I read several things recently that have led me to attempt yet another posting on prayer (I’ve started and deleted two others). Although I’m not comfortable with praying, I keep doing it and have very strong feelings on the subject. This of course qualifies me to write on the topic! Praying is much like running for me, I keep hoping it will get easier but I always feel better afterwards.
The first thing I read was a posting on a discussion board about prayer – the writer was concerned because they felt selfish praying for themselves yet didn’t really see how praying for others (especially others they didn’t know) could help. These are probably feelings we’ve all had at one time or another. The post did lead me to think through my own thoughts on why and how I pray.
Praying for oneself does feel selfishness and unsatisfying. Every time I find myself thinking “God, please let me (fill in selfish outcome here)” my mind jumps to all the thousands of people in the world who would give anything to be in my position. It helps me focus on how amazingly lucky I am and takes my mind off the whatever-it-is I wanted.
This in and of itself is a good outcome; however there are certainly times when I feel I really need help. So I pray for one thing and one thing only: Strength. I ask God to lend me his strength, to help me hear and respond with an honesty that only He can provide so that I can get through whatever it is I’m trying to get through. This prayer for me is very satisfying – it reminds me of God’s awesomeness, His ability to know what’s right for me even when I don’t.
There are numerous occasions I can point to where the “best” outcome was not the one I would have wished for. You know, when that thing you dread or fear happens and you realize not only that it wasn’t as bad as you thought, but you actually came out better and happier on the other side. It’s when I look back at these occasions in my life that I know that the only thing I can ask God for (for myself or others) is the strength to get through whatever it is that’s hit the fan.
Ok, the second thing I read highlights the exact opposite of this concept. NPR had a piece on the Church and the super bowl with this line:
“The coaches of both Super Bowl teams, Tony Dungy of the Colts and Lovie Smith of the Bears, are known for openly professing their Christian faith. Both gave credit to God for their teams’ appearance in today’s big game.”
What irks me more than a little is the thought that God cares who wins a football game. And that there are people who seriously spend time praying about the outcome of a sporting event. God is not a switchboard operator, listening to each of us and handing out blessings. Otherwise we’d all be blissfully happy having everything we wanted. Now, I don’t know if these coaches believe that or if the writer just wrote it that way. But I do know people who believe that if you ask for X you will eventually get it. That if God wants something to happen He will make it happen for you. My interpretation would be that you had the strength of God with you as you persevered to achieve something meaningful to you.
God did not invent passive human beings to sit back and wait for Him to do things – like playing doll house. He wants us to act on His messages (let’s ignore for a moment how confusing those can often be 😉 and participate in life. DO, don’t wish or wait. And yes, praying for others does count as doing something because it can change how you feel and impact how you act.
A note on the power of prayer:
The first time I realized that prayer was powerful was when, after a particularly trying time, a friend told me that they had been praying for me. No one had ever told me this before. I was stunned and profoundly touched. That someone would take time out of their day to think about me and wish good things on me was such a wonderful feeling. This made praying for others much easier for me. Even though they might never know of my prayers – it made me feel good. And that’s part of what we hopefully get out of praying for others is learning how much better it makes us feel. And that’s not necessarily selfish – when we feel good about ourselves we are happier, kinder, and better people – which is probably not a bad way to boil down His message…