We Need to Change How We Pray
I didn’t have much of a prayer life growing up. I was your typical kid who only prayed before meals and tests, and asked God to make food that was bad for me actually make me healthy and to help me remember things that I never actually studied for.
Over the years, some events happened that have helped to shape my prayer life.
I remember one time, in the Southern Baptist church I attended in high school, that a lady told the church that she had terminal cancer. So on a Sunday night, the elders of the church laid their hand on her and one of them was asked to pray. I will never forget his words:
“Lord, we know that you will heal Susan. We look forward to hearing the doctors declare that this is a miracle, that you will be glorified by restoring Susan to full health.”
I remember being bothered by that prayed. The bother became anger only a couple weeks later when she went to be with the Lord. I wasn’t angry at God, but I was angry at that elder who had failed to shepherd the soul that was inside the shoulder he had his hand on that evening. Not to mention the dozens of people who heard that prayer.
Since that day I’ve heard many people “pray the trial away” without really thinking through the fact that the Creator of the universe—who can create everything out of nothing—can eliminate disease in a split second. It’s almost as if the only thing we can do is pray for healing, and that’s the extent of our prayer life.
I took a prayer class in Seminary that changed my life.
I was supposed to pray for an hour a day! I remember thinking one hour is not so bad, but that first morning, as I got ready to pray, I was pretty much out of things to pray for after about five minutes. Here I was studying in seminary to be a pastor and I couldn’t pray for more than five minutes.
Then something happened that transformed my life. Someone I deeply cared about got leukemia. My grandma was given a few months to live, and I went to visit her in Rome. My grandma, a sought-after women’s conference speaker. A lady who wrote hundreds of articles and books on the Christian life was soon going to go be with the Lord.
And I asked myself, how do I pray for her? “Lord, take away her leukemia” isn’t really going to cut it. It’s also not going to take up much time. Ultimately, what’s the difference between “God, please never let my grandma die” against “Lord, heal my grandma this one time”?
So I went to visit her and spent a week with her in her last days. As soon as I arrived, she exclaimed that she had a lasagna cooking in the oven (she knew how to make me happy) as she was peeling apples for her world-famous apple pie. She told me she had completed several chapters for a final book written for Italian believers on how to serve Christ faithfully. She told me about her conversations with fellow patients, nurses, and doctors about the Gospel. She was looking forward to sharing the Gospel with the hospice nurse who was visiting her soon. My grandfather confessed great sadness over the prospect of living without grandma. Here was a great preacher and theologian struggling to come to grips with this trial. My aunts and uncles were all affected by this, as well as all my cousins. The little church in Rome hadn’t been told the news yet, let alone all the ladies all over Italy that would be crushed upon hearing their beloved Maria Teresa was sick. In fact they were installing a second phone line because of all the phone calls they were expecting from believers all over Italy!
All that to say that when I returned from visiting, it was as if I had gone from seeing in 2D to 3D in just over a week. I had so much to pray for. “Lord, please heal my grandma from leukemia” became 1% of the prayer. The other 99% was spent on the conversion of souls that would interact with my grandma, and the spiritual growth of all the people in my grandma’s life. Of course, God could take away the leukemia in an instant if He so chose, but, as her Shepherd, He was leading the way through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4), and He was with her, and was working mightily through her.
It is easy to pray the trial away, but it isn’t always the best thing. Of course, we should pray for healing, but we must think eternally as we pray for people facing trials. That’s why James 1:5 talks about lacking wisdom. The context of that verse is trials. The wisdom, then, is needed in order to face the trial in a God-honoring, joyful way in order to grow in steadfastness. Sure, spend a few minutes praying the trial away, but spend most of your time praying that God would improve your attitude in the midst of the trial, and would use the one facing the trial for His glory and for their good.
Acts 4 is a great example of this concept. The disciples, after being threatened with death if they continued on preaching the Gospel, responded with the famous, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20) Their second reaction was to go immediately and pray, and their prayer is so helpful. They didn’t pray persecution away. They had been promised by their slain Messiah that they would experience what He did. So, they prayed for boldness to preach the Gospel faithfully. (Acts 4:23-31)
Trials and persecution are no fun at all. But it is imperative that, to the best of our ability, we remind ourselves that our Sovereign Lord could remove them in a split second, so the question must be why doesn’t He? If He is allowing it, then what is He trying to accomplish through this trial? Once we come to grips with his Sovereign hand, I believe that we will begin to pray more according to His will rather than our own. (1 John 5:14-15)
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