There’s always been something unsettling about how we were taught about prayer. During the early days of our spiritual formation, we were bombarded with how prayer was a way of talking to God, because if we didn’t, then God would be lonely.
It was always presented as a duty we needed to carry out, in order to secure blessings, providence and protection from God. I have always found this rather incompatible with God’s grace. Not only was my understanding of prayer a contradiction to grace, it also appeared as an affront to God’s omniscience.
I mean how powerful is a God who relies on my report, about my life, before they intervene? Is God’s mercy dependent on my consistency in prayer? Clearly there is something rather anti-God about some elements of our teachings and practices on prayer, which have resulted in us failing to experience God’s power in the exercise of prayer.
In Matthew 6:7-8, Jesus admonishes His disciples to stop being anti-God in their prayer by imitating the Gentiles (idol worshippers) who use “vain repetitions for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father in heaven, knows what you need before you ask.”
Jesus delivers an efficient assault on our assumptions about prayer:
1) We are not heard because of the eloquence or the multitude of our words,
2) God is not dependent on our prayers to know what is happening with us and consequently, God does not need our advice when it comes to caring for us.
Funny enough, many of us would find it difficult to trust a God who possessed the same character traits as us, yet we insist on God trusting our “advice” in prayer. It is a huge cycle of contradictions and counter intuitiveness. What is even more sinister about this cycle is how it creates a caricature of a weak and unreliable God. This, in turn, leaves us feeling stranded and without any hope. It means, the way we exercise our privilege to pray often leaves us worse off than we were before we had prayed.
There are times in Scripture where the follies of this model are laid bare for us to see, to be confronted with its inadequacy. In an event recorded by all four Gospel writers, Jesus invites His disciples to retreat with Him to “the other side” (Luke 8:22-25). The bible records that Jesus fell asleep and a storm erupted.
The disciples try to steady the boat and upon realizing the futility of this exercise, and overcome with fear, they appeal to Jesus for assistance. Christ calms the storm, and Luke concludes the story with a chilling revelation: “and being afraid, they marvelled…”. They were afraid when the storm erupted and they are left afraid even after the storm has been calmed.
A sad conclusion to the story where the storm, outside of the boat is left calm, while those in the boat with Jesus (those who have access to Jesus) are left afraid. Such is the pattern of our prayers, where God is directed to our storms, our problems and all manner of discomforts, yet even at the eradication of these, we are still restless. Prayer has become a tool to manipulate God into changing our circumstances, whilst leaving us unchanged.
“We are all beneficiaries of God’s intercessory prayers, which God offers on our behalf.” – Ps Sdu Blose
Paul offers us a profound intervention to this gross misuse of prayer. In Romans 8:26, Paul makes a profound observation that whenever we pray, we do so from a position of weakness. This is to say that whenever we pray, we are inhibited by a spiritual weakness… from praying in a manner that is adequate for God to respond.
So God, through the Holy Spirit, makes intercession for us. Literally, whenever we pray we make senseless ramblings which God, through the Holy Spirit, translates and prays on our behalf, in line with God’s will. This is to say that none of us possess the eloquence nor the etiquette to pray in a manner that moves God to a favourable response. We are all beneficiaries of God’s intercessory prayers, which God offers on our behalf.
None can claim spiritual superiority because their prayers have been answered favourably, nor can one cry foul because the answer is not in accordance with their request. Paul says that the difference is the alignment of our prayers with the will of God for our lives. Herein lies what I believe to be the main purpose of prayer, to subject us to the will of God. It is the discovery and understanding of God’s will that brings peace and assurance.
Jesus approaches God, in prayer, with the sole intention of removing the cup of His suffering on the cross (Luke 22:42). However, the prayer delivers its purpose when it not only reveals the will of God but also secures Christ in the same will: “yet not my will, but yours be done.” We never hear Christ make the same supplication to God again.
It seems as though while this prayer did not go as Christ would have wanted, He seems to have been just as fine with the will of God, even if it contradicted His initial preference. So many times, we only feel as though prayer has been effective if it subjects God to our will, even if ours is opposed to God’s will. I believe we forfeit a lot of peace when we deprive ourselves of God’s intercessory prayers, when we do not submit that we are too weak to pray in accordance with heaven’s will for our lives.
Perhaps Luke, again, offers the most vivid illustration of the dynamics at play when we pray. This he does through his masterful telling of the parable of the prodigal father who had two lost sons. When the young man leaves home and runs into trouble in a foreign country, in the doom and desperation of the pig sty, he rehearses a prayer that is designed to appeal to the father’s heart than express what’s in his heart.
Again, this could be what Paul means by weakness: we always pray from a position of lack, of want, desirous to possess as opposed to connecting. So, our prayers are always designed to secure us possessions and not proximity to God.
After satisfying himself with his prayer, the young man, makes the long trek home. However, Luke punctuates the encounter between father and son with the marked absence of the son’s prayer. The father never gives him a chance to utter a single word of his prepared prayer, lest the young man goes on believing that his acceptance was contingent on is eloquence.
What we notice is the difference between what the young man was going to ask for, and what he receives. He was ready to accept a demotion as a servant in his father’s house, while the father never saw him as anything less than his son. Perhaps that’s precisely why God must never allow Himself to be subjected to our will. What we desire for ourselves, will always be markedly inferior to what God wills for our lives. It is the discovery of this truth and acceptance thereof that brings peace and confidence in God. In prayer, we get to see our lives through God’s lens of love.
Pastor Sduduzo Blose is a Pastor of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and is currently the Stewardship Director for the Kwa-Zulu Natal – Free State Conference. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Biblical Hermeneutics. Above all, he is a husband and a father and an avid cyclist with a running problem.
Thank you Pastor Blose for simply, yet intricately, breaking down the real reason for prayer in our lives! I am personally touched by the truth that my life would be far more fulfilled if I allowed myself to just be in the presence of God and submit to His will and intercessory prayers for my life.
Ladies, were you encouraged and enlightened by this sharing? Let us know your thoughts around the topic of meaningful prayer. Have you reached a place where you’re happy for God’s will and prayers to take precedence in your own life or are you still battling with control issues like me. Would love to hear your experiences fam.
The black African woman Team