Our church is journeying in prayer this month. Our preaching series is “Questions of Prayer,” which aims to be honest about questions we share about prayer and give us orientation points for our praying. An optional step past Sunday morning is working through Steve Harper’s book, Talking in the Dark: Praying When Life Doesn’t Make Sense.
Today we conclude our look at Ch 2, “The Human Problem,” by naming three more of the human problems with prayer.
- Viewing prayer as prevention
- Second-guessing God or ourselves
Viewing Prayer as Prevention
With this “human problem” we hold together a tension. Steve states it this way: “I believe in the protective power of prayer to a certain extent. …The trouble is, I know people who prayed that their loved ones would return home safely, only to have them return home in a casket. There seems to be no way to predict—much less determine—why protective prayer seems to work one time but not another” (p. 38). We should continue praying for God’s protection (“lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”), but we must recognize that having prayed about it is not a guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen. Why? Because we take seriously the Bible’s teaching on the Fall of humanity. The sinful inclination and actions of humanity introduced in the Fall (see Genesis 3) pervade the created order. “We do not live in Eden, and no amount of effort will recreate it” (p. 39). For this reason, “we practice imperfect prayer in a fallen world.” Let’s acknowledge the Bible’s teaching on both praying for protection and the reality of the Fall.
Question: When have you experienced the tension between prayers for protection and the reality of our fallen world?
Second-Guessing God or Ourselves
“We do not evaluate prayer by how clearly we can see what’s happening” (p. 40). Our vision isn’t clear enough or big enough. Further, God’s promise is not that the effects of the Fall will skip us in this world because we are Christians. Our challenge when struck with sufferings, Steve says, is to change our question from “Why me?” to “How me?” In other words, how can I live out a Christian witness in the midst of this trial? “Christianity is not an immunization against disease; it is an insight into life when we are afflicted” (p. 41). Not only Jesus, but also the most towering figures in early Christianity, Peter and Paul, suffered many afflictions, but still lived as witnesses to the power of God in the resurrection of Jesus. Suffering can be brutal; we should not gloss it over. But we do not “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” alone because God is with us.
Question: When have you experienced God with you in the midst of suffering?
The two problems above lead us to consider this one, artificiality. Too many Christians believe they must keep up appearances to be a good Christian witness. Perhaps we can change our question to “How me?” without denying the reality of “Why me?” feelings. Perhaps we can offer an authentic witness to faith while remaining honest about pain. Steve points out part of the importance of avoiding artificiality this way: “By pretending to be okay when we aren’t, we mislead people into thinking they will be okay when the winds of life blow against them. When they experience hardship and feel terrible, they conclude that God must have answered our prayers but not theirs” (p. 41). This is biblical; we hear honest conversation with God in all its highs and lows in the psalms.
Question: When have you struggled with keeping up appearances in prayer?