It's no secret that we are a people burdened by anxiety in a world riddled by it. Most of our anxiety comes from a sense of our own vulnerability and the realization that we do not have as much control over things as we would like to have. It's a condition that affects almost every human being on this planet; we cannot escape it. But we, as a people of faith, have an ace up our sleeve when it comes to all of this.
We have prayer.
That sounds cliche to a lot of persons, even to a lot of persons of faith. Ugh...prayer. What is with Christians who are always suggesting that we "just pray?"
To a lot of Christians, praying doesn't mean a whole lot. It's something we do, but we don't have to do it with a lot of gusto or a lot of particular interest because...it's basically something that God has on our star chart. You know, we get a sticker if we do it, but we don't understand really why we should be doing it in the first place.
Oh, sure, they tell us it's because it brings us closer to God. They tell us it is because it connects our heart to His. They tell us it is because it helps us to exercise and to grow our faithfulness. They tell us all kinds of things about why prayer is good and why we should do it.
But tell a kid every good thing about having a clean bedroom, and that still doesn't convince him that cleaning his room is a good thing. He still doesn't want to do it. He still doesn't understand.
It's not until many years later, when this child is truly fully responsible for his own living space, that he comes to understand the importance of cleanliness and organization (hopefully). In the same way, it's not until we come to a more mature place in our faith that we understand the importance of prayer.
And it's usually these persons in more mature places in their faith that are the ones insisting that the rest of us should pray, especially in times of need - when the burdens of the world and the weight of being human are simply more than we should bear.
If we're being honest, one of the biggest problems that we have with prayer is often that most of us don't believe our prayer is being answered. And if our prayer is not being answered, we are left with a heavy question: does God not hear me...or is God not good?
These seem to be the only answers when our prayer goes unanswered. These seem to be the things that we jump to. If God does not respond to the anguish of my soul when I am praying, is it because He doesn't hear it...or because He doesn't care? We are so wrapped up in our own perspective, in our own personal desires, that we can't fathom that it could be anything else.
Then, however, someone will step forward and tell us that we would be better off using our prayer to resign ourselves to God's will. That it would be best if we just give up everything, empty ourselves, lay ourselves bare, and "let" God do whatever it is that He wants to do.
I am here to tell you - that doesn't work, either. God never calls us to be people who resign ourselves to Him. He doesn't want us to be a people who just give up and ride the waves of His Will wherever they passively might lead us. This isn't the relationship God wants with us; it never was. God doesn't want us to just "let" Him be God.
But I do think that our prayer often misses the mark of what God desires from us. And more importantly than that, I think our prayer misses the mark of what we want for ourselves. And I believe it is because we are praying weak prayers that we do not experience the strength of God, especially when we are most in need of it.
Why is our prayer so weak and how can we change it? We'll talk about that tomorrow.