Just Like A Prayer

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Prayer.”

I’m behind on writing these, and I’ve been pondering this one for a while before finally finding time to write it, so it’s been through several mental iterations before I typed the first letter.

I’ve been working through my thoughts lately on corporate prayer, and had planned to write about that. Should we pray differently in groups than we do alone? Should we close our eyes when we pray in groups? Things like that. (I’m leaning towards “no” to both, for what it’s worth.)

But even though that’s where I am with my current rethinking of the topic of prayer, for some reason, I really felt like I should go back a bit in writing this post, and tell the story of a pivotal time in my prayer life. So I will.

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I never stopped praying after the divorce. Not really. Not completely.

Oh, I came very close. Basically, I did everything but stop praying then.

My faith in God wasn’t shaken. But my faith in my relationship with Him was.

What was the point in praying? If He really cared about me, if He really listened, I wouldn’t be in this situation to be debating this issue.

I had prayed. Really I had.

I’d prayed for Him to fix my marriage. I’d prayed for Him to give Nicole a willingness to work things out. I’d prayed that He make me a better husband.

My mom told me a story not long afterward about when I was a child, and when I broke a toy, I would take it to my father, and say, “Fix it, Daddy.” Back then, I lacked the understanding to actually put it that eloquently in my prayers, but that was pretty much the sentiment. My marriage was broken. “Fix it, Daddy.”

But He didn’t.

Or, at least, my marriage ended.

So what’s the point of praying? I had shared with Him my heart, and He had shown how much He cared.

I kept praying. But my prayer was almost bitter, like the bit from the old Five Man Electical Band song, Signs — “Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ’bout me. I’m alive and doin’ fine.” I told God what was going on in my life, how I was feeling, what my issues were, and so forth.

But I asked for nothing.

No requests, no intercession. I didn’t pray for others out of a feeling that I would be hurting them more than helping them.

I’m not sure how long this went no. Weeks? Months?

I do know what changed it. It was the smallest of things. Something that normally a person probably wouldn’t notice or pay attention to. But something that made a huge difference for me.

My sister-in-law said she was praying for me.

It helps in telling this story if you know Erin. She’s kinda amazing. Jonathan did well. She’s pretty and she’s smart, but most relevant to this story, she’s incredibly sweet and has a beautiful heart. She’s also the mother of two of the greatest kids on the planet.

In my hurt, in my despair, in my confusion, I could believe that God didn’t care about my prayers. That He didn’t care about what I wanted.

But even in my hurt and despair and confusion, I couldn’t believe for a moment that He didn’t care about Erin’s prayers. Not for a second.

And, using the transitive property, if God cares about Erin’s prayers, and Erin is praying for me, then God has to care about me.

I couldn’t escape it.

Regardless of how I felt, I had to bow to the superior power of logic.

I went to the track near my house where I do serious prayer, and had a heart-to-heart with God about it. I wish I could say that it brought about a sea change in my prayer life, but it didn’t. And, really, that was probably better. I didn’t get the answers. But I got a whole lot of questions, that I’m still trying to answer.

There was a phase when I prayed, but only that God do things that could be accomplished through me. Don’t change the world, change my heart. No “poofing,” no prayer for anything that required the supernatural. This related to the “We pray to love” phase, when intercession focused on wanting God to soften my heart toward people so that I would want to stand in the gap for them.

This was followed by the “remake the world” phase, praying boldly to ask God to do things so huge they could only be Him. And during this time I learned that, during the current age at least, God can remake the world, but it’s still fallen. He can do anything, but man can still ruin it.

I assumed that one or the other of these approaches had to be better, but since then, I’ve been working to find some balance, to let them be different instruments playing together in harmony. And still seeking another better route.

I guess, if anything, I’ve learned it doesn’t really matter. If I’m in a relationship with someone, I’m not going to sit around debating what sort of strategy I should use for talking to them. I’m just going to talk to them.

Same with prayer. Really, it should be about saying to God what we feel like saying to God. Treating Him not like a bureaucrat to whom we have to submit requests in the proper format, but like a caring Father, albeit an omnipotent one, who wants what’s best for us.

But the other lesson in all of this is that we don’t always know what our prayer accomplishes. In a very real way, Erin’s prayer for me was fulfilled, but almost certainly not in a way that she imagined. But her prayer for me, and her incidental comment that she was praying for me, made a huge difference.

Really, I should pray like I believe my prayers will do for others what hers did for me.

Father, help me to do so.