I have to be honest: I've never prayed as hard and as fervently as I did during this past week and a half. I pleaded and begged for God to show favor to my son, Joshua. I begged him to respond quickly (as did the Psalmist in chapter 69). No need has ever caused me such deep sorrow as has the need for my son's eye to be made whole again. I have petitioned God with some serious needs, and God has ultimately answered. But this one had the deep painfulness of a broken heart for my son.
The reason for this post is because Joshua received a "get well" card from a well-intentioned lady from church today. She wrote, "Joshua, I will pray that God heals your eye. But I will pray for His will to be done." I get what she means. I understand her acknowledgement that God is sovereign and in complete control of our circumstances. I get it. But what kind of prayer is that??? I wasn't angry, but I was a little miffed. Obviously the need is much greater and more real to us than it is to her. I wouldn't expect otherwise. I'm not pointing fingers at her only, because I've been guilty of this very kind of prayer: "Dear God, if it's your will, will you please heal Mrs. Smith of her cancer? Amen." And then I'd go about my daily affairs.
Of course He will heal (or do whatever it is He desires) if it's His will. But if we're going to offer up weak prayers to God, then why pray at all? Why should we expect our needs to mean anything to God when they don't even cause us to break a sweat? Why should we expect our prayers to have any influence with God when we offer them so lightly, nonchalantly, cavalierly, sheepishly?
David Redding in 1960 wrote a book entitled "The Parables He Told". I like what he had to say in his commentary on the parables of the persistent neighbor and the persistent widow, each found in Luke 11:5-13 and Luke 18:1-8 respectively. "Those who take prayer so lightly they can't remember what it was they meant to pray for and never pray for the same thing two weeks in a row, who assume one mention is enough, at least to be mad about if He doesn't answer within the hour, make prayer a pity. ... Prayer demands determination and patience." (p.39)
See, we have two extremes set before us: (1) The will of God (something we don't know until the moment it is revealed) and (2) our intense desires that we present before Almighty God. In other words, how do we pray for something we want and yet desire God's will? Or how do we pray God's will when there's something we so desperately need?
First, we have the example of Jesus praying in the garden of Gathsemane that many use to support their "if-it-be-Your-will" prayers. After He pleaded with the Father to spare him from His cup of wrath, Jesus closed his prayer, "...yet not as I will, but as You will."
What we often overlook in this prayer, however, is the intensity of Jesus' prayer. He prayed passionately and fervently -- as if the weight of all humanity rested on his shoulders alone -- and he pleaded to the Father for rescue. He prayed so intensely that the capillaries under his skin burst and mixed his blood with his sweat. It was only AFTER his intense prayer request for rescue that Jesus reassured the Father that he was submitted to the His will. Can I ask when the last time was that you prayed so zealously that you broke a sweat?
The other example we have is the persistence of the neighbor and the widow mentioned in the parables of Jesus named above. The subjects in these parables had such great needs that they presented their "petitions and requests" so persistently to their hearers that they reached a near point of annoyance. Their needs meant something to them, and they expected their hearers to relent. They expected response.
I wonder if our sheepish prayers "annoy" God. I wonder if they cause Him to take notice. Do we say, "Your will be done" because we truly desire God's will, or is it because we honestly don't even expect Him to answer? Do we subconsciously (or even consciously) believe God is going to remain silent just like He did last time we asked Him for something important? Did He not answer last time because that prayer, too, was painfully boring? Is our sheepishness a display of our lack of faith? Is it a cheap way of giving God an "out", as if to say, "God, You can just claim 'It's My will' if you don't want to answer this one...I'll understand."
So why should those prayers move the heart and hand of God if they don't hold any passion in our own heart? Redding continues, "To attract the notice of the Almighty, prayer must have something of the insistence, the perseverence, the intensity, of the undiscouraged host who kept banging away at his neighbor's door at night, or the undaunted widow who kept pestering the tough old judge with her problem and wouldn't give up until he gave in." (p.40)
Please don't mistake my words: God is sovereign; He is in complete control; He knows our hearts and desires.
But please don't miss this: Our prayers ought to mean something.