Copyright 2006, Josh Wood and TruthLikeHammer.com
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I'm a huge Atlanta Braves fan. Since I was a child watching Dale Murphy on TBS, I have waited eagerly each year for April and the start of another season. I watch about 140 of the 162 games the Braves play. Whenever possible, I buy tickets and travel up to 3+ hours to see them play. I wear a Braves hat daily and am on a diet partly so I can fit again into my Braves t-shirts. So, my loyalty to my team should be unquestioned.
Did I mention I participate daily on a Braves message board? We fans gather during the day to discuss player performances, news about the team and ideas to make the team better. During games, we hang out and talk about each play as it happens.
Earlier this season, our catcher and one of our most important offensive players was involved at a collision at home plate. He was injured and it appeared quite serious. I was crushed; any fan would be. Wondering what this would do to our playoff chances, I refreshed my web browser to read other fans' reactions to the injury. Amidst the justifiable "agony", I saw this post:
"Trust me folks, I'm not trying to preach, but [prayer is] really the best thing that will help. God is the Healer and He is able to heal...let's all pray that Brian [McCann Catcher, Atlanta Braves] will be well and be able to play at least sometime this season, as it looks kinda bad."
I have absolutely no reason to doubt this individual's sincerity or Christian faith. However, I seriously question her understanding of the purpose of prayer.
Implicit in her statement is the assumption that a game is important enough to the kingdom of God for a special dispensation of God's miraculous healing powers. After all, God wants us to make the playoffs, right?
But sadly, it's not just her. It's most of us. We get so wrapped up in our particular interests, passions and projects that we assume it's God's desire to help us complete our agendas.
Read the prayer request list at any church in America. They're full of requests for healing, safety, provision, etc. Am I arguing that it is wrong to make our requests known to God? Of course not! In fact, as people dependant on Christ we should most certainly offer him all our requests, concerns, joys, thanksgiving, etc. All of it, in Faith, knowing that he is listening.
However, the rampant assumption that our agenda is God's agenda is sinful. It's sinful because it allows us to make demands of God. It puts us in a position where we assume God owes us something. We prayed for healing; now God has to heal us. We prayed for safety; so God will certainly guide us safely to our vacation destination and back.
Who are we to assume we can set the agenda for God? Certainly God can and does heal. But not because I demanded it of him. Certainly God is present in every situation of our lives, protecting us and providing for our needs. Yet more often than not, our arrogance overshadows the gratitude we ought to express.
We're like the spoiled kids of the richest man in the universe. "Gimme, gimme," we pant with open hands outstretched. Yet our calling is not to pursue our agenda. Our calling is to submit all of our passions, interests and agendas to the will and purposes of Christ.
I would be guilty if I did not include myself. My prayer is so seldom, "God, conform me to your will, your plans, your agenda. Break me of my pride and strengthen me to do what you have called me to do."
But isn't that what Jesus taught us to pray? "Thy Kingdom come " In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." (Matthew 26:39).
I work for the American office of a South African company. Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of my South African counterparts when the came to US for a special project. One of the men, Piet, was a Christian and he and I spent many hours discussing our faith. It was exciting because we didn't have to spend too much time dispensing with regional differences; we were able to get right down to the nuts and bolts of what it means to follow Christ.
He shared with me his impressions of the American church he was attending. He and I were talking about prayer and prayer requests (much like I mentioned them above). He had a very honest answer to the question:
"Every day I walk past people that are dying and going to hell and I couldn't care less about them because I'm praying for God to protect me while I go on vacation or I'm asking God to help me make more money or recover from the flu. But all along, my responsibility is the Kingdom of God, not my own well-being." (Paraphrased)
His point, and one that I agree with, is that it is vitally important to "bear one another's burdens," to pray for each other to truly invest ourselves in the community of faith. But that must be balanced against our primary calling: the Kingdom of God and Christ's will for us in it.
We're comfortable in America. We're comfortable with our faith. We're comfortable with our churches and our five year plans.
So, we pray for the weather; we pray for our political party; we pray for our favorite baseball player.
Maybe we should spend more time listening than asking. Maybe we should let God ask of us.
I fear we have no idea what prayer really is.
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