Sunday, December 1, 2013

Prayers of Irreverent Coating: Why God Desires More Than Decorum

Logically, it makes sense to not all.

How is it even possible to measure the effectiveness of prayer? How can we even know that our prayers are heard? Why do so many prayers seem to be unanswered? Why is _____ not healed yet?

Prayer is such a sloppy subject because it is intensely mystical and seemingly inefficient, but that doesn’t seem to stop most believers from performing the discipline of prayer. What is it that drives us to our knees in reverence of someone (or something) greater? This prostrated attitude seems to be a natural response to living on Earth, since the thousands of years of human existence is one grand tapestry of seeking God or gods. We humans can’t seem to shake our conception of the Divine, and I, for one, cannot shake it either.

The Bible records Jesus’ example of prayer as well as his teachings on the subject. The most universally recognized prayer from the Christian tradition is the “Lord’s Prayer” (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4). In Luke 11, a disciple happens to see Jesus praying and then inquires how he himself should pray. Jesus then responds with what we know today as “the Lord’s Prayer.” What is interesting to me, though, is what follows in verses 5-13. Jesus decides to instruct his disciples on the effective method of prayer using a story of a man who is in need. What Jesus is saying in this story is that it is not the relationship between the pray-er and the one receiving the prayer that will determine if the pray-er receives what is desired. It is the impudence of the pray-er that determines if the pray-er receives what is desired. A similar story is recorded in Luke 18:1-6, where a widow annoys a judge because of he persistence supplications. Jesus is saying that people who push their limits get what they desire.

We are invited to be annoying to God because of our incessant prayers of impudence. 

Impudence? Really?

Some translations change this word in Luke 11:8 to “persistence,” but most maintain “impudence” or “importunity.” The NIV phrases this Greek word as “shameless audacity.” Is Jesus saying we should pray to God with shameless audacity? Wouldn’t this impudence sound irreverent to God? Wouldn't incessant prayer annoy him? I think that once we begin to assume that God only desires “proper” prayers that don't annoy anyone, we verge away from true faith. We start to assume that God can't hear brash prayers from the heart, or that he will be offended with us when we fail to pray “properly.” God expects more from us than decorous prayer; he expects us to give him a piece of our minds. 

From experience, I can say that prayer is not always decorous. Prayer can get nasty and nearly irreverent at times, especially when offered constantly. Life hands us lemons and we don’t always want to make lemonade. We want relief from the pains that plague us. Life causes us to be restless and the prayer of a restless soul tends to be messy and distasteful. This type of praying may sound counter-effective due its irreverent coating, but this is what Jesus is encouraging. He doesn't want us to coat our prayers with formalities and particularities. Instead of praying with rigid decorum, we are invited to be ourselves with him. We are invited to get it all out, lay it out and hash it out like group therapy. There are no rules to follow when it comes to conversing with the Divine. 

The impudence of prayer doesn’t mean, though, that we are to distrust God. This is important. Prayer must maintain this one thing: trust in God. Once we distrust God, our prayers become messages of hate instead of messages of supplication. Instead of making seemingly irreverent prayers filled with trust, we become irreverent people filled with distrust. This is not what Jesus encourages. 

Although life often tempts us to distrust God, our prayers must never be infected with such distrust. After we lose trust in God, we lose the desire to seek him, and then prayer becomes futile to us. We end up ceasing to pray altogether and thus lose our bond with God and grow cold to anything pertaining to him. When we stop trusting God, our unanswered prayers, in a sense, become our “gods,” and we exchange faith in God for faith in our broken hopes.

I mentioned at the outset that prayer is illogical because of its mystical and inefficient nature. It’s just not scientific! This may lead one to wonder why people pray, but perhaps it is not the logicality of prayer that brings people to their knees. Maybe it’s the hope that life is not something to be lived alone. It’s the presence of a Friend that is there when all other friends betray. It’s hope that life will always work out, even if things don’t turn out as expected. It’s the trust that God is there no matter what

I’ve heard it said that “Jesus is just a crutch.” Prayer, by extension, is then the use of such a crutch. Well, I would agree--somewhat. I think we need more than a crutch. We need surgery, rehab and therapy. Prayer is the evidence of a hurting soul, and the supplications we offer to God are the chances to receive medicine that a hurting soul needs. Prayer is the courage to endure rehab, and it is what helps us work through therapy. 

Even though prayer can seem futile at times, it must be remembered that prayer fuels something deeper than the satisfaction of our wants and needs. We may pray for those, but at a deeper level, we solidify our bond with God, and that is what truly matters. When compared to our bond with the Creator, unanswered prayers are infantile. This may be upsetting, but nothing should sever our bond with God, even unanswered prayers, because what we expect from prayer is not what matters. What matters is what is given to us because what’s been given is exactly what we need. We must trust that God will always give us what we need, even if we don’t expect what's given.

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