The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Why We Shouldn’t Try to Pray Our Problems Away

Why We Shouldn't Try to Pray Our Problems Away

People are most likely to think seriously about God when they are feeling scared and vulnerable. Think about that for a moment. Then think about how often you ask God to make people’s problems go away as quickly as possible so that they can go back to feeling healthy, happy, and in control of their lives. Do you see a problem?

We Christians are used to approaching prayer all wrong. We don’t mean to, but too often we go through life without having anyone challenge our views. We’re taught it’s the loving and caring thing to do to pray against people’s problems. But is it?

Where do problems come from, anyway?  From God, of course.  Unless you’re going to buy into the absurd concepts of luck and coincidence, you must concede that God’s sovereign rule over all that He has created leaves no room for anything to happen by accident.  In the Church we’re taught that we should blame Satan or man’s evil intentions for the bad things that happen to us.  But this isn’t what God teaches us.  This is God’s universe, and it runs according to His rules.  Certainly we make our choices, but God is very clear that nobody does anything without His approval (If God controls everything, how is it fair that He punishes us for making certain choices?).

When a mother tells her child not to touch anything in the grocery store, and he doesn’t listen, she’s annoyed but she continues to give him the freedom to disobey her because she feels in control of the situation.  But if that same child were to ignore her warning and run out into a busy street, she would panic and feel like her control was temporarily lost.  We are in a similar situation with God. When He speaks of being angry and grieved over our rebellion, He means it.  His feelings are as real as the mother’s annoyance in the grocery market, yet they never go beyond that. We can never “run out into the street” with God and send Him into a panicked frenzy because He doesn’t give us that opportunity.  Instead He gives us all a limited number of chances to submit to His Authority.  If we waste them all in rebellion, He throws us into Hell.  We like to think we can go amuck down here and exercise our freewill all over the place to mess up other people, but in reality we cannot.  No one gets to do anything that God doesn’t approve of.  If they try to, He blocks them.  We see such blocks all throughout the Bible. Paul being struck blind in the middle of his anti-Christian campaign.  The flood which swept away a planet full of rebels.  Ezekiel having his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth so he couldn’t argue with those who mocked him.  Aaron’s two eldest sons being killed for bringing unauthorized sacrifices to God in the wilderness.  Korah and his companions being swallowed into the earth after they tried to launch a mutiny against Moses.  Sodom and Gomorrah being wiped off the map.  Jonah being swallowed by a fish.  God knows how to block our plans.  He knows how to force us to change course in life.  He’s very good at eliminating our options until obedience is the only one left.  As Christians we really need to grasp that God is always in control, and He is always having His way in this world.

Suppose you heard a human writer say that the characters in her story ran amuck and did things she didn’t want them to do.  You could take her words figuratively to mean her story developed some unexpected twists, but you wouldn’t take her words literally.  You’d never be so foolish as to believe she didn’t type every word of her book herself and decide exactly what would happen in it.  We understand that the limits and characteristics of any created thing are set by the one who creates it, yet we turn around and say that the God who created every atom in this universe has things get out of control on Him. We describe Him as shocked and upset by all the nasty things Satan does.  We pray prayers that try and help God figure out what His counter-move should be: “Comfort those people; Put out that fire; Calm those warring countries; Give those poor people food.” Who are we kidding?  Does God really need such direction from us?  If He does, then He’s not God at all, but some subhuman being with an inferior intellect.  We can’t even figure out how our own brains works, yet we consider ourselves qualified to instruct the One who created them from nothing?  We need to seriously think about how we pray.

To often when “bad” things start happening to us and others, we panic.  We act like demons after us and we start praying for God to beat them back.  But what happened to God being in control?  What happened to His wisdom being better than ours and what happened to our trust in His methods?  We claimed to trust Him when we were at our midweek Bible study, but now that He’s doing things we don’t like, we start talking down to Him like He has let things get out of hand and needs to fix His mistake.  “Please have the MRI show no more tumors.”  What kind of prayer is this?  Of course our flesh wants perfect health, but if we always have what our flesh wants, we’ll never grow spiritually.  “My unsaved friend was fired today. Please help her find a job as soon as possible.”  Why are we rushing God?  He put her out of work on purpose.  Obviously He had a good reason.  He loves her just as much as He does us and He is just as involved in her life as He is in ours.  Why do we talk to God like He’s always making mistakes?  Why do we use so much corrective language?  Why are we always telling Him to undo the things He has started before He has a chance to finish them?  The answer is simple: we don’t trust Him.  We don’t believe He’s really in control, we don’t trust His judgment or His methods, and we honestly think He won’t take nearly as good care of us as He will if we pester Him into it.  These are all assumptions we need to grow past if we are to treat God with the honor and respect that He deserves.

In the Church today, it’s very popular to take credit for making God do the things that He does.  “Prayer is powerful—that’s why God healed my friend.”  In other words, if we hadn’t prayed, God would have ignored our friend.  “It was a miracle—of course, we had every church in town praying around the clock.”  In other words, we deserve a slice of the glory for making the miracle happen.  This is very disrespectful talk, but we don’t realize it because we don’t think we mean any harm.  We read a verse about prayer being powerful and effective and then we tag on an extra phrase about a lack of prayer making God impotent and blind. But God doesn’t need us to keep Him informed of the needs in His own creatures, nor does He favor popular Christians while ignoring those without any praying friends.  We’re silly to project our human limitations and biases onto God.  It doesn’t matter if no one is praying or 10,000 are praying—if God wants to do a miracle, He will do it.  We can’t take any credit for prodding Him into action.  He is God, not a stubborn mule.  It’s very insulting when we imply that our loving God wouldn’t love us as much unless we constantly nagged Him.  Does a caring human mother forget about her infant simply because he isn’t crying?  Of course not.  She makes up excuses to pass his room so she can keep peeking in to make sure he’s alright in his crib.  Don’t we think God loves us better than we love our own children?  He says that He does, and it’s our job to believe Him.

What would it look like to stop praying against God’s best plan for yourself and for others?  Instead of constantly telling God what to do, you’d have to spend your energy on practicing trust.  “God, I know you have a good reason for giving me this illness.  Help me learn what You’re trying to teach me.  Help me to remember You’re right here with me.”  Reviewing positive truths and practicing submission are far more beneficial to your soul than trying to tell God what to do or pretending that you can force Him to doing what you want by quoting verses at Him.  God is always taking the best possible care of us.  He never brings any trial into our lives unless He has decided it can benefit us spiritually.  He is always with us, He never takes His eyes off of us, and He cares deeply about our feelings, concerns and experiences.  Prayer is powerful not because it is a tool for coercing God into action, but because it turns our focus onto Him and off of us.  Prayer effectively matures us when we pray for God’s will to be done in all things instead of just thinking about what we want.  What calms our fears is stopping to focus on God’s Presence with us, His immeasurable power, and His devotion to us as our loving Father.  When we stop to reflect on the fact that He is always in control, we find our worries shrink and our confidence grows.  But when we only use prayer as a means of putting new entries into Heaven’s suggestion box, we don’t benefit from it, for our focus is still on ourselves and on all of our worries and problems.  To experience effective prayer—the kind that encourages our souls and strengthens our bond with God—we must stop telling God what to do and instead let Him tell us about who He is and how safe we are in His excellent care.

At this exact moment in time, God is intimately involved in your life and in the lives of everyone else on this planet.  What you consider to be a bad turn of events, He sees as a carefully planned opportunity for you to grow closer to Him.  Start paying more attention to how you pray.  Listen to the words you use.  Do they express faith in God or doubt?  Do you sound like His assistant or His dependent, trusting child?  What kind of prayers do you think would please a God who is already taking the best possible care of you and everyone else?  How can you express more confidence in the way that God is running this world?

Of course we all struggle to grasp how much of what goes on down here can possibly be seen as “good.”  Killing, assault, wars, terrorism—it looks pretty awful to us.  Yet God says that what we see is only a tiny piece of the picture.  He says that He’s the only One who can see the whole thing and we have to trust that even the awful things He allows are somehow for the best.  It always comes back to trust.  Every struggle we face, every doubt, every fear: they can all be resolved by greater trust in God.  When we have trust, we don’t need explanations.  When we have trust, we don’t need to see proof of how things worked out here on earth.  This is why the Holy Spirit will constantly push us to grow in this one critical area.  This is why we don’t want to pray against the things that frighten us or make us feel vulnerable and weak.  These are the things which test our trust—pulling, stretching and yanking on it until its weak points are exposed.  It is through trials and terrors that we grow into unshakable towers of confidence, so let’s not be so quick to pray against these precious gifts.  Instead we need to greet God’s good plan with as much faith as we can muster and say “I know there’s a good lesson in here somewhere.  Help me to fully absorb everything You want to teach me.  Thank You for taking better care of me than I ever could.”

FURTHER READING:
Practicing Dependency: Appreciating the Wisdom of God
Questioning God’s Methods: Is this really the best He could do?
The Purpose of Dysfunction: Understanding Why God Messed You Up
Why did God create sin?
Praying for the Sick
Improving Our Prayer Language: Four Essential Truths

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