As mentioned in previous articles, much of my personal focus in prayer is about deepening my relationship with God. I wish to cultivate an attitude of prayer that sustains me throughout the day, whether I am preaching or doing chores or sitting in an intentional time of prayer. I don’t spend as much time as I used to asking for God’s action or attention. I spend most of the time seeking to sit in that loving presence.
Yet there are a number of different traditions around prayer that do involve seeking answers to problems and concerns. People might think of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. ”(Matthew 7:7-8) Another example is Abraham arguing with God about the demise of Sodom in Genesis 18. Abraham questions God about the justice of destroying the good along with the evil in wiping out the whole city. He gets God to agree to spare the city for the sake of fifty righteous people and eventually talks God down to ten.
What, then, should be our expectations of the power of prayer? Here I think we enter the realm of the anecdote. I have heard stories of people who have seen God’s intervention in response to their prayer or the prayers of others. I have heard stories of people who struggle when it seems that the answer to their prayer is, “No,” or “Not yet.” There does not seem to be a definite rule where the answer to prayer comes as the one praying expects.
Prayer should not be a matter of sending our wish list to God, assuming that we have some sort of power over God. While Jesus does say, “Ask and it will be given to you,” he also seems to indicate in the Lord’s Prayer that a deeper faith might limit the things that we are asking for. In Lord’s Prayer we don’t pray for healing or better relationships or world peace. We pray that God’s will be done. We pray for bread for the day (to have enough, not more than enough). We pray for forgiveness and the avoidance of temptation.
I would suggest that the Lord’s Prayer and Jesus’ other teaching on prayer are about challenging us to become God’s intervention in the world. We pray for world peace so that we might be people who seek peace in the world. We pray for an end to hunger so that we might work God’s will and share so that none would be hungry. We pray for healing and reconciliation so that we might be a source of healing and reconciliation for the world.
I do not write this to take away anyone’s hope in the miraculous. However, it has been my experience that often the miraculous involves the miracle of other people open to being part of God’s miracle. When we embrace our part in God’s will and our role in God’s kingdom, miracles happen. The hungry are fed; the sick are healed; the poor receive good news.
In prayer God changes the world by changing who we are. Every encounter with the love of God has an effect and we are not the same people as before. Prayer helps us grow into our role as the children of God; as saints of God. Prayer takes us into the depths of God’s love and sends us as God’s good news for the world.