When we have prayed over every wart, pimple, and problem of people both known and unknown, have we really ministered to them? Have we done what God would have us to do for them? Is this the essence of what the church is to be about?
Curiously, there’s nothing in the New Testament to sanction the fervor we display in praying over every sniffle and sneeze. We pray that people will be healed. We pray that their diagnosis is wrong. We pray that they won’t get any worse. We pray that the medicine, procedure, treatment, surgery will be effective. We explain the situation in detail (sometimes way too much detail). Then we explain to God once again in our prayer as though He didn’t hear it the first time. Could this not be done in a better (less tedious) manner? Where does all of this come from anyway? Is it effective ministry or does it simply cater to an immediate need? Is it possible perhaps that our whole approach has been shaped by our desire to provide what people ask for rather than lead them? Have our prayers just become consumer responses?
We need people who know how to lead in prayer. Note I didn’t say lead prayer—we have plenty who are capable of that. No, we need people who can lead in prayer. We need people who can see beyond the warts, pimples, and problems we’re incessantly called to pray for and lead us in praying for God’s will in our lives. We need people who can lead us in recognizing that it may be God’s will for us to suffer with (fill in the blank) and maybe, just maybe, we should pray that God will help us bear it rather than heal us from it.
When Phillip Yancey was asked about the difference between disciples in China and the United States he said, “At my church, when something bad happens, people immediately ask God to fix it: get me a job, heal my aunt, whatever. I pray those same prayers, and I see nothing wrong with them. In China, though, I heard different prayers, not ‘God, take away this burden,’ but ‘God, give me the strength to bear this burden.’
There’s a substantial difference between those two prayers, isn’t there? We need people who will pray the Gethsemane prayer. We need people who will say, “I don’t particularly care for this, it’s not what I would choose for myself but You are Sovereign God, and if this is Your will for me I just ask for strength to carry it well.”
In Colossians 4:2ff, Paul gives some instructions on prayer. Among other things, he asks the Christians at Colossae to pray for an open door (v. 3). That wouldn’t have been the first time that a prisoner prayed for an open door but it may have been the first time that the open door had nothing to do with him obtaining freedom! Paul didn’t pray to get out of prison, he prayed that God’s word would get out as a result of his imprisonment. There’s a real lesson here for us if we’re willing to hear it. Rather than assume it’s God’s will for all of us to be surrounded by perfect circumstances, perhaps we might show a little humility and imagine that our Father might view something else as more important. After all, if He allowed an apostle to have a thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12); isn’t it possible that He might allow us to live in a less-than-ideal state? With that in mind, why not give God “permission” to use our lives in whatever way He sees best.
Let’s stop praying nice prayers for everyone to have everything and start praying good prayers for God’s will to be done in our lives.