A few weeks (maybe months) ago I taught a lesson on prayer during our Sunday service. Using major biblical characters as examples, I encouraged people to approach God in prayer honestly and boldly.
Abraham bargained with the angels about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the Lord. (“Let me go!” said the angel. “Not until you bless me!” said Jacob.) Moses tried to weasel out of God’s call on his life. Later on, when God was going to destroy the Israelites and start a new people for himself, Moses pointed out that the Egyptians would say that the Israelite’s god brought them out into the wilderness to kill them. “God relented.
I cannot fathom the mysteries of the ways of God. After all, even God’s “foolishness” is wiser than our wisdom. I don’t know in each instance why prayers are answered or not (at least in a discernible way). But I can clearly see the example set by people historically lifted up as “heroes of the faith.” This is why I encourage people to pray honestly and opening. Make your case. Wrestle with God.
People who want to be good Christians can fall into the “thy will be done” trap. There’s nothing wrong with the phrase, of course. It’s straight from the Lord’s Prayer. But sometimes saying, “your will be done” at the end of a prayer is really another way of saying, “Whatever. You’re not going to do it anyway.” Or sometimes people jump straight to “your will be done” because they lack real trust in God’s loving listening.
After experimenting for a semester with schooling at home, Kelly and I wanted to send Anya to a small Christian middle school near our home but couldn’t swing the tuition in cash. So Kelly, a stay-at-home mom, offered to work at the school to cover the tuition costs. She and the principal agreed that she could do reading pull-outs for students who were falling behind. When she arrived for the first day of work, the principal asked her if she could do math pull-outs that day instead reading pull-outs. Kelly ended up doing math pull-outs all year long! Not a single reading pull-out. (Kelly has many strengths, but math is not one of them. Kelly has many joys, but math is not one of them.) She persevered for the love of our daughter. As summer came to a close, anxiety began to grow in Kelly’s spirit as she faced the prospect of another year doing math pull-outs. After hearing my sermon, she began wrestling with God over this situation. She was willing to do it for Anya’s sake, but would really rather not if there was another way.
This is the pattern Jesus sets for us in his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (I am not comparing the situations — only the pattern!) Be honest and pour your true desires out to the Father. Then trust him with the result.
If you have not found peace through prayer, it may be that you are not really being honest with God. God tells us that he is like a father — but better than any imperfect earthly father could be. Can you imagine your disappointment as a parent if every time your children came to talk to you they tried to say what they thought you wanted to hear instead of sharing what’s really in their hearts and minds? Tell God what’s really going on with you — what you really want, if that’s what’s going on — and then trust him with the result.
Honesty and openness are an integral part of finding peace in prayer. So, be honest.
Oh, and here’s what happened to Kelly this week. She was going to start the math pull-outs last week, but that didn’t work out for a variety of reasons. She went in this week to begin math pull-outs. The principal pulled her aside and asked if she would mind doing reading! Mind!?! Oh, yeah! Thanks, God! We don’t always understand what you are doing, but we sure are grateful for this one!
I spend this last week writing, but it wasn’t a blog entry. I was applying for a grant to fund a 12-week sabbatical next year. Since we have been encouraged by the scriptures to be bold in our prayers to God, I would ask my friends who are of the praying type to pray that I am receive the sabbatical funding grant. The money will fund some travel with my family along with a variety of other expenses that go with putting aside my pastoral ministry for 12 weeks (including guest preachers).
Here’s the short summary of my sabbatical proposal from my grant application, in case you are interested:
I have found many loves on this journey of life. I love my Savior. I love my family. I love my church. I love preaching and teaching. I love writing and other creative projects. I love hiking in the wilderness and exploring new environments, both urban and rural. I love fantasy stories, from children’s literature such as “The Chronicles of Narnia” to high fantasy epic journeys like “The Lord of the Rings.”
I propose a sabbatical of renewal in life and ministry that encompasses my many loves through relational connection, challenging journeys, and the chance to be creatively energized.
Fantasy fiction often resonates with my soul. The struggles, triumphs and failures of a well-written character mirror those of real life. The applicability of fantasy fiction to Gospel teaching has been part of my ministry for a long time. Fantasy stories from “Toy Story” to “The Hobbit” offer fertile ground for contemplating and illustrating our spiritual journey as Christians.
My sabbatical journey will include a variety of actual journeys — a road trip with my family, a solo hike on the Appalachian Trail, walking through various city and country environments — and the journey of writing fantasy fiction that wrestles with biblical teachings.