Monday, July 8, 2013

Do Our Prayers Really Move God to Act

Prayer is essential to the Christian life as a means of communication with our God and as a transformative act of obedience. Last week I shared some pictures of prayer to show what our side of the conversation looks like. Through the vision of a choir and the stories of the Canaanite woman who ran after Jesus and the four friends who brought a paralytic man to Jesus for healing, I now have a clear and powerful understanding of biblical prayer. But one question still remains to be answered: Do our prayers really move God to act?
 
Jesus answers this question with a great big yes in Matthew 7:9-11:  “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” As I meditated on this, I began to think about how I answered my child's requests and the Spirit showed me through a few of my memories how God answers my prayer requests:
 
1) Too often, as we entered the gauntlet of temptation—the "Whatever Mart" checkout line with all its last minute impulse buys display—Bryan would began an endless round of "Mom can I get..." with half the display items around us. I found some of the creative reasoning he gave for why he needed this thing or that mildly amusing but still I responded with a steady stream of "No Bryan" without even looking up from my checkbook. Why did I say no? Because he didn't really need one more shiny toy or pack of cards that he'd play with for a day, become bored with the next, and be crying for another better and newer thing the day after. I think that's why God sometimes answers no. Because what I'm asking for isn't good enough for me, his precious child. He doesn't want me to be temporarily distracted by anything that's not going to benefit me and has the possibility of diverting my attention away from something he knows is a better gift.

2) Bryan inherited his father musical talent and began learning to play the Alto Sax in fourth grade.
One day while we were at the music store buying more reeds for his instrument, he found a book containing the Star Wars movie score. He was so excited and asked if he could have it. I said yes because I thought his love for Star Wars might help him develop his musical skill. Without any prompting from me, he would do his band practice lesson after school every day and then spend extra time learning to play the Star Wars movie theme. This is the kind of better thing God is holding out for—something that molds and shapes me into the person he created me to be. Something that brings lasting joy. Something worthy of his precious child.

3) When it came to Bryan's needs, he never had to ask. Food, clothing, medicine, discipline—he lacked nothing he needed, even if he didn't particularly want it. God provides daily that which I need to live and grow strong as a child of God. Whether I want it or not—God provides.
But if God knows every word that is on our tongue before we speak it (Psalm 139:4), if God knows our needs and is eager to provide and care for us, why do we need to ask? And why, so often, answer us through the actions of those around us. Why not just make food appear when we need it like he did with the manna in the desert or cancer cells miraculously disappear like with the lepers Jesus healed with a touch? Why instead does he prompt a stranger to bring a basket of food or subject us to the whole medical community and painful treatments? Why involve us at all?

For reasons known only to God, he chooses to invite us into the work and power of his kingdom. God is always willing to bless his children and there is no doubt to his ability. But he involves us because it is part of being in relationship with him. He doesn’t need me. He wants me. He wants to know and be known by me and working together in this way for his glory is how he chooses to do that. Not only did he create us to be in relationship with him, but he created us to be partners with each other, helping each other and working together. And as we pray together, as we are obedient to the Lord's calling in our lives to support and bless each other, we are bonding as God’s family and we are transformed in a way that we couldn't be as mere spectators of God's glorious blessings.

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