I don’t like to diminish anything people pray for. I know different things are important to different people, and I’m in no way fit to judge what is or isn’t something a person should pray for. There are times, however, that I think people misuse prayer to a certain extent. Sometimes I feel like people pray for menial things when there are more important issues to worry about. (editor’s note: Proofing this I realized that my wording may not be great here. I know what I mean in my head, but I’m not sure that it’s coming through in text. Read on, on hopefully it will make sense.)
Also, I think it would be better to focus your attention not on what you want, but on what God wants for you. Many people petition for their own will, and care little for God’s. In this same vein, I know of people who have become distant from God because there was a time in their life when He didn’t do exactly as they wanted. It’s understandable in times of sorrow to be angry, upset, or confused. You may even at times question why things are happening to you. It is important, though, how the question is framed. Saying ‘Why are you doing this to me? I thought you loved me.’ and ‘I don’t understand your plan. What do you want me to do?’ are two very different things.
Some people focus their prayers on the desires of the world. Praying for the things that you want, especially material, is when things start to get a little uncomfortable for me. It’s good to remember that God isn’t a genie who only exists to fulfill your desires. If you prayed everyday for a new car, better house, money, etc. and those things were given to you, you would only seek to turn God into a gift-machine. A cosmic sugar daddy, if you will.
Let’s work off of that idea. If God gave you everything you wanted, whenever you wanted, would you appreciate it? If I could go to church on Sunday and pray for a new car, and I knew it would be in the parking-lot waiting for me, am I not now serving only myself? Am I playing God?
Let’s say you are a billionaire with an estimated net worth of three billion dollars, and you have a friend who makes thirty thousand dollars a year. If your friend wanted to buy a new lamborghini with an MSRP of three hundred thousand dollars, your friend would have to save all of their money for ten years to buy it. Because they could only buy one every ten years, that would make the car incredibly valuable to them. If you wanted to buy it, it would be the equivalent of them spending three dollars. If a lamborghini could be bought for three dollars, everyone would have one. They wouldn’t be valuable to anyone. If the single mom working at McDonalds could buy one, do you think the Kardashians would? Do you see how the value of something is relative?
If you prayed for a new car, and it was given to you, undoubtedly you would be happy. But, what if you aren’t? Does your faith ebb and flow depending on how fortunate your life is? For many people, tragically, that’s the case. If you’re given nothing but a lifetime of ‘no’s,’ would you still go to church? Would you continue to spread the good news? It’s easy to tell everyone how great Jesus is when life is good. But, what about when things are bad? One issue with people coming into the faith is that they see the happy faces and the joy of believers and they think Christianity is nothing but sunshine and rainbows. Have you ever met someone you wanted to introduce to Jesus and thought to yourself ‘You know what would really get them to go to church? Let’s take them to St.Jude and offer for them to set while we pray with the mother whose child has stage four cancer. The doctors have said her only child has a few weeks to live, and Jesus is the only hope she has left in her child surviving. That will get them to go to church. Better yet, lets wait till her child dies, then we’ll go to the funeral. As the mother greaves, then I’ll talk about how great Jesus is.’
I’m guessing you wouldn’t want to do that. Most people wouldn’t. No one talks much about how, regardless of how faithful you are, sometimes you can feel alone and unheard. Things like that don’t make for good T.V.. No one posts pictures of eight year olds who have died of cancer with a caption reading ‘Praise Jesus! God decided not to save this child, though.’
You know the common saying ‘God answers all prayers, sometimes the answer is no.’ To be totally honest, I get really tired of hearing it. I feel like that’s the easy way out of the ‘sometimes faith is hard’ discussion. I would say you should delve deeper into it. You can pray for whatever you want, but sometimes the answer is no. Sometimes it’s no because it’s not what He wants for you. Sometimes it’s because it’s not what you really want, you just can’t see the big picture. Sometimes it’s no, and you’ll never understand why. If God says no today, will you still love him tomorrow?
Here’s how I like to approach prayer; I know what I want, but is it what I really want? Is it what He wants? Does He have something better in mind for me that I can’t see yet? Maybe I meet a girl that I think would be nice, but then I later find out that she would rather spend time with her friends than help me deliver food to the hungry and counsel the lost. Did I really want the girl? No, I only thought I did. Drinking beers on a Friday night with a group of youth will never compare to seeing the look on an elder man’s face when he talks about how thankful he is to “be able to eat today.”
(I don’t drink. I doubt I’ll write about that, I just want it noted.)
Sometimes the things we think we want aren’t what we really want. Sometimes what we think we need isn’t what we really need. Sometimes we pray for things, when we should pray for the wisdom of Solomon. Sometimes we don’t understand, and sometimes we don’t need to.
To quote Isaiah 55:8-9;
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
And Proverbs 3:5-6
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
This leads us to today’s story. One in which we learn to appreciate the blessings in our lives. It’s easy, especially in the modern world, to take things for granted. We live in a culture that wants instant gratification at the push of a button. But, it is good to remember that if you are never without, you won’t truly know how great it is to have. As is said, only those who have been hungry know what hunger means. Because of the cold, we appreciate warmth. If you’ve walked in darkness, you’re thankful for the light. Because of death, we value life. Do you remember what Paul said to the Philippians? (Chapter 4:12-13)
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
There once were two men, one younger and one older, each fathers having two children. They were both equally active in their respective children’s lives, something many fathers of today can’t say. The younger man was as ever-present as the older but one day, through no fault of his own, he was separated from his children. While the older man spent everyday with his children, the younger man spent his searching. For the next ten years he scoured the world over.
When the older man’s children had a birthday, he was there to joyfully celebrate. The house was decorated, and presents were shared. When the younger man’s children had a birthday, he was alone. He would spend the day wondering where they were, who they were with, if they were safe. His house was cold and empty, as his heart would grow to be. When Christmas time was near, the older man would go out shopping with glee and plan for his children to have a great holiday. The younger man would go to the store also, but not to shop. He would walk the isles and think to himself, ‘This is the dress I would have bought her this year.’ ‘This is the toy I would have picked out for him.’ Christmas was always a special occasion for the families of both men, but it had become a hard time of year for the younger man.
There was a time when both men would talk incessantly about their children, but after a few years the younger man stopped mentioning his. It became too hard to talk about. He shut himself off from the world and retreated into the hollowed out cave of where his heart used to be. All he had to accompany him were the faint echoes of memories past. His children were his life, and without them, he was a dead man walking. He dwelled in the land of the lost, and became rather well acquainted with the angel of death. The two danced around each other for years. On more than one occasion they would stare into each others eyes, and the feeling of cold steel prompted the question, ‘Is tonight the night?’
Then, on one fateful Wednesday afternoon, the older man went home to his family. He walked in and was greeted as normal. They talked around the dinner table as they always do. The night was different than any other, however. Unbeknownst to him, on the very same night in a small restaurant in a town not far away, the younger man was reunited with his children. They ate dinner together for the first time in a decade.
They reminisced about the last time that they ate there together. They looked at the booth where they sat and he remembered his daughter playing at his feet with one of her stuffed animals. He laughed at the thought of having to hold his son because he kept trying to kick his high-chair over. He watched his daughters face as she gradually remembered all of the times they spent together. The last time he saw his son he was a boy unable to talk, now he was a young man excitedly carrying on conversations.
A whirlwind of emotions were rushing over the younger man. Anger at the time stolen away from them. Sorrow at the lives he didn’t get to experience. Joy at the fact that, even if just for a moment, he was able to see them again. Everyone else there was blissfully unaware that a miracle was unfolding a mere six feet away from them. For the first time in a long time, the younger man was happy.
The chains of despair were broken from his chest and he could breathe again. The boulder sealing the tomb of his heart was pushed away, and he could see a glimpse of the world he left behind. As he stepped from shadow to sunlight he looked into his daughter’s eyes; the same eyes that changed everything in his life that cold morning at the hospital the day she was born. His son smiled, the same way he did when he would bounce on the younger man’s knee. And, at the end of the night when he hugged them goodbye, it was as if time stopped and he held them forever…
Now, I leave you with a question;
Which man do you think more appreciated having dinner with his children that night?
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