What Good is Praying Anyway?

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.

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The Prayer of Agony

Jesus said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Mark 14:36)

In our culture, it can be tempting to think that Jesus’ life was always easy. After all, he was the Son of God.  We tend to think because Jesus had miraculous powers, public popularity, and immense wisdom, that he must have been happy all the time.

However, the gospels paint a picture of a man who also experienced others’ rejection, family misunderstandings, ministry fatigue, and grief.

Easter Church--Hill focal pointFrom the above bible verse, we can see that Jesus felt the awful anticipation that some terrible experience is coming his way. Some believe that Jesus’ divine nature allowed him to know everything about to happen: the arrest, condemnation, beating, carrying the cross, torture, etc. Others point out that Jesus’ human dimension made it impossible for him to know every detail of the future; rather, he merely sensed that things were heating up, his enemies were plotting against him, and perhaps his very life would be demanded. The Holy Spirit may have revealed to Jesus that the end was near.

However we view the situation, Jesus’ prayer the night before he died is hardly an unfeeling, coolly detached type of prayer. Jesus obviously felt intense anguish over what is about to happen. Indeed, the same story in Luke’s gospel expresses this by saying Jesus’ “sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground” (22:44).

 In our lives, we may have both joyful times, when everything seems to go our way, and trying times, when everything seems to go awry. When we feel sadness, loss, or suffering, it is easy to feel God is far away. However, we can trust that Jesus, who experienced agony, truly understands what we feel. No matter how alone we feel, Christ is still at our sides and in our hearts.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You know what it is like to feel anguish and suffering. We pray today for all those who suffering here and around the world. Help us to lighten their burdens, and to trust that you are with us always, come what may. Amen.