Jesus told a story: There once was a
widow who pestered a judge to give her justice. But he didn’t want to listen to
her. Maybe he was friends with the person who was hurting her, so he kept
telling her no. And she kept telling him she needed him to say yes. It seems she
approached him every day while he was at work. But the text gives us the
impression that she was constantly bothering him, so it may have looked more like
She was nagging
him so much, he was afraid she would give him a black eye. To get rid of her,
the judge granted her petition. Jesus tells the disciples they should pray
persistently, like this woman.
Based on this
story, it is tempting to think that this is how we should pray, that we need to
constantly beg God because God doesn’t want to answer us. But God is not
like the judge in the parable. God wants to give us what we need. But
that doesn’t mean God says yes to every prayer.
Do you remember the movie Bruce Almighty? God gave
Bruce some divine powers, and he had to figure out how to use them. He
discovered that there were so many incoming prayers he couldn’t manage them
all. So he set up an email automatic response to say yes to every prayer. What
happened? It was a disaster! Competing prayers made for chaos. Imagine if your
prayers conflict with the prayers of someone else:
For example, Suzy
wants to go to the Prom with Jake, but so does Nancy. When the answer to both
prayers is ‘yes’, Jake finds himself with two dates to the dance. And he really
wanted to ask Betty to go with him. … And, Mack wants rain for his crops, but Bob
and Mary want a clear day for their wedding.
Imagine how hard
it must be for God to sort out all the options. It would take a massive spreadsheet
to take in the millions of intersecting individual requests. Rather, I assume
that God prefers to let us manage the small stuff, while God focuses on
changing hearts to bring us closer to Godself. This is what God is good at,
having a relationship with each of us through prayer.
I find it helpful to think of prayer the way Anne Lamotte
does in her book Help, Thanks, Wow. Anne calls these the three essential
prayers. I have always liked her honest approach to connecting with God. She makes the complex seem simple, and doable.
Anne came to faith the hard way, and now that she has faith, she writes and
speaks to help others find faith also.
In our prayers for help, sometimes we are
on our knees. We need healing, for ourselves or a loved one. We need help with
broken relationships. We need help with paying our bills or finding a job or moving
to a new place. We have messed up our lives and we need to confess and be
forgiven. We need help forgiving someone who hurt us.
Sometimes we focus on a long list of needs of our friends
and friends of friends. It is important to lift up our prayers to God on behalf
of those in need. I believe it is true that with many people lifting prayers to
God on behalf of a loved one, healing does happen, for some people.
I believe we have
seen such healing here and in the lives of friends and family members around
the world. Do we really need to name every person, every time we pray? Personally,
I think God already knows who is on our prayer list. Still, most days, I lift
up a few people with special needs for prayer. Sarah, Beth, Louis, Haddon.
We don’t as often say Thanks, God. But we should. Decades
ago, Oprah Winfrey started a movement, with the suggestion of having a gratitude
journal. Each evening, write down five things for which you are grateful. I
remember she said that if we were really stuck, we could include ‘still
breathing’ as one of the five.
Just as we are
taught as children to use our manners, saying please and thank you to God is
important. Saying thank you reminds us that everything we have comes from God. We
can say thank you to God for so many things, for family and friends, for a
place to live, for enough to eat, for a variety of clothes.
Some days, I even say thank you to God for
waking me up, since I get to enjoy another God-given day. And, we can say thanks
to God for our church family. The amazing thing is how large our church family
is. Many of us have belonged to a number of faith communities and have church family
in many parts of the country or even the world.
One of my faith
communities was a group of Women of the ELCA Synodical Presidents. They were an
extended support group when I was going through my divorce. I had pray-ers all
over the country, and I still give thanks for them.
Sometimes we remember to say Wow. When a
baby is born, when we see something beautiful, when something unexpected
delights us. When we say wow, we recognize that there is something wonderful
about the world around us.
The other day, when
I got home, Mike was standing with his camera, focused on an insect on the plant
near our yard light. The critter had blue wings with white spots, and a very
red end of its body. It turns out it was a polka dot wasp moth. The red made me
think it would give a nasty sting, but it turns out it was just a moth, so the
red was a false alarm. When I read about this bug, I said, Wow!
These three prayers, Help, Thanks, and Wow, are ways for
talking to God. We forget that we need to shut up and listen to God as well. A
true conversation goes both ways. Sometimes, God gives us signs, making things
happen that cause us to listen.
We narrowly miss
another car while driving. A medical test is a false positive. A gift of cash
comes in the mail to help us pay a bill. For others, it is more a sense that
something is missing. And we pause, and sit still for a few minutes. Maybe we
feel a sense of peace, or simply the assurance that all will be well. Those who
practice silence with God discover a better sense of who God is.
It’s important in our relationship with God to stop talking,
and instead, listen to and for God. One way to do this is: read a Bible passage
or story several times. What word or phrase catches your attention? Why? What does
it say about God? What does it say about you? Thank God for spending time with
Or, simply sit
with God. Take your morning coffee or tea, find a comfortable, quiet spot, and
sit. Imagine Jesus in the chair next to you. Hold Jesus’ hand and sit together
in silence. Even if you manage only a minute or two, Jesus will be glad you
were there with him.
We may believe we
need to pester God, nag God, to get what we think we need. But, in truth, God already
knows what we need. Through prayer, we learn about what God wants for us.