Feb 21, 2011

what's the point of prayer - pt 2

A few days ago I began answering a question that many of us wonder from time to time. Essentially, what's the point of prayer? Be sure to read PART ONE before taking in this next piece, for it underscores that we can’t control God, be it through prayer or any other means.

So what is the point of prayer then?

Have you ever noticed how when some movies come out everyone seems to get into them right away, only you don't manage to jump on board until much later?

I can think of a handful of flicks where this was the case for me. When Home Alone came out, I was already sick of it before even seeing it. Everyone kept telling me, "You have to see this movie!  This Culkin kid is hilarious!" I even had a friend drag me to see it, promising he'd pay for my ticket because it was just that important.

Of course, I hated the movie. I had seen most of the slapstick scenes in the previews that were endlessly run on television, and all the stories I'd heard about the plot and scenes from friends. Any attempt to make me enjoy this movie was impossible, because I was already shut off to it.

That is, until I had a son.

The movie happened to be on TV in the background while I was working on my laptop, and I saw the young Kevin McAlister really missing his family. I suddenly found myself watching Home Alone differently... not for the comedy, but for the family piece. That dang Culkin kid even made me cry at the end.

With me so far?

It happened again when I moved to Ohio some years back. I had TBS on, and it was playing its usual round of repeats. Without realizing it, I began passively watching Tommy Boy - a Chris Farley/David Spade flick that was met with much laughter when it first came out. I can't remember when I first saw it, but it struck me as "humorous" at the time. Nothing about it grabbed me, but it made me laugh.

Only this time I heard words that never had meaning for me before. Things like "Sandusky," and "Cuyahoga Falls." These were cities in Ohio, and because of my new context I saw the movie much differently. The movie no longer took place in a world I merely heard about as a part of a plot, but I realized that the plot actually involved my world.

Now...

I'm not sure why you pray.

For many, prayer is something we do in order to get something. Its can become a deal-making moment, such as "God, if you do this for me, I'll really shape up. I'll stop being a lazy religious person. I'll even go to church some more." Of course, we usually don't really mean those things... but it sounds good. We wonder if we can fake God out into giving us something, all so that we can withdraw and say, "Ha! You didn't read the fine print. I'm a liar, including when it comes to how important I say my faith is. You should have known that, God."

For others, prayer is an expression of a real relationship you have with God, and is your way of asking Him to do things you think He might want to do. We may pray, "God, please heal this person I love who is sick," or "Lord, I need some money so that I can take care of my family." Those sound like reasonable prayers, and (as I shared in the last post) we may have good reason to do these things. After all, it seemed like in some moments in the Bible God acted on requests like this after His people prayed.

Those moments are true, and yet while they happened we may be misreading those pieces of His Story a bit.

That's just it, by the way... it's His Story. Our stories are scenes in His movie... it's not the other way around. Think about it this way - "Who is the Author, and who is the pen?"

On the surface, that doesn't sound like a fun question because we already know the answer. Simply put, if God exists then He is God... and we aren't. Our agenda for life isn't as important as we think it is, and we need to at some point get honest with that. That either leads to trusting your life to God, or rebelling against the very idea.

But when we do trust the entire direction and every detail of our life to Jesus Christ, we occasionally hear God say something profound.

Like... "Sandusky."

Or... "Cuyahoga Falls."

(Insert your city name here: ________________)

And we begin to realize that what seemed irrelevant to our lives is actually quite relevant. Practically speaking, prayer brings us into this awareness... and this is what all of this means:
  • We don't pray to inform God of anything. 
    • Psalm 147:4 says, "He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name." Ponder what that means - billions and billions of stars, and He knows the identity and purpose of each one. I barely can remember the name of the last person I shook hands with. 
    • Matthew 6:8 says, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him." What a liberating truth, for nothing you can do or say is a surprise to God. He knows your secret thoughts, your hidden motives, your unspoken dreams, and He knows what you are going to say before you ever open your mouth.
  • We pray to let God's Story and our story merge together.
    • Proverbs 3:5 says, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." When we pray, we remember that there is something greater happening than the moment we are in. We may not know what it is, nor how it will turn out... but by turning to God we recognize that He is God. That's something we often forget when we see how much we influence the world by our own efforts... prayer puts things into a much larger perspective.
    • Matthew 6:10 says, "your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." As we seek God through a specific burden, we're reminded that the way things are aren't the way they were created to be... and we have the chance to be a part of God revealing the Good News of His Kingdom through our lives.
That is another huge foundational piece, which when combined with the last post brings us to the final question: If God has a Story, and knows all things, and is working toward something, then why does He encourage me to talk to Him about my requests?

That's part 3. I'll write more on this later in the week.

1 comment:

. said...

I'm looking forward to Pt. 3.