Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27
I wrestled the other morning with the concept of prayer. For the past month, I have prayed for a young man from our youth group who suddenly faced a battle with cancer. A malignant form of cancer that I have come to name, "Little Monster." A tumor the size of a basketball in his chest and he is only eighteen. Tonight, he is dying.
At the beginning, the prayer came easy: "Dear God, please help Daniel to beat this. Give him a miracle." For while, it seemed that that prayer would be answered. There was hope. He was improving.
But then things changed, and again, we prayed earnestly for a miracle. It wasn't until earlier this week (Wednesday to be precise) that I woke up realizing, "I am praying the wrong prayer." I struggled all day with how exactly prayer fits in with the sovereign will of God. If I pray, will it honestly change His mind? Can I pray hard enough for something to happen? What is the point of prayer? If I pray a certain way is that demonstrating doubt or faith?
At youth group that night, a lesson was given on prayer, but not on the aspect I was struggling with. So, I wrestled and wrestled and decided on my own study and discussion. Can we honestly pray the wrong prayer?
I remember election day 2008. In the days proceeding, my sister called to tell me that my grandfather would not stop ranting and raving about the election. "How could Barack be president?!?! How could God let this happen? I fasted. I prayed. I had people fasting and praying that this wouldn't happen. How could this happen? What did I do wrong?"
I've come to the conclusion that prayer isn't about changing God's mind. It is about changing our hearts. When we pray, I believe it helps us realize our position before God. First off, prayer must be taught. In Luke's account of the Lord's Prayer (Luke 11), Jesus is asked to teach the disciples how to pray. We don't have to be taught to be selfish or to tell people how we feel. Therefore, we can assume that if something comes naturally, it does not need to be taught. Prayer does not come naturally, because true prayer, is humbling yourself before the throne of an Almighty God. You wouldn't just go waltzing into the White House, stroll into the Oval Office and say, "Hey! Prez! Whazzup!" You would be shot. Instead, you learn to approach with the respect demanded by the position. Prayer is about realizing where we stand with God.
Prayer is also about realizing how dependent we are on God. If you recall the Lord's Prayer, used often as a prayer model, it starts off praising God, then asking for His will, then asking for His provision, then asking for His forgiveness, then asking for His guidance and then for His deliverance. Prayer is all about Him! Life is all about Him.
So, what is the point of prayer? I, personally, have come to believe that prayer is a part of our worship. It is a vital part of our personal relationship with God. It is when we share our hearts (which He already knows) with Him. It is while in an attitude of true prayer that we humble ourselves to His will and enter His workshop, where He can mold us, and form us into vessels fit for Him.
When He tells us to pray for our enemies it is to teach us temperance.
When He tells us to pray for those that despise us it is to teach us agape love.
When He tells us to pray for laborers it is to open our eyes to the needs of the world. (We are the laborers).
When He tells us to pray so that we do not enter temptation, He is reminding us that our flesh is weak.
When He tells us to pray for our needs, He is reminding us that He is the Provider.
Life is about God. Prayer is about God. No one figured that out more than Job. Look at his life. If anyone had a reason to ask why, it was Job. He lost everything, and I mean everything. His faith stayed strong and he cried out asking why. God answered by telling Job about Himself. God never gave Job a reason. In fact, He pretty much told Job that He didn't have to have a reason. He gave Job a little taste of His glory as His way of saying, "Trust Me." Reasonless isn't the same as hopeless. We have a hope. Our hope is found in Christ.
So, what is the right prayer to pray? Well, don't sweat it too much, because that verse in Romans 8 tells us that the Spirit knows how to pray for us and that He will fill in the blanks when we just can't figure out what to say. But if you look at the end of the verse, it says according to the will of God. See, God has a will and a plan, and sometimes, even our prayers are prayed in opposition to that plan. When we focus so much on a result, we lose hope.
A friend and I discussed this yesterday morning. We think that many Christians are disappointed because they come to God with orders, not faith. I love the approach of Job: "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" and the Old Testament characters of Shadrach, Meshach and Obednego: "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."
It may sound like doubt, but I think faith lies in saying, "God, this is the desire of my heart, but nevertheless, Your will be done." Isn't that how Jesus prayed in the garden? He prayed earnestly that the cup would be taken from Him. That He wouldn't have to suffer Calvary, but then He said, "nevertheless, Thy will be done." See, it isn't about us, and if God said, "Yes" to every fervent prayer we would be without a salvation.
So, can we pray the wrong prayer? I think we can have the wrong focus when we pray. If we pray for a specific result without leaving room for God to do what He wants, we have raised our expectations and murdered hope. His goal in all things is to work in our lives. He wants to do something with us. If we keep focusing on a physical result we miss that. Prayer becomes nothing more than a petition to the Most High- sign on the dotted line and if enough people pray, it might happen. Just like my grandfather and the election, when our requests aren't answered, our hopes are dashed to the ground.
However, hope is never lost when we focus on Christ. When we ask for His will to be done, when we ask for His strength, we can be certain we will receive both. We just can't dictate His will. He has a plan for others and for us. Those blueprints were laid long before the foundation of time. Prayer isn't meant to change those, it is meant to change us. When faced with trial, we need to pray for strength to go through the trial and for patience to learn what He is working in us. That continued work in us is what gives us hope.
"From glory and glory He is changing me, His likeness and image to perfect in me, the love of God shown to the world."