Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Question about Prayer

QuestionI'm stuck thinking about prayer because the logic doesn't seem to work. If God does not inflict illnesses or accidents, why do we pray for Him to keep us safe or to heal a loved one. Yet we pray for healing or recovery or safe travels all the time at church. If we are not saying “don't pick me with a life-altering disaster” or “skip us with cancer,” is it proper to pray “keep us safe”? Because it seems like I'm asking, “Don't let/make bad things happen to me” . . . and God doesn't cause bad things to happen to us which is where I started.

Or is the only correct supplication, “Be with us when the inevitable terrors of life and death come”? What am I missing? Thank you.

Dear Child of God- 

This question about prayer is excellent, thoughtful, and something to which I can greatly relate. We end up in a very tough spot when we try to make our faith or faith actions logical. There is a certain amount of reason that is absolutely necessary and (I believe) encouraged by God. However, it only gets us so far. The other part of our faith and trust in God is not based in our intellectual understanding or assent, but in pure trust in God’s own “God-ness” if you will. In the reality that God is God and we are not. To lean into and rest upon the faith that has been poured out for us by the Holy Spirit takes enough quieting of the mind without making it harder for ourselves in all the ways that we are prone to do. 

Ultimately, our prayers are “Be with us when the forces that oppose You seem to have taken control. Do not let me succumb to fear or idolatry. Keep your grace ever before me.” The things that we renounce at a baptism or affirmation thereof are real - external “powers and principalities” (Ephesians 6:12) and our own internal struggles (see: the 10 commandments). The life of our faith is working to remember, to see, and to share that the Lord our God is the one God who has chosen to manifest in Jesus (the Christ) and in the work of the Holy Spirit… and that is just in the ways that we perceive. 

It is certainly worthwhile to pray all the things on our hearts- keep us free from cancer, heal this person quickly, comfort those who are fleeing oppression, bring peace to the Middle East. Yet, in our understanding of prayer, we have to remember not make it (prayer) its own idol, believing that the words themselves are protection as talismans or as invitation, if said correctly. We pray to deepen our relationship, to be part of the ongoing conversation (which means listening as well), and to become more aware of God’s presence in our lives. 

The toughest, toughest thing to grasp is that God is truly unknowable and that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). Why do we start so many prayers with a reminder list of what God has done before? Is it because God needs reminding or because we do? If, God forbid!, you did get cancer of some sort, would you believe that it was God’s desire for you? Some people prefer to make sense of the world in that way, because that understanding gives things more order and thus they feel more in control. Control- our control- is always an illusion that we use to keep fear (and its companion, despair) at bay. If God is who we believe God is… then we do not actually have any control at all and the illusion that we do is an idol. (Stupid idolatry! It’s all over the place!)

Thinking of The Screwtape Letters, I believe that intellectualizing our prayer life is one way that the forces that oppose God attempts to build on our fears… not our doubts… but our fears. After all, faith is not action without doubt, but action in spite of doubt. As our lives change, the style or type of prayer that worked for us before may need tweaking or complete overhaul, but our need for that connection, conversation, and mystic communion is still very real. 

I don’t believe there is a correct supplication. There is only a correct attitude: “I am not You. Your ways are not my ways. Help me to see where you are working in the world around me. I’m afraid of…. I long for…. I lift up…. I believe….” And then you follow all that with “I’m listening.” 

I hope this helps. 


Pastor Julia


Unknown said...

Pastor Julia,

This is really well done. Thank you for all your thoughtful leadership in our community, and for being a tireless voice for fairness and justice.


Michael Burke
St. Mary's, Anchorage AK

Joan W. said...

Even Jesus said Not my will but your will be done. Faith let's me understand that God will see me through trials, and may lead me on another path. Personal faith is difficult to explain.
So glad you articulate your beliefs so well Pastor Julia.