Prayer is the main way to communicate with God, but many Christians wonder whether He hears prayers about seemingly trivial matters. Mark Sturge says He does
My grandfather often said: “Some people bother God too much.” I understood what he meant. His conviction was that some Christians, instead of taking personal responsibility for their decisions and subsequent actions, passed them on to God. Subconsciously, however, it caused me to think that I should get on with the trivial things of life by myself and reserve the ‘big’ things and situations for God. Therefore, my question is: does God see some of our prayers as trivial? Or, more precisely, does God answer trivial prayers?
When thinking about trivial prayers, I am referring to those ‘throwaway’ prayers, eg. “Lord, what colour shirt should I wear today?” “Lord, please let my bus come a bit late today.” “Lord, help me to buy the winning multimillion-pound lottery jackpot ticket.” “Lord, I pray that my favourite team will win their next match…” Already we can see the dilemma with these supposed ‘trivial’ prayers. They may well have significant consequences for ourselves and others. In some cultures, dress codes are essential, as is the day’s occasion. One might start the day in the worst possible way, and missing the bus for a necessary appointment would make a bad situation even worse. A context-based response to our question would make every prayer essential and valid.
Observing children praying that their teddy bears listen to them and do what they are told might also be considered trivial. So is asking God to make their parents relent on a decision, or for a wish from the fairies, especially when it is funnier than realistic. However, even these prayers are, at the very least, an acknowledgement by a child of their limitations. They recognise that help and support are needed from a more able and powerful Being.
I am convinced that trivial prayers invite conversations with an omnipresent God. It helps us to be ourselves and comfortable with God, and strengthens and grows our friendship with Him in ways that do not take anything away from the parent/child, powerful/vulnerable, master/servant relationships.
Our trivial prayers are a reasonable response to the exhortation to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17). They bring God into our hopes, dreams and delights. Trivial prayers also get God out of our devotion closets, our secret and sacred spaces, and into our fun and down times. In addition, our trivial prayers ensure that God is not employed or deployed for specific roles and tasks and then ‘released’ once the job is completed. Our conversation with Him is continual. This way, we do not see and use God as a member of our private board or as a mere consultant when the stakes are high, and when capacity and capabilities are low.
Trivial prayers acknowledge that God is a God of the little things as well as the big things. We also grow in confidence and faith in ourselves and in God when those small and seemingly insignificant prayers are answered. The transition to meaningful and significant prayer requests is then seamless. God becomes the God of everything, and we better understand that if it is important to us, it is at least important enough to have a conversation about with God.
There is no inclination that the psalmist excluded trivial things from the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4-5). Trivial accompanies the serious, the mundane, the pain, and all the other experiences we have. It neither displaces nor distracts from the well-rehearsed list of needs.
What causes us to suppress trivial prayer or avoid making room for them? John, the apostle, invites us to ask God for what we want and be assured that we have it (1 John 5:14).
Could it be that the lack of wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11) started as a trivial prayer with no expectation – just small talk about how to redeem the situation? If so, we might be surprised by the outcomes of trivial conversations with God.
There is a temptation to caveat, clarify and contextualise Scripture to the point where it seems foolish to accept its inference or sense in a childlike manner. Confidence in God is confidence in being childlike. The outcomes of our trivial prayers could be meaningful, valuable and much needed. So, give it a go and see if God answers trivial prayers.
As for me, I will continue to pray for Arsenal FC to win the Premier League title in 2023.
Mark Sturge is the former General Director of the African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance and a former Head of England at the international development charity, Christian Aid. He is now pursuing doctoral research in leadership at Durham University.
Written by: Mark Sturge