all questions for the column and would especially like questions your children/grandchildren/students ask. Although the questioner will not be identified, I do need a name and verifiable contact information in case the newspaper editor has need of it. You may use this link to email questions.