There’s a lot of things that are wierd about following Jesus. Especially from the outside.
Close to the top of the list of weird things about Christianity? Prayer.
Many of us (myself include) suggest that prayer isn’t just an act of communication. The extra-super-wierd part is the suggestion that God might actually change the world based on what we are praying.
A popular way of criticizing this is to suggest that praying this way turns God into Santa Claus. People familiar with the way we Christians do things can notice that we have prayer lists, prayer chains, prayer emails, prayer requests… These practices lead to the further question, “What, reality is like a popularity contest? If you can just get enough people to pray for your thing it’ll happen?” Even if we avoid this, and if we just act like a “prayer warrior” and pray long and hard for a thing, the retort can become, “Oh, so God’s got some kind of price tag. If you just earn enough prayer points by praying long and hard enough for a thing, then it becomes yours.”
I had this thought today about what this kind of prayer is actually about. The I understand that some of the specific practices and methods are open to debate, we don’t want to say “Well, we shouldn’t ask for anything in prayer” because scripture seems pretty clear that we should.
I’d like to meet the Santa Claus idea about half way, and consider Christmas lists. I made them when I was a kid. Sometimes I’d scrawl them out in my attorcious handwriting. Other times I’d go through catalogs and circle all the cool stuff. Eventually I started color-coding these; one color meant I kind-of wanted it. Another color meant I definitely wanted it.
I would like to hope that if you were to randomly scramble all my years of Christmas lists, that I would be able to infer with pretty good accuracy the order they came in. I hope I was asking for more mature things when I was older and less mature things when I was younger.
I hope the same for our prayer lives. I hope that the things we are praying for now are more mature than the things we were praying for in years past. Calling these things to mind, being intent and intense about them, is a way to burn them into our brains, a little bit.
But more than this, being intent and intense requires that we think about what it would mean for these things to happen.
A person, for example, might pray that his football team wins. I would like to hope that as they focus on this idea, they might come to realize that this really means that they are praying for the other team to lose. Perhaps, after a season, they might begin not praying for this, anymore.
I would submit that God might even sometimes answer such an immature prayer; just as I might fufill a Christmas list that asked for something I didn’t think my kids needed.
I might do this because I want my kids to know that I do read their list. I might do this because my words won’t be very convincing that it won’t be as good as they thought it was. I might do it to teach them that happiness doesn’t come from stuff.
And so perhaps a team would otherwise have lost a football game. I’d suggest that God might turn this around. He might wish to teach the praying quarterback that He does listen to prayers. He might do this to teach the praying quartback that this victory comes at a price (perhaps he sees the disapointment in his opponents eyes.) He might do this to teach the quarterback that even after he wins, the quarterback still feels incomplete and needs God.
It’s a long journey. Probably the things I’m praying for now will seem silly compared to what I’m praying for a few years from now. (Hopefully they will! What a terrible thing it would be to stop growing!) There are things even now that aren’t much above winning the football game that feel important. It’s so cool that God grows us past this stuff.