The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
July 22, 2018
Some Christians pose as too high-minded to ask anything of God on their own behalf. Yet, the Lord’s Prayer, the model prayer, guides us to pray for ourselves: for daily bread, forgiveness and rescue from evil. We are supposed to ask God for things!
Yet, God is Lord and should lead us even in our praying. Our desires are not changed into prayers merely by our expressing them to God. Praying is not giving God our pre-established wish list. Thus, the Lord’s Prayer does not tell us to ask for the bread we desire but for the bread we need: our “daily bread”, food enough to sustain us for the present.
Likewise, it tells us to ask for more than what we individually need. It tells each disciple to pray, not “Give me my daily bread” but “Give us our daily bread,” – though being given our daily bread obviously includes my being given my daily bread.
At its core, prayerful asking is entrusting our needs to a great and good God. Making it anything more than that, or trying to make it impressive in any way, is praying wrong. Prayers don’t have to be eloquent or insightful; they just have to be faithful – that is, full of faith, full of trust in God’s love, power and wisdom.
So we never need to make our prayers something great; we just need to make sure we are praying to Someone great, a God as big as the one true God. For what matters is not the quality of the person asking, but the quality of the Person being asked. To pray well is to focus on, and to rely on, who God is and what God can do.
In truth, the Bible teaches that none of us can avail of God’s help through prayer apart from allowing God to help us in prayer. Romans 8:26 says that we don’t know how to pray and that our only hope is that the Spirit “intercedes” for us and makes requests for us we don’t know enough to make ourselves.
I once heard a man devoted to prayer tell of how, when he was in high school, his family took a vacation to France and depended on the faltering, fractured French he’d learned in a year of study to convey their needs to the native speakers. When one of them sought directions to the restroom or help in finding lost sunglasses, they looked to him to employ his butchered French. It elicited barely suppressed chuckles from the French; but, more than their bemusement, the man remembers how warmly they received his efforts and how hard they tried to make sense of what he was saying. Would God be any less gracious when we talk with Him?
He listens to everything – the words of our mouths, the thoughts of our minds, the feelings in our hearts, the resolutions of our wills – and sorts it all out to respond in loving wisdom and generosity. Our prayerful stammering and stuttering, and sometimes stalling out into speechlessness, does not diminish His graciousness.
We pray truly when we come to the end of ourselves and turn over our concerns to the care of a wonderful, miracle-working God – without telling Him what to do!
Thus, to ask aright in prayer, we don’t have to know much except Him. We certainly don’t need to know what He should do. We just put things in His hands and depend on Him to decide what is best to do. We trust that, when He does not give us what we ask for, He is still responding perfectly, giving us better than we asked for.
Tim Keller tells of how he once prayed, for an entire year, about a girl whom he wanted to marry but who kept talking about breaking off the relationship. In hindsight, Keller came to realize they weren’t right for each other; but, at the time, he prayed hard it would work out between them.
Keller not only prayed, but did what he could to “help God” with the prayer. He moved closer to the girl to make it easier for them to see each other. By that he was in effect praying, “Lord, I am supporting you in what you should do. I have asked you for it, and I have helped you by eliminating the geographical distance.”
Keller now sees that God didn’t refuse to answer his prayer, but answered it better than he had eyes to see. Keller now knows God was saying in reply, “Son, when a child of mind makes a request, I may not give them what they ask for, but I always give them what they would ask for if they knew everything I know.”
When we get upset with God’s not responding to our requests in the way we have in mind, we are, Keller has pointed out, like a little boy who breaks his beloved toy truck, cries out to his dad to fix it, and thinks his dad is forgetting the task at hand when he doesn’t immediately repair it but instead breaks the good news to him that an uncle just left him $100 million. That good news does not console the boy because he has no ability to appreciate what it means.
We often lack the capacity to appreciate our true condition under God and the superior gifts God is offering. Because we hang our happiness on what we think is essential to it, we fail to see how God is creating the conditions by which we become a hundred million times happier than we could by having that “essential” thing. In fact, God may deprive us of that thing to open our eyes to the bigger blessings we can have independent of it. God is not afraid to disappoint our expectations in order to do better for us than we have any vision of. Therefore, so as not to lose heart, we have to keep our minds locked on the wonder of who God is and what God can do.
Ed Dobson came to understand this after doctors had diagnosed him with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and given him but a few years to live, with increasingly severe disability.
Ed sought out people to pray with him for his healing. He most sought out people who really believed in prayer and the possibility of miracles. So he invited a friend, a Pentecostal pastor who had regular healing services, to come over and pray for him.
Upon arriving at Ed’s house, the pastor told stories of people he’d prayed for who were supernaturally healed. He also told stories about people he’d prayed for who had not been healed but who had died in Christ and thereby received heaven’s full and perfect healing. Before he prayed over Ed, he gave some advice: “Ed, don’t become obsessed with getting healed. If you do, you’ll lose your focus. Get lost in the wonder of God…and who knows what he will do for you?”
So, continuing to ask God for a healing, but holding on to that request with a loose grip, Ed spent his last days praising God and getting lost in the wonder of Him, restful and trustful whatever happened. What did happen was that Ed did not get better, but Ed died better than anyone could have imagined, reflecting the light of the divine love in which he basked. God healed him of the need to be healed here and now, and has now brought him into heaven’s supreme healing.
Because it is God’s will, let us keep asking God to take care of us. But let us not insist on His responding as we think best. Let us, in trusting faith and with eager expectation, leave it up to Him; and, as we persevere in prayer, get lost in the wonder of God. After all, who know what God will do for us? Let us pray.