Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want
“Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief.” – Psalm 143
In my prayers, I often err on the side of praying for things that I could do myself. God is likely tired of hearing me ask: “Help me do my part to solve [insert societal woe].”
I like to hide behind theology for justification. Prayer isn’t magic, God isn’t a genie. And that’s true. But if I’m honest, the reason I don’t pray for the things I really want is that I’m afraid of what will happen to my faith if I don’t get them. I’m honestly afraid of entrusting my most hidden need and brokenness to God. What if absolutely nothing happens?
Could I still believe in God?
It’s true that I shouldn’t treat prayer as if it were a hotline to a not-very-reliable genie. That’s not faithful to the God who keeps Her own counsel and knows better than I what is good. But neither is it faithful to pray as if I know that God will certainly be of no avail.
Because what do I know?
I’ve been among Christians long enough to hear stories that defy reason. Dire prognoses that turn out just fine, vulnerable people thriving against all odds. People have trusted me with stories too tender and sacred to speak about except slantingly, stories that help me understand why the root meaning of the word miracle is “laughter.”
If my heart is frozen by fear at a medical diagnosis and what I most desperately want is to be well again, then that’s how I should pray. If my life has fallen apart and I don’t know how to put it together again and I need somebody to fix it, that’s how I should pray. Pleading with God for what I really, deeply, truly need is not the end of prayer. But it is the beginning.
We usually end these with a prayer, but I’ll leave that to you. Amen.
John Edgerton is Associate Pastor at Old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts.