Friday, September 13, 2013

On Prayer: Asking the Questions

I've attended various versions of buy-from-home parties where I have increased my clothing accessories, slapped my monogram on various items and outfitted my kitchen for the culinary apocalypse.  Without fail, these sales ladies have employed one tactic to generate interest in their professional pursuits:  The Question Game.

I love the question game because I am essentially a four-year-old masquerading as a thirty-something woman.  I win every.single.time, and have a variety of spoils to show for my efforts. 

Really, though, it's not a skill I developed for those parties.  I just have a lot of questions. So when a pastor at my church starting asking congregants for questions about prayer, I thought, "The man has no idea what sort of Pandora's box he has opened." 

For me, prayer is a compulsory enigma.  I need it, but I understand very little about it.  For instance, does prayer change my heart?  Or does it change God's?  If the latter is true, under what conditions will God change His mind or is this a matter of waiting for the right time?  David interceded for his son, but that child was still lost due to sin.  But Abraham prayed on Lot's behalf and was granted his request (after what appears to be several rounds of negotiating) with no mention of sin or lack thereof in Lot's life. 

When, if ever, should I accept a "no" from God in prayer?  Do I continue to intercede for that want/need or do I call it a day and let it go?  We only see one instance of Jesus praying for his cup to pass while still relinquishing himself to God's will.  I wonder, though, if this wasn't the prayer of His life. 

But more than anything, I wonder why we seem to ignore the prayers of lament.

Throughout the Bible, I see examples of people simply crying out to God.  They aren't declaring how great He is.  They aren't asking for miracles or daily bread or even His kingdom.  They just want to know why.  Why do things happen when You are capable of stopping them.  Why is there so much grievous injury when you could heal it?  Why are there unfulfilled needs and empty pews and lifeless people?  Why, Lord?

Why do we as a church feel the need to answer these prayers?  To give a reason for God's permissiveness or His (seeming) lack of movement in some of these situations?  Why don't we allow him to be questioned in a way that really allows Him to be God?

To relegate these sorts of prayers to the closets of the individuals who pray them seems calloused and a far-reaching lack of knowledge about the types of prayer that exist in our own scripture.

Last year, I read Nichole Nordeman's book, Love Story.  In early July, before I even knew miracles could happen to me, I found myself stuck on the chapter about Job.  I was mesmerized that congregations could gather to collectively ask "Why, God?" without inserting the often expected "but." 

This form of crying out wasn't revolutionary to me.  I had done it in my living room.  On my bedroom floor.  In my bathtub.  In waiting rooms.  Exam rooms.  Classrooms.  On church pews and park benches.  Lament is what I did.  For a while, I'd venture to say it's who I was.

Maybe these types of prayers are meant to break our hearts open before the only One who really can deal with the unanswered questions.  I don't really know.  The only thing I really understood was the process of crying out.

What do these prayers demand of us?  What do they require of God?  What do they do for our hearts?  Or our relationship?  And my biggest question:  why don't we do more of it?  If these are the things modeled in scripture, the real-life scenarios we're facing, why don't we participate?

I wish I knew. 


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