Often, when we pray, we want to know why - why this circumstance is our circumstance - or we want to know when - when God is going to finally step in and do something. Sometimes, we want to know how - how God is going to resolve this little situation we're having, whatever that situation may be.
But I think how should be less of a question and more of an anticipation.
See, how as a question is akin to what - just what are you going to do about this, God? It's demanding. It's often impatient. It's somewhat expectant, but more as a threat or a challenge than as a hope. And as a question, how wonders about God's real power. About His real authority. About His real character. How questions not only our situation, but our Savior.
That's what makes it such a dangerous question. It wonders how God is going to do something, which leaves us to wonder if God can do anything. I don't know why it works this way; it just does.
And it narrows our eyes. Like we're stuck in this situation we're in, and we're squinting at just one little glimmer of light, just one little pinhole of a leak, just one little tiny way of potential escape and waiting to see how God is going to blow that hole wide open and lead us out of here. Because usually, when we want to know how, we've already done some scouting and whatever it is seems impossible. So we just keep looking at the impossible and waiting on something to happen, all while questioning whether God can even do it.
That may not be His plan at all.
I have to admit I've wasted a good deal of time in these how prayers. In these demanding, impatient, almost-threatening prayers. Just how are you going to get me out of this one, God? And I've squinted my eyes toward the impossible, waiting but not much hoping.
It's not that how is a bad way to pray; it's just that it's a bad question. It's actually a great hope.
If we believe that God is who He says He is - that He is good, that He is powerful, that He is present, that He is faithful - and if we believe that God keeps His promises and that not only will He answer us, but He already is, then there's no reason to ask how. If you're the princess locked away in the tower and guarded by the fire-breathing dragon, how is not a question you ask of your rescuer; you expect him to figure out a how. And you wait on that.
It's the same with God. We have to expect Him to have a how. Isn't that who He is? Isn't that who we believe Him to be? Our God is a God with a how, even when we don't know what that is or can't possibly see how it could ever be possible. And if our God is a God with a how, and we know this, does it matter what that how is? Is it reasonable to use how as a qualifier on our relationship with Him?
Of course not. How is simply an invalid question in prayer.
But it's an incredible hope. I've taken all those how prayers I used to pray, all those how questions I used to ask, and I've turned them into anticipation. Instead of praying, Lord, I don't know how You're going to do this one, I instead now pray, Lord, I can't wait to see how You do this one.
It's a subtle change and, in general, I don't advocate putting words in God's mouth. We can't become demanding of His doing things for us, but in honest anticipation, this how is great. Why? Because it opens my eyes. When I pray in an expectant how, I confess that I know that God is already at work doing something, that God is already working it out, and I open my eyes so that I don't miss it when it happens. I open my eyes wide so I can see everything, just in case God's how is not where I thought I might be looking. And usually, it's not.
And it does something else, too, this expectant how. It excites me. A questioning how makes me wonder if I'm part of God's unfolding plan at all; an expectant how reminds me that I am.
How cool is that.