Stump the Rector Part 1

Devil's Advocate

This was a comment to a recent blog.

“I’d like to play the devil’s advocate (if you’ll pardon the expression)… I have been trying to answer questions for somebody who is mad at God. They feel as if they’re being punished.
Knowing them as I do, their objections would be quick and clear:

1. If my prayers are not aligned with God’s will, and I’m being selfish… Why bother to pray? God is going to do whatever he wants anyway. My prayers are of no effect or value.
2. How am I to know God’s will in order that I might pray to that?
3. With regards to financial issues… Poor decisions do lead to difficulty, agreed. What do you do when you’re already in that position? Tithing is not an option for some people, no matter how much they want to.

I don’t know how to fully answer some of these questions. Typically, my response is to have faith. Often that answer seems quite inadequate.
Any suggestions?”

To my way of thinking these are some great questions because they take us out of the theoretical and into day-to-day discipleship. Because they require a thoughtful response I will take the questions one at a time and make this a three part “Stump the Rector.” In answer to “why bother to pray?” I will offer several reasons.

First, we pray because God loves us and desires a relationship with us. Prayer is simply communication with the Lord and every healthy relationship is based upon good communication. About what do you communicate? You tell Him anything that you would tell a close friend. That is what the Psalmist did. In the Psalms you can find both complaining and high praise and everything in between. As we trust the Lord with all that is going on with our lives the relationship deepens.

Second, we pray because Jesus tells us to pray. He did not say, “If you pray…” He said, “When you pray…” (Mt 6:6). Jesus modeled what He told us to do by going off to be alone with His Father. Luke tells us that He did this often (Lk 5:16).

Third, we pray because it changes us. As we pray for others we become less self-centered. As we offer praise and thanksgiving it takes us out of a state of self-pity and negativity into a place of joy and hope. As we pray for those who are suffering and those who have no one else to pray for them, we draw closer to the heart of God, who is all compassion. Prayer is the antidote to anxiety. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7). Through prayer we cast our burdens on Him and if we are wise enough to leave them with Him, our load becomes significantly lighter (1 Peter 5:7).

Fourth we pray because God uses means to accomplish His ends, and prayer is one of the chief means that He has ordained. This touches on the mystery of Divine sovereignty and human responsibility, both of which we believe are true. God is sovereign but His sovereignty does not negate our responsibility. We have a role to play in what God is doing in the earth. That is evident by what Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer.

If we say that God is going to do whatever He wills to do, so He doesn’t need our prayers, then we have wrongfully divorced these two truths of Divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The result is fatalism and fatalism is not Christian. When the disciples asked Jesus why the man had been born blind, Jesus did not say it was karma or the will of Allah. He took action and healed the man. While I do not pretend to understand why God has ordained it to be so, I do believe that God acts in the world as a result of prayer and often God does not act when we fail to pray. St. James said, “You have not because you ask not.” (James 4:2).

If you read through the Book of Acts you will see how the early Church bathed everything that they did in prayer. When the disciples were imprisoned they would spend their nights in prayer. Peter was in prayer when he received the revelation that the Gospel was to go to the Gentiles. When Paul would leave a place they would kneel and pray before he boarded the ship. We are told in Acts 1:14, “All these (disciples) with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer…” In his epistles St. Paul was continually seeking the prayers of the churches and also assuring them of his prayers for them. So the sense you get of these early Christians is that prayer was a way of life.

Above all we must reject any notion of God as a celestial vending machine, and if we learn to pray correctly then He dispenses whatever it is that we desire. Prayer is communion. It is a joining of our hearts and minds to God’s. Sometimes it is sitting in silence, just to be in His presence.

I once was visiting an old timer in a retirement home and at the end of the visit I asked him if would like to pray. He said to me that he really didn’t know how to pray so what he would do is to imagine Jesus sitting next to him in a chair and talk to Him. I told him that was the best definition of prayer that I ever heard.

Why bother praying? We pray because, as St. Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

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