I have to be honest. When Hailey and I agreed to go to Malawi last year I prayed a prayer that my mind knew was wrong but my heart rationalized as okay. You know the type—one of those childish conditional prayers. They’re what we pray when we’re in trouble, in need of something in a hurry or (as it was in our case) about to make a big life decision; Lord if I do this for you, then you’ll do something for me. Or maybe it’s, God if you do this for me, than I promise I’ll…
I prayed, “Lord. If Hailey and I go to Malawi for a year, you’ll need to give me a job and my wife needs to be pregnant soon after we get home. That’s my price. Deal?” It was as if going to Malawi was a giant sacrifice, a price I’d pay to get what I wanted.
It’s a prayer that our consumerist society teaches as valid. But it’s terrible theology. God honoring the cravings of my heart today [I have a job and Hailey is pregnant] is not some sort of reward for an “offering” I made last year. It has more to do with surrendering my will to His.
The idea that God’s providence can and should be changed because of something we do or a demand we make shrinks faith down to a controllable bargaining tool. Scripture tells us that, while showing an abundance of grace, God punishes those who fall away from his will and changes the understanding of success for those who learn to live under it. We don’t teach it enough, but consequences for actions are rampant in the Bible—just because the punishment doesn’t completely fit the crime [grace] doesn’t mean there isn’t significant damage and pain when we fall away from God’s plan.
I had a professor in college that messed up my understanding of prayer. He believed that the only valid prayer was for the revelation of God’s will. Praying anything else would belittle God’s role as God and our role as humans. In praying thy will be done, we seek to align with what God’s desires are for our individual and corporate lives. God’s heart for the world remains primary and our own longings secondary. It helps to give us a “big picture” prayer mentality.
Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane are the perfect example of this prayer.
My father, if there is any other way. Get me out of this. But please, not what I want. What you want.
This prayer is extremely difficult when we long for something or someone, and God doesn’t answer the prayer the way we would have hoped.
In many ways, Dr. McCant was a crazy old man—the most unorthodox Nazarene I’ve met (he also made bold statements like, “if my Rabbi isn’t going to heaven then neither am I!”). He had one of those brilliant minds that didn’t always equate to brilliant teaching. I often walked out of his class confused, with less understanding than I had when I arrived (then again, maybe that was his whole point?). At the very least, a year in his class taught me to think before I pray.
Thanking God for providing is different than boasting to Him about what we have earned, praying for victory is completely different than praying for our enemies, and saying “God is good” has little to do with our current life circumstance (it’s a statement of God’s Sovereignty, His good and perfect plan. One we often can’t see or explain). My “Malawian sacrifice” taught me these things. God didn’t need me there; I needed to be there. I needed the lesson in obedience.
It’s Holy Week. Followers of Christ should be in deep prayer. As you reflect on what happened during this week years ago, I’d hope you’d do so focused on a will that’s not your own. Sometime, before easter egg hunts and caserole consumption ask yourself these questions. What’s on your agenda that needs to be set aside in order to get inline with what God is doing in the world? How does your story need to be altered so you can play a bigger part in His? And, are you trying to pray your will into God’s plan or are you praying His will would become yours?