Your husband is a cop and he’s out trying to stop a gang fight. Your wife is a spy on a mission that she can’t talk about. Your brother is a federal agent who is tracking down some dangerous criminals. Your fiancé is a fireman trying to rescue people from a burning skyscraper. Your sister has been kidnapped. Your kid is in a coma. Your partner was gunned down on the field and the surgery isn’t going well. When our loved ones are in danger, the minutes feel like hours as we sit by the phone anxiously waiting for news. When we’re sick with worry, we can’t eat, we can’t sleep, and we can’t concentrate on anything else but all of the awful “what ifs.” So is this our only option in life—to sit around getting ulcers while we hope and pray for our loved ones to be returned to us safely? No, this is not our only option. We have much better choices available to us—choices that can greatly benefit our souls. But first we have to decide that we want to mature, and unfortunately most souls won’t make this choice.
Most souls settle for that buzz of adrenaline and all of the sympathetic attention that comes from them going around fretting out loud. Well, if you’re content to view your trials as a chance to get fussed over, then you’re making some very foolish choices. Life is about you and God, and if you’re not leaning into His maturation program, then you’re going to be stagnating and regressing. Sure, it’s comforting when friends rally round in our hour of panic. But then what? When the panic is over, the friends move on, and what have you gained? Exhausted adrenals? Compromised health? Weaker faith? This is a lousy way to live. God is putting some much better options in front of you, and the purpose of this post is to show you how to become receptive to the lessons He wants to teach you. God doesn’t want you to spend your life falling apart every time some crisis happens. He wants to build a firm foundation of peace under your feet so that when trials come, you can remain calm and confident in Him. That foundation is built by having you focus on truth, and you can’t focus on truth until you have weeded out the lies.
In times of trouble, Christians are notorious for rejecting truths that are critical to gaining peace and embracing lies that are guaranteed to make them feel worse. Why do we act so nonsensical? Well, for starters, this is what we’re taught to do on all sides by the Church. You see the Church is the last place you want to be looking to for guidance in tough times, because the Church is going to tell you that God is some impotent bumbler who might botch this whole situation unless you stay on His case 24/7 and keep telling Him what to do. Naturally the Church won’t use language like this—she’s come up with a lot of pretty sounding ways to say “God is incompetent.” Intercessory prayer is one of her favorite code phrases for this, as are the terms lifting each other up in prayer and God doesn’t want bad things to happen. If you’re going to actually benefit from having your loved ones in peril, you’re going to have to take a whole new approach to prayer. You can get there by following three simple rules.
RULE #1: STOP PRAYING FOR OTHER PEOPLE
When loved ones are in crisis, what does the Church tell you to do? Decide how you want the crisis to resolve, and then start pleading with God to make your will happen. Tell all of your Christian friends about what you want so they can start pleading with God as well. Get as many people as you can to start nagging God to conform to your human agenda. Heck, even get on the internet and solicit unbelievers to start beaming their good thoughts and well wishes in your direction. Hook up with some of these arrogant fools who promote themselves as mighty prayer warriors and get them to help you keep blasting God. The goal of this approach is to try and coerce God to submit to us by using the tried and true methods of peer pressure and nagging.
The Church tells you that there is great power in numbers, because apparently God is such a spineless people pleaser that He actually gets intimidated by His own creatures ganging up on Him. Never mind the fact that we can’t even breathe without God making our lungs work—He still finds it daunting when we all attack Him as a united front and demand that He give us our way in a particular matter.
The Church tells you that there is great power in repetition, because apparently God is such a space cadet that He doesn’t really listen to most of what we say. Perhaps He gets so distracted helping birds fly and fish swim that He forgets to pay any attention to us human beings. So we have to keep reminding Him to pay attention, and then we have to give Him specific instructions on what to do for us, because we’re so much smarter than He is. When He was creating our brains, apparently He forgot to create one for Himself, thus we need to constantly instruct Him on the best way to manage His Creation. “Don’t let them run into trouble. Don’t let the fire get out of control. Don’t let her have that disease. Don’t let him walk into that ambush.” Really?? This is God we’re talking to, not some super powerful moron who accidentally discovered the earth one day and is now wondering how to manage it. But you see, the Church doesn’t teach you to talk to God with respect. She teaches you to talk down to Him at every opportunity, as if He only exists to do your personal bidding. And then she tells you that constantly talking smack to your own Creator is going to really benefit your soul in the long run and make Him very pleased with you. Such is the stupidity of the Church.
So now let’s get back to truth. God does not take orders from you, and He is never going to change what He’s doing with someone else because of your haranguing. Before you decide that this is some kind of bummer, you need to look at the whole picture. There are people in this world who find you very dislikable. If God took orders from humans, where would that leave you when the people who don’t like you try to start praying you down? You see, you don’t really want a God who allows Himself to get pushed around by His own creatures. You want a God who is wiser than you are and cares about you enough to give you what He knows you need even when it isn’t what you want. You want a God who deals with humans on an individual basis and sees value in each one instead of a God who joins us in our idiotic popularity games. If there really was power in numbers, than that would mean that merely being popular among humans would get you better supernatural services. Great, let’s all start sucking up to people and wallowing in carnality just so we can get more fans on earth to impress God. Are you seeing the problem with this logic?
As a Christian, you need to think about why you pray the way you do, and realize that the language you use in your prayers is reflecting what you believe about God. This guff about trying to get a bunch of other Christians to pray for you is a declaration of how little confidence you have that God is paying attention to you. It doesn’t matter how many times you claim that “Jesus loves me.” When you then start begging your Christian friends to give you some prayer support, it’s quite obvious that you really don’t think Jesus loves you at all. What you really think is that Jesus’ interest in you ranges from lukewarm to non-existent. You don’t have the first clue about how Jesus really feels about you, or you wouldn’t be plummeting into these doubts that He is even aware of how upset you are. See how it works?
Your prayers reveal the truth about where you are personally at with God, and for most Christians, it’s a very grim picture. Show us a prayer warrior who is boasting of how potent her prayers are, and we’ll show you a Christian who doesn’t even know the God she is praying to. It is tragically ironic to see so many Christians posting pictures of Jesus on the cross and waxing on about the great love of God while they throw up countless prayers that reveal no confidence whatsoever in His personal care of them. You can’t change other Christians, but you can certainly change yourself by realizing that praying the wrong way actually results in you stubbornly rejecting what God says is true. Do you think constantly saying “no” to God is going to help your soul or increase His pleasure with you? Of course it isn’t.
Dire situations and circumstantial crises aren’t accidents that happen while God is off eating lunch somewhere. God is the kind of Creator who is intimately involved in every aspect of His Creation. There is no such thing as a coincidence, bad luck, or rotten timing. God’s control over this world and over every creature in this world is absolute. God isn’t sometimes in partial control. He is always in total control. This is what He teaches us in the Word, but of course the Church works hard to block you from ever realizing this. While she says that every word in the Bible is “God breathed,” she also says that God has nothing to do with evil. This is some pretty ridiculous doubletalk when Yahweh Himself says:
“I form the light and create darkness. I cause well-being and create evil. I am Yahweh who does all these.” (Isa 45:7)
Nothing happens in this world that God doesn’t want to happen. Bullets hit the people that God wants them to hit, and God has good reasons for bringing tragedy into our lives. God is for us, and everything He does to us is with our spiritual best in mind. But here’s the thing about God: His patience is limited. If you keep trying to dominate Him by telling Him how to manage the lives around you, then the day will come when God will say, “I’m done giving you opportunities to grow closer to Me.” This is when God starts plaguing you with problems for the benefit of those around you, but He is no longer willing to help you benefit from the troubles you’re going through. You see, God is such a multitasking Genius that He can use one problem in one life to bring thousands of souls closer to Him. When your loved one is in a crisis, that crisis is not only for their benefit, it’s also for yours, as well as for every other soul who hears about it. Every situation is fraught with positive lessons, and the lessons that you’re supposed to be learning are different than the lessons someone else is supposed to be learning from the same situation. You can’t do other people’s learning for them, and this means that you need to stop with all of those prayers that are telling God how to manipulate the wills of other humans. “Help my husband regain his faith in You. Help my brother come back to you in his heart. Help my wife feel You with her tonight.” No, no, no, you are totally out of line with these kinds of requests. God gives each soul the option of aligning with Him or resisting Him. God wants humans to have choice: this is another key principle you would be learning from the Bible if it was being taught to you correctly.
Choice is extremely important God, and when you come along and try to limit the choices other humans have by asking God to force them down certain roads, are you respecting God’s priorities? No, you’re not. You see, it is not at all God honoring when we pray for the lost be saved. Such prayers are nothing more than a request that God force salvation upon people by taking away their option to choose. Your neighbor doesn’t give a flip about Jesus, yet there you are praying for God to “soften her heart.” Well, no, God wants your neighbor to have the option of rejecting Him, and you should be putting God’s preferences above the spiritual well-being of your neighbor. If God wants your neighbor to have the option of ending up in Hell, who are you to call that option bad? Where do you get off criticizing God’s choices and standing as judge over Him? In the same way, if you want to talk to God about how scared you are about the possibility of your man getting gunned down in battle, then fine. But don’t be telling God that He’d be wrong to have your man gunned down, because you have no authority to be making such a call. As a human, you have no idea what is truly best for another person. God does, because God is infinitely wiser than you are. This is why you need to stop praying for other people in times of crisis (or any other time), because praying for people always comes down to you trying to tell God what’s best for someone else. You really don’t know what’s best for other people—you don’t even know what’s best for you.
RULE #2: START PRAYING FOR YOURSELF
The only person you should ever be praying for is yourself because your own spiritual choices are the only choices that God is giving you a say in. It is actually vital to your spiritual development that you talk to God about yourself and your dynamic with Him. But here again, you need to understand what the best focuses are.
When it comes to praying for others, there is no right focus. The whole package of praying for other people is pure garbage and needs to be thrown out of your life. But when it comes to praying for yourself, then the things you choose to pray for will have a profound impact on your eternal future. You see, it is your soul choices that God is judging you by, and your soul choices are also a huge factor in how God is choosing to relate to you. How much He teaches you, how well He lets you know Him—these things are direct responses to your soul choices, and prayer is the means by which we communicate our soul choices to God.
So how do you pray right? Well, first you need to recognize that if you were living for the right things, then your life would be about knowing and pleasing your Creators. Most Christians aren’t living for the right things, and if you’re one of them, don’t be discouraged. We need to identify the target before we can aim for it, and it is God who gives us understanding about what our priorities should be. Once we understand that we’re supposed to be caring most about our relationship with Him, then we can come to the important realization that improving our relationship with God should be the primary focus of our prayers. You see, focusing on circumstances is setting your sights too low. You need to start seeing your circumstances as opportunities to improve your relationship with God, because that is what they are. God doesn’t just throw random experiences down onto your head. God’s care of you is very strategic and He is intentionally creating experiences that will trigger certain kinds of responses in you. If you are praying with the right focus, then those responses will lead to discussions of specific spiritual principles that God wants to work on with you. Here are some examples:
Circumstance: Husband is in a life threatening situation.
Your Response: “I’m afraid of losing my husband. I can’t be happy without him.”
Spiritual principle that you need help with: True satisfaction is found in God, not humans.
Circumstance: Child could be fatally ill.
Your Response: “I couldn’t bear the pain of losing a child. I’m going to go into massive debt from these medical bills.”
Spiritual principles that you need help with: God brings trials into your life to help you, not crush you. If your child dies, He can help you get through the grief in a positive way. If you get into debt, He will help you get through it. It is confidence in God, not calm circumstances, that will bring you peace in life.
Circumstance: Partner was shot on your watch and is now going to be crippled for life.
Your Response: “This is my fault. I should have protected him. I am unforgivable.”
Spiritual principles that you need help with: God’s control is absolute. Your partner’s injury was what He wanted, and He has good purposes for causing this event. You cannot stop God from carrying out His will in this world. God’s assessment of your behavior trumps your own and that of your friend. Even if people are blaming you, God is very easy to succeed with, and aligning with His view of you is how you will find peace.
As these examples demonstrate, God can use the troubles that your loved ones are going through to teach you critical truths that will really strengthen your bond with Him. If you’re a Christian in God’s eyes, then you and He are going to be going on forever. He is the only Constant in your life—the only One who you can count on always being there. All the other humans you care about will only be in your life for temporary seasons, and many of them will be permanently separated from you in eternity due to the choices they made here on earth. So for you, the focus needs to be on you and God. It is your relationship with Him which you need to be investing in far more than your relationships with other humans. Certainly we want to improve the way we treat others, but the correct motivation for wanting to treat others well is a desire to please God. Everything comes back to God, because His opinion is the only One that matters. God is the Supreme Authority—the Origin of all things. He is the One everything is revolving around, and if pleasing Him isn’t our goal, then we’re missing the point.
So how do you pray right when a loved one is in a crisis? You ask God to help you grow closer to Him through the experience. You recognize that He has a positive purpose in putting you in this stressful situation, and you realize that in your life, God is primarily going to be talking to you about you and Him. You see, in this crisis, the most important issue is not the welfare of your loved one. What matters is what’s going on between you and God. How are you responding to what He’s doing in your life? Are you open to Him pointing out truths that you need to focus on?
Sometimes the best thing we can do is ask God to show us what we need to pray for. Often the answer will be something like, “Ask Me to help you trust in My wisdom,” or “Ask Me to help you surrender your loved one into My hands.” When we let God guide the focus of our prayers, He always leads us into prayers of submission: requests in which we are essentially asking Him to have His way with us. This is far better than trying to get Him to conform to our agenda, and practicing submission is going to greatly improve your relationship with God.
RULE #3: TALK TO GOD AS IF HE’S INFINITELY WISE, INFINITELY CAPABLE, AND WANTING YOUR BEST
There are many ways to talk to God. When you’re praying in the midst of a stressful situation, listen to yourself and ask, “Am I talking to God as the sovereign, all-wise Being that He is? Or am I talking to Him like He’s falling short in some area?” When you ask God to help you learn what He wants to teach you, you are acknowledging that He is superior to you. When you tell God to do things your way, you’re treating Him like your subordinate.
Getting your theology correct about God’s sovereignty is a critical part of stress and fear management. If you think that God is only in partial control, then you have plenty of good reasons for panicking. If it’s true that demons can get away with shenanigans that God doesn’t want, or if it’s true that mere human specks can do things to your loved one that God doesn’t want them to do, well, then who the heck are you worshiping? Certainly not a God, but some very pathetic deity wannabe who can’t even control the works of his own hands. This is not who the true Gods are. Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit reign with absolute sovereignty over all things, and nothing happens in this world or anywhere else that They don’t want to happen.
The Beings who made us are like nothing that we’ve ever seen before. They never make mistakes. They never drop the ball. They never make bad judgment calls. Can you even imagine what it would be like to have everything your way all of the time? This is how it is for our Gods, and because They are so good in Character, Them having Their way has great potential to benefit us, for They offer to make our existences very wonderful things if we fully submit to Them. But to experience Their best, we must learn to treat Them as the Supreme Authorities that They are, and that leaves no room for talking down to Them.
Start paying more attention to the way Christians are praying around you and ask yourself, “Is this language respectful or disrespectful to God?” When Christians hop on the internet and post their prayer requests to all of their buddies, they’re really saying, “Hey, everyone, this is what I want God to do. Help me pressure Him into submitting to my will.” Is this an example of treating God like our Supreme Authority in life? No, this is an example of treating God like our lackey. Don’t pray for other Christians. Folks who ask you to pray for them need to learn to treat God with more respect. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but meanwhile you need to keep your focus on your own dynamic with Him.
In your life, the goal needs to be pleasing your Maker by being open to Him teaching you new things, and then practicing the attitudes that He wants you to practice. God is never going to encourage you to worry that He could be dropping the ball. Instead, He’s going to be reminding you that He knows what He’s doing and that you need to trust Him. If God causes harm to come to your loved one, it will be because that is what you both need right now, and you need to approach that situation as an opportunity to get closer to God. If God is planning to keep your loved one safe, He isn’t going to tell you about it ahead of time, because that would kill any opportunity for you to practice trust. Trusting God because we agree with what He’s doing isn’t trust. Trust only comes up when there is cause for doubt, and having God do things we don’t like is what causes us to bump up against the limits of our trust in Him. It is by bumping up against those limits, listening to God, and choosing to practice trust in the face of doubts that our trust grows stronger.
God loves you and He loves the humans who you feel so emotionally attached to. The experiences He is walking all of you through have been carefully constructed by Him to give all of you opportunities to move closer to Him in your individual lives. You can’t control how your loved ones will respond to the opportunities God gives them, but you can decide to make wise choices in your own life. The wise choice is to embrace God’s priorities for you, and that means putting your relationship with Him above all else in importance. God comes first, and when we start changing our prayers to reflect this priority, we will start viewing our trials quite differently.
Stop praying for other people and turn the focus of your prayers onto your own relationship with God. Think about the language you use in your prayers and start talking to God as if you really do believe He is in absolute control and that He is infinitely wiser than we humans are. When you ask Him for help, talk to Him as if you really believe He is giving you what you really need, even if it’s something you hate. Start talking to God as if He’s Someone who deeply loves you and really wants you to thrive. After all, that’s who He says He is, and the sooner we start treating God like He is actually for us in life, the sooner we will experience the rich soul peace that He wants us to have.
Overcoming the Guilt of Failing to Protect
God’s Absolute Sovereignty: Essential Theology
Practicing Dependency: Appreciating the Wisdom of God
Practicing Submission in the Way that We Pray
It’s Personal: Understanding the Divine Perspective of Trials