My first memory of prayer was just something that we did, at the dinner table and at bedtime. It was rather rote and I didn’t know what it meant, other than it was a way to thank God for the day and our food.
Eventually, I started praying for things I wanted, in the selfish way of a teen. If I got what I wanted, then I thought God answered prayers. If I didn’t get what I wanted, then I thought praying was just a bunch of bunk.
Early in my college days, my dog of about 13 years was very sick. She lived with my parents in Roseville, and I lived off campus at the University of Minnesota. I was close by – and I could come to see Cinder frequently. As I watched her get sicker, I prayed for God to heal her. The sicker she got, the harder I prayed. I started visiting her every day.
Then one day, my prayer changed. I prayed for God to end her suffering – “God, heal her or take her. But please end her suffering.” The day I prayed that prayer, I went home as usual to be with her. She was lying peacefully on the living room floor. She had passed away.
Psalm 37:4 says: “Take delight in the Lord, and the Lord will give you the desires of your heart.”
I think I learned something about prayer, and about relationship with God, that day. I learned that through prayer, God changes OUR hearts. Through prayer, God gently aligns the desires of our hearts to God’s will. Psalm 37:4, then, isn’t about God giving me what I want. It’s about delighting in God – being with God, so that God will turn my heart toward God’s desires. God takes the everyday situations of this human life, things like sick dogs, to teach me lessons through prayer, to reveal Godself to me one lesson at a time, and to teach me the ways of God, rather than the ways of humans.
In a few weeks, we’ll once again meditate on our Savior’s desperate prayer to God: “And going a little farther, He threw Himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not what I want but what you want.” (Matt 26:39) Jesus’ humanness desperately desired a human outcome, rather than God’s will. And Jesus reminds us, once again, that God works through prayer to align one’s heart with God’s will.
God of Grace and Mercy,
Thank you for the holy relationship you have with each of us through prayer. Open our hearts and minds through prayer to ever-more align them with your will. Teach us and lead us, so that your desires become ours. In Your Son’s holy name we pray, Amen.