I know that hardly any of my faithful readers like serious posts, but…too bad. Here’s my deep thought for today.
For the summer, the adult Sunday School classes are going through a series on the core values of the church, led by the elders and various other church leaders. (Good idea, huh? That was Stephen’s brainchild.) Yesterday was the first Sunday of the series, and so I heard one of the elders, talk about prayer. He made lots of good points, but the one that caught my attention the most was a challenge about how much time we spend praying about things that are temporal, compared to how often we pray about things that are eternal.
Later in the afternoon, my dad, Stephen and I talked about the “prayer talk” we had all heard that morning, and as we reflected on our “temporal” prayers (past and present), we laughed at how often we spend so much time and energy praying for a certain person or circumstance, and later look back gratefully when our prayers are not answered in the way we hoped for. I prayed in college for boys I admired to return my affections and desire my hand in marriage…SO glad God said no to those! Over the years, Stephen and I have prayed for certain jobs to work out…and we’re so glad they didn’t, now that we see where we are now. This response certainly isn’t limited to my “self-centered” prayers, but when I pray for others too: for Him to bring someone a spouse, cause a friend to conceive, or give loved ones certain opportunities or deliverance. On the other side, we always marvel at God’s perfect timing, after all. Now, I wonder…to what extent are these prayers born out of a heart that doesn’t really trust that God already knows what he is doing? Otherwise, why would I feel the need to so compulsively offer God advice? Even when I pray for “God’s will to be done,” I usually can’t help but throw in some suggestions just in case he hasn’t decided what his will is yet.
Even for those of us who dutifully follow the ACTS prayer plan, I’d venture a guess that almost every praying Christian spends at least 80% of their energy praying about “temporal” situations like jobs, kids, heartaches, friends, marriage, etc. I wish I knew a prayer historian who could answer this question, but I wonder if this is kind of a modern phenomenon, an indication that too much of our mental energy overall is spent focusing on problems and circumstances that are fleeting? What does it look like to pray for eternal things? Everyone I know believes that they should be praying more (“without ceasing,” I think, is our specific command), and so if we’re going to pray less about the day-to-day, what do we do more of?
As a good classical teacher, I believe that one of the best ways to learn a new art is by imitating a master. So I’m going back to some of the books I own that are collections of published prayers. (The fact that some of these prayers were first composed hundreds of years ago speaks to their timeless nature…no mentions of mechanical trouble with the ox cart or grandma’s aching joints. I’ve posted a couple of my favorites here and here.) I’m finding that many great saints found plenty to say in praise of God and in concern for the sinfulness of the world. I’m trying to build the habit of praying their words as my own, until I develop a heart that is more in tune with the eternal.
Now, I’m not saying that I’m going to stop praying about my job or my baby or my aching grandma, or even for my own very fleeting concerns (“God, where did I set that paycheck?”). I’m sure that God likes hearing about my daily worries just like any father. But I think that placing these requests in the context of a more lasting perspective is a healthy shift. What I, and TH, and Grandma, really need is to see God and find satisfaction in Him. When that is happening, even sleepless nights, aching joints, and missing paychecks can be dealt with properly…maybe even appreciated as a trial that develops perseverance and character! (Remind me of this in two months…).
Hmm, I’m not even finished. But I think I’ll save the rest of my thoughts for Prayer, part II!