Praying for Stuff

Grandmother Prays "in preparation" (...
Image by Sailing "Footprints: Real to Reel" (Ronn ashore) via Flickr

But it’s not that simple or one-sided.  People in the bible pray all the time with words.  The truth is I most often do.  And people who are way more spiritual than me do, too.

Furthermore, there are astonishing numbers of cases (in the bible and the every day world) where people ask for stuff.  And then they get it.

Sometimes, these prayers seem to be talking God out of some grand plan he’d had.

God, who knows everything.  God who can do anything.  God who’s got the big picture.  Who is orchestrating the entire universe toward a destination we don’t fully understand.  This is the guy who gets talked into changing his plans?

And he gets talked into it by puny little knuckleheaded people?

As I ponder it, I realize that this isn’t just a few isolated cases.  There are times in the bible when God says “I want to do this” and somebody else says, “No God, I think you should do that.”  And God ends up getting talked out of his original plans.

At it’s root, every day things go on that aren’t much different.

Consider a prayer asking for anything you can think of: something shallow, like a new car.  Something more meaningful, like our gentle old grandmother be rescured from cancer.

This whole exchange is rooted in the assumption that things are meant to go a certain way.  If we had not prayed, we would have not gotten the car… grandma would  have succumbed to the cancer.

One of the crazy things about this, is sometimes we act like we’ve got a reality by democracy.  We do our little prayer chains and prayer requests and all those things as if the idea is enough people vote our way God will change the world.

Another crazy thing is that we act like God must be simply making it up as he goes.  Or that we are so different than those people who tried to argue God out of his plans.  Because, the thing is this: if God had a plan for us not to get that car, we are asking him to change the plan for us.  We’re not any different than those people in the bible… except that, often times, we’re doing it for much more selfish reasons.


Published by


The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

2 thoughts on “Praying for Stuff”

  1. Very perceptive post, Jeff. I like what you have to say a lot. It is very realistic. I especially like what you said about the democracy of the prayer chain. If enough people pray, God will change His mind…

    It makes me wonder, really, why people do these things.

    Jesus does say, “Whatever you agree upon in prayer, and ask, you will get it.”
    The reality, though, is that this doesn’t seem to happen most of the time.
    Is it because we haven’t enough faith?
    Or because we haven’t fasted?
    Or because we’re too sinful for God to hear us, let alone grant our request?
    Or because He has already decided to do something His way not ours?

    The Jews have a saying in the Talmud that I have made much use of.
    “Undo your will for the sake of Heaven, and Heaven will undo its will for your sake.”

    Of course, you know by Heaven they mean God. You know how the Jews are, they are afraid to say “God” in case that is taking His name in vain. God bless ’em!

    A large part of the problem is that existence is not as linear and flat and “Yes or No” as we think it is. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “it all seems planless to the darkened mind, but that’s because it is ALL plan.” When the picture is too big for us to see, and it usually is, existence and the events and things that fill time are too much for us, yet we pray to move mountains, and that is really some mountain!

    For me, it boils down to this. Prayer, like most divine things, is a mystery. It’s not ours to understand it, but ours to do it, not looking for mechanical results, but accepting that it is necessary only because God commands us to do it. When Christ says, “it will be done for you,” He isn’t promising that it will look the way you expected, but also, He doesn’t want us to cynically “spiritualize it” in our philosophical way, like the fox who couldn’t reach the grapes calling them sour, and say, “well, He answered my prayer, I just don’t know how,” and then pretend to believe it. All these humanistic workarounds to try to justify God to our intellects is just a waste of time.

    Prayer is a commandment and a mystery, just like everything else that has to do with, not only God but, existence.

    “The Being” (Greek > Ho On) has had a contraction within Himself, making room for us to be, like a woman’s body makes room in her womb for the embryo, then the baby. Neither we nor the unborn baby know what’s going on. We just exist, not even knowing that we do, until God says it’s time for us to be born for real.

    And when that happens, intellect, watch out!


  2. Thanks, as always, for your insight. The writing I posted after this one was actually written before I read your comment… but I think that we are thinking some similiar things… and your comments give me reason to tweak things a bit, pondering your words has helped clarify my thinking something.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s