Pastor Scott Summer
Student & Young Adult Pastor, Shiloh Community Church
Something I’ve been processing for the past few months is how I approach God in prayer. We’re about to go through the book “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan in the High School Bible Study on Wednesday nights, and the first session is called “Stop Praying.” In the short video clip, Chan shares how he used to say a ritualistic Chinese prayer before every meal when he was younger, because he was afraid that if the food wasn’t blessed it might be poisoned. He of course doesn’t advocate for us to “stop praying” entirely, but to stop praying ritualistically. He stated that what helps him is to pause before he prays, think about the majesty of God, and then go forward with a humble, heartfelt prayer.
Even before I viewed this clip from Crazy Love, I was already starting to feel like my prayers have been shallow and lacking in humility. I’l give an example. I’ll hear about someone going through a difficult time, and my instant reaction is to pray “God, please fix that situation by doing _______.” I think I see the problem and the obvious solution, but lately there’s been a gut check when I pray that way. Not that God would be sarcastic, but if He was He could be like, “Why didn’t I think of that?! Thanks Scott, I’ll get to it
right away.” These are certainly not God’s words, but to me they are still a reminder to check my heart.
One of the most convicting ways this plays out is in the instance of suffering. I’d like to think of myself as a compassionate person, and when I hear of someone’s suffering I’ll ask God to quickly remove it. But what if God’s purpose for that person is to suffer, so that it produces in them endurance, which produces character, which produces hope (Rom 5)? Am I asking to interrupt what God is doing because in my arrogance I’m unwilling to recognize my limited perception of reality?
Thinking this way hasn’t stopped me from asking God for things, but it has certainly changed the way I pray. I’ve tried to catch myself when I feel like I’m asking God for something in a condescending way, as if I know more than our all-knowing, all-powerful Father. With the previous prayer, I’d start over with, “God thank you that you work all things for good for those who love you. Please increase their faith and help them to trust that your Word is true in the midst of this situation. Thank you for being with them and giving them exactly what they need as they go through this time.” It’s a subtle change but for me a necessary one. I’m trying to move away from asking God to see a need and fix it the way I ask (arrogantly assuming He doesn’t know or isn’t doing anything), to thanking God that He does see and act on the needs of His people, and then asking that He give increased faith, with the ability trust what He’s already doing.
Essentially I’m wrestling with balancing two truths. The first is rooted in James 4:2b “You do not have, because you do not ask.” I know that God chooses to allow our prayers to have an effect on circumstances in this world, and that He welcomes His children’s requests. The second is that God is sovereign, so ultimately He is in control of all things. That being said, I also need to avoid the thought that everything will just happen as it should regardless of whether or not I ask for something, because that’s fatalism. I think the balance is asking God to intervene according to His infinite wisdom, and then asking for the Holy Spirit increase our faith to see that He is accomplishing His will in every situation. Ultimately, will I still ask for His miraculous intervention? Certainly, although with the open-handed caveat of not my will but His—hopeful expectation founded in trust, regardless of outcome.