Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Room 314: Prayer

Like many other fellow grieving parents, Heather and I have struggled with prayer following the death of our son Micah. If we prayed to God to save our son, and He chose not to answer, why should we continue to bother with prayer for other needs? If God won't answer our prayers when we really need Him, why should we bother with going before Him in prayer with comparatively minor matters? Why bother at all? Through my recent illness and lengthy hospital stay, God removed any sense that I could somehow control my own life. As I wrote in my previous post, God took away the subjective sense that I could somehow control the way in which I raise my children, grow my career, or achieve our other life goals. My illness tore away any sense of self-direction, albeit on a smaller scale from the grief of the death of our child. Regardless, when your life is shaken, whether by reason of the death of a child, a significant illness, or any other significant suffering, we often have no words to use to even begin to know how to pray, and we are left in a place of utter shock and desolation. But it is in this condition that God seems to work. Saint Augustine wrote that you cannot truly pray until you "account yourself desolate to the world." That is, we have no hope in our own earthly strength, and most cry out to the Lord. In his excellent book on Prayer, Pastor Tim Keller teaches us that it is actually Jesus who initiates prayer, and he initiates prayer in our lives by reason of our own neediness. Keller writes, "You wouldn't event be feeling helpless and needy toward God unless he was at your side making you capable of feeling that way, leading you to think of prayer. When we feel most completely helpless, we should be more secure in the knowledge that God is with us and is listening to our prayer." Tim Keller, Prayer. Jesus tells us, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." Rev. 3:20. Jesus, who controls every aspect of the universe and our very lives, is using our circumstances to initiate conversation with Him. If prayer was completely up to us, we would surely screw it up. If prayer were initiated by us, we would feel the need to find the right words, have the right attitude or pray with the appropriate repetition in order to encourage God to answer us, as if there were a magic formula. And yet the great blessing of the knowledge of the Lord's initiation of prayer is that, no matter the way our words come out in prayer, God ALWAYS listens. Since God is the initiator of prayer, we can rest in the assurance that no prayer goes unanswered. In light of this promise, consider Paul's encouragement in Romans: "For 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." Romans 8:26. Paul, the great Apostle, tells us that we really don't know how to pray on our own, in our own strength. True Spirit-lead prayers are initiated by God, and in forms independent of our own efforts, our own thoughts, our own sentances. In hindsight, I think my difficulty with praying to the Lord following the death of my son has been from the misperception that I must initiate prayer, and that God will only answer if I have the right attitude or say the "magic words." In my illness, God has been teaching me that prayer is not based on my ability to decipher and apply Biblical texts, my writing ability, or the frequency of my prayer life. It is precisely because I don't know how to pray, in my own strength, that has allowed the Spirit in recent days to give me a renewed prayer life.

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