There’s a question for you! Why pray? It seems obvious. We pray because we want something and we think that God can give it to us. That’s probably why most people pray. But could it be there’s more to it?
The thing that used to really confuse me about prayer was this addendum…to ask for what we want but with the stipulation “If it’s Your will”. Hmmm…if it’s God’s will, won’t it happen anyway?
If I’m told to pray for the things that I want, why would I want to add that? After all, do I really want to surrender it over like that so easily? What if what I want isn’t God’s will?
I struggled with this for a long time. But on deeper reflection I realized something. God’s greatest gift to us is our free will. As much as God wants to give us good things, He won’t force them upon us. He really wants us to tell Him what we want. Prayer is a two way conversation and relationship. As we tell God our desires, we need to be listening for His as well. Imagine a marriage in which a wife simply stated her will to her husband and expected that he’d just do whatever she said or vice versa? In a healthy marriage, you make your desires known to one another in love and work out the best solutions based on many factors.
God truly cares about what we want. Sometimes in answering our prayers He says no…or at least no for the time being. Think of this, if I were to pray to be the greatest athlete I should expect that it wouldn’t happen overnight. I may be frustrated that I’m not reaching my goal, but perhaps God will answer first by teaching me self-discipline, which may involve some painful lessons. Perhaps first I need to learn good sportsmanship and tame my pride and temper. Or perhaps my motivation is all wrong. Maybe I prayed to be the greatest athlete because I wanted the accolades that go along with such fame. Maybe my true gifts lie elsewhere and once I tap into them I’d be happier than I could ever imagine. God’s “no” may be a gentle nudge in a different direction.
God knows us better than we know ourselves…and loves us more than we love ourselves too. Sometimes that’s hard to believe. Like rebellious children we see God as our rival, not as the loving Father that He is. Because He knows and loves us, God gives us that which will help us most in the long run.
There are many things that we pray for that may or may not be God’s will. The spiritual classic “Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence” tells us how to discern if something we are praying for is God’s will or not. He says that since the Holy Spirit inspires our prayers, if we are praying for something consistently year after year, it is most likely that it is God’s will, as our own whims and fancies tend to fade over time. He also stated that there are some things we can be sure are the will of God, like world peace and conversions. Hmmmm… so if those are God’s will, why aren’t they happening? This brings us back to God’s reverence for our free will.
As much as we may say we want world peace or conversion, and may even pray for it, our actions and underlying motivations may betray our real desires. World peace must begin with me. If I am unwilling to let go of offenses, if I am unwilling to make sacrifices and tame my pride, world peace, at least in my little corner of the world, can’t happen. If I want to be converted, then I must submit to the action of the Holy Spirit that will mortify my sinful tendencies. If I want others converted, again it must begin with me working toward my own conversion. Only then will I be convincing enough to lead others.
We need to mature in our concept of prayer and recognize the two way relationship that it truly is. To have any fruitful relationship, it behooves us to get to know the other party. The written history of the love story between God and man is recorded in the Bible. God’s biblical admonitions for how to live our lives tell us a lot about what matters to God, and how to live according to the dignity with which He created us. As long as we try to live according to our own morality, or that of the world, which clamors for peace and yet by its actions actually militates against it, we tie God’s hands in bringing about the peace we claim to desire.
As we pray each day the Lord’s prayer, for His kingdom to come, and His will to be done, on earth, as it is in Heaven, let’s think about how God’s will is done in heaven. Is heaven filled with souls clamoring for their own advantage? Or is it filled with those praising and thanking God for His Mercy, His Glory and His Majesty? If we truly want world peace, that’s the way we need to start!
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