Tuesday, October 04, 2016

I Don't Know How to Pray

Confession, they say, is good for the soul. So, today I'm going to confess something. I don't know how to pray. I've always had this difficulty. Oh, no, it's not the mechanism or the concept. I know how to pray in that regard. I know we bring our praises and petitions, our confession and our worship and our thanksgiving. I get that. I know how to do that. But I don't know what to pray for as I ought.

Truth be told, you have the same problem. You just may not be aware of it.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
(Rom 8:26-27)
It doesn't say, "When we do not know what to pray for as we ought the Spirit intercedes for us." God's Word says, "We do not know what to pray for as we ought." That is, it's not an "if", but a certainty. We do not know what to pray for. In that sense, I don't know how to pray.

And, to be honest, I know it. Consider. We know that God works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11), but that His ways are unsearchable (Rom 11:33). We know that the Judge of all the earth will do what is right. Beyond that, we know some disturbing truths. For instance, Paul writes, "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake." (Phil 1:29) That is, He has given us the gift of faith resulting in salvation and, in the same way, He is giving us the gift ... of suffering for His sake. James assures us that trials are to our benefit (James 1:2-4). Peter says we were called for the purpose of suffering for Christ (1 Peter 2:20-21). Now, since we are believers, followers of Christ, aimed primarily at the glory of God (Eph 1:4-6; etc.), it seems to me that we would want first and foremost what God wants. It would also seem to me that God says we don't rightly know what that is -- we do not know what to pray for as we ought.

So, I'm sitting around with other Christians sharing prayer requests, a perfectly good and suitable thing to do. "Please pray for my son. He has gotten involved with drugs." "Pray for my daughter. Her husband has left her." "Our neighbor needs prayer. Her husband was in a motorcycle accident and had to have his leg amputated." You know how it goes. Varying degrees of requests. "My friend needs a job." "My mom needs Christ." Lots of needs. And I'm hoping that the guy in charge today does not call on me to pray for these legitimate concerns because I don't know what to pray for as I ought. Do I ask God to get the son off drugs, or to use the drugs to bring him to Christ (which could involve deeper drug use before it ends)? Do I pray that her husband comes back, or did God remove him for God's good reasons? Do I pray that God grows back the neighbor's leg (which He could certainly do), or that He uses the pain to drive the neighbor to Him?

I know God works all things after the counsel of His will. I know that the Spirit intercedes for us. And, about me I know that I do not know what to pray for as I ought. Praying, then, from Scripture, it seems, can make me ... unwelcome. "Dear God, use the pain in his life to drive him to you." "Dear Father, use whatever means you must to conform her to the image of Your Son." Not exactly popular prayers. Biblical, perhaps, but not what people want to hear. So I pray about what I think might be nice or wise or preferable, always following with Jesus's caveat -- "Your will be done." Then I count on the Spirit to "translate". "God," I imagine Him saying when I'm done, "what he meant was ..." Thanks for that. But if you ask me to pray for you, don't expect a "pleasant prayer". I'm going to pray that God's will be done, regardless of how that looks to us. I'm going to count on the Spirit interceding on our behalf. I'm going to count on God doing what is right. If that's not what you want, you might not want me to pray for you.

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