February 6, 2013

Prayer is not telling God how to answer

Sometimes my prayers are not requests for God to do His will, but instructions in how He should answer my prayers. Such arrogance to think I can tell God what to do, as if I know the best course of action and He does not.

For example, if someone in my family is not walking with the Lord, I pray that God will give them Christian friends, or that He will put them in circumstances where they cry out to Him, or that He will do some other scheme that I devise. If I’m not telling Him what to do, I might offer my help in the doing. While He might use human hands, I speak to Him as if He actually needs me to answer my prayer.

The Bible says that God is “able to exceedingly abundantly above all I can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20) and I know that I have never been able to second-guess Him. I’ve been taught that I need only to tell Him about the problem. I don’t need to tell Him how to fix it, and certainly not when.
Why then would anyone tell God what to do? Is it arrogant pride only, or is it also a lack of faith that I should try to insert myself into my prayer requests and help God answer them?

And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. (Luke 7:6–10)

Compare my instructive prayers to the request and attitude of this centurion. His servant was sick. He sent other servants to Jesus with this information and asking that He come and heal his servant. Yet as Jesus drew near, the centurion saw his own worth, or lack thereof. He could have made his appeal on the basis of his love for Israel or on the fact that he built their synagogue. He could have invited all his neighbors so they could see he was hosting this Healer from Nazareth. He didn’t do that either. All he did was confess his unworthiness and that he knew Jesus could heal his servant with a word.

But I’ve put myself into the answer. Instead of contrition and an overwhelming sense of worthlessness, I not only try to tell God what to do, but also doubt His power or willingness to do good for me just by asking for it.

God does not depend on me to drop hints or give directions. By doing so, I’m not only arrogant but showing a lack of faith in His grace and goodness. All He wants from me is that I present the problem to Him, trusting that He can and will say the word and take care of it without moving a step.

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