I used to believe that prayer is what made the difference – that if you had enough faith combined with enough prayer, then just about anything was possible. People’s hearts could turn, courts could be moved and damage could be undone. I sincerely believed that.
It isn’t that I oppose prayer of this nature…or that I don’t believe in it. I still find prayer to be quite powerful.
However, when you see prayer as a method to get you the outcome you think you should have, or that your marriage should have, or that your health should have or that your job should have – it is no longer a sacred act – it is about transaction. Where you believe if you “do” this, you will “receive” this.
Transaction is a powerful motivator, I won’t deny that. But, what happens when the transaction fails? When it doesn’t work?
This is when things get tricky and often quite messy. Pastors will counsel that maybe God had a different plan than what you wanted, or that we don’t always “understand” why things happen the way they do or (God forbid, the worst possible response ever) that you didn’t have enough faith. In other words, YOU DID IT WRONG.
When you view the basis of your results on your ability to “get God’s attention” or “gain God’s favor”, I have to question what kind of a God you are praying to?
What kind of God looks down at the mother of a child dying from cancer and says, “sorry, you didn’t have quite enough faith with that prayer, guess we have to go with plan B” or sees the weeping betrayed spouse and says, “well, you didn’t fast that extra day, so I’m sorry, I’m not going to turn your husband’s heart around after all”.
As cynical as this may sound, this is the root of what many people believe. That the “power” of prayer is dependent on your ability to do it right. Do it enough. Do it with the right scriptures. And do it with enough faith.
But, is that really faith?
Is it really faith when you believe the power of your prayer rests on your ability to get the transaction just right? Or does it take more faith to believe that God sees, cares and is moved with compassion whether you pray or not?
I don’t believe faith is found in the light – I believe faith rests in the darkest of dark. And, no I don’t believe God “gives you a free pass” simply because your circumstances are grim. (I don’t think God operates like a hall monitor).
Prayer isn’t a way to “get God’s attention”, because I believe I already have it.
Prayer doesn’t grant me more favor, because I believe I already have God’s favor.
Faith rests in knowing God sees, cares and is moved no matter what I do.
But, as a former leader and pastor myself, I admit that I still struggle with this.
The belief that prayer can gain you favor, not only causes you to feel like you are constantly vying for God’s attention (which is exhausting), but it begins to sprout a belief that you are more worthy of a breakthrough than your fellow neighbors.
After all, if Joe down the street who watches porn, eats pizza every night and gambles gets a breakthrough with his situation but the girl who fasts and prays doesn’t – well, that’s just not fair. God HAS to reward the one with the best behavior. HE HAS TO.
This is what I believed.
And, it makes me sick.
Things become real clear when you find yourself aching on the bottom of the pile with the Joes of the world. When you realize that you are no better than they are – that your agony and pain goes just as deep – and that none of us are seeing the outcome we hoped for….a wave of humility rushes in and changes everything.
Which leads me to where I have landed as of lately:
The abuse victim who cries out in prayer, is just as important to God as the one who doesn’t.
The betrayed spouse who fasts, is just as beloved by God as the one who eats loads of Oreos.
The broken family who memorizes Bible verses, is just as favorable to God as the family who doesn’t.
The child dying from cancer whose parents are too angry to pray, is just as important to God as the child in the next room whose parents are praying constantly.
There are NO favorites.
To quote someone wiser than me, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross”. No one stands higher than the other.
Prayer for me lately has been in the breaths. In the moments where I tell myself I can do hard things. Prayer resides in long car rides where I feel alone and angry. Prayer is when I am too angry to talk to God because I prayed against circumstances like this happening in the first place. Prayer has become less about what I say and more about what I don’t; knowing that God hears and sees it all anyway.
And, in my anger and lack of words, somehow I find sacred ground. I find a peace that says, “you are enough”. I find rest from all the doing and peace in just the being. Peace in being angry. Peace in being sad. Peace in being joyful. And peace in being tired. Peace in talking. Peace in being silent. Peace in reading scripture. Peace in putting it aside.
When we surrender our “rights” to govern over our circumstances and position ourselves with humility as the human beings that we are, we land on holy ground.