Prayer is my secret weapon. I am weak and broken, and full of fear. Prayer is how I cope. I lay my fears, my weakness and my shortcomings before my God. I receive forgiveness, and help (not often in the form I want or expect, but, still … help).
Prayer is also my source of joy. I learned through tough times that acknowledging the good things that overflow in my life (or saying ‘thank you’) brings great joy, even in pain. It puts my focus where it belongs – on the divine – instead of on me.
But sometimes I hit a wall. It happens most often when I’m praying for safety or protection (usually from whatever sickness bug is lurking in the ether) because I ask God to keep us safe, and then the finger of fear prods this nasty, insidious thought to the front of my mind:
What if God says no?
* * * * *
That is the dilemma of every person who prays.
This is the fear that turns our prayers from worship and love to manipulation and whining.
This is the doubt that turns our God into an idol, a creature of my imagination who can be persuaded and bargained with.
You remember idols. The Bible has a lot to say about them. They work like this: the idol wants (or even needs) something. I provide that thing (be it fruit, or money, or a hundred prayers, or my child) and then the idol does what I want.
It’s a business transaction. A bargain.
If I keep up my end, then I can fully expect god to do his bit and protect me.
Except God isn’t like that.
God is God. He will do what is good and right, no matter how we wheedle and plead and beg. He rules over heaven and earth and an army of angels. He even rules over demons and the forces of evil. He ‘turns the hearts of kings’, and puts governments in their place. This is the God of earthquakes, lightening and volcanos, the God of stars and solar systems … mighty forces that put the pinnacle of human power into the realm of ants and bees.
If I come to God imagining that I can offer him something he needs or wants, I do not know him at all. He isn’t even bothered by my disobedience – it makes no difference at all to his plans. All the forces of evil stand against him and he wins.
God cannot be bargained with. We offend him if we try.
So how do I pray to him? How do I get past the fear that God might say no?
Aha … (this was an ‘aha’ moment for me this week so I’m putting it in writing just for you) … aha! The fear that God might say no is the very thing that keeps me from trying to manipulate him.
Stay with me.
Look that fear full in the face. God might say ‘no’. This is not because he is petty or mean or because I haven’t offered him something big enough, but because he is great and good. Because he is God. If I was praying to a petty deity I could be afraid of his ‘no’ because I might offer him my whole life and it might not be enough.
But if I come to God as God, recognising him as the awesome Ruler of everything, if I recognise my place as the created, dependent, helpless being … if I then place myself into his hands … I am in the safest place in the universe.
Yes, that thing I fear might happen, but only because God has allowed it.
And God is God, who never willingly sends suffering into human lives (Lamentations 3:33). He remembers that we are dust. He doesn’t just remember, he knows. He became one of us. He knows what it’s like to suffer pain and sickness, tiredness and fear. He died so that you could be free of those things one day.
He is my Father. He is my Friend. So I can ask him for anything. I must remember as I do so that he is God. He may well say ‘no’ – but it is remembering this, while avoiding the impulse to try to tame the whirlwind, that is real prayer. It is laying my requests humbly before God, acknowledging on the one hand that I have no right at all to expect a favourable answer … but remembering on the other that God is good and merciful and kind and overflowing with love towards me.
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
C. S. Lewis ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’.
Looking at the thing I fear or want, looking at myself … this induces panic and the attempt to manipulate the God of heaven and earth.
Looking at God … this produces prayer.