This is a hard piece. In fact, it can be ignored by the “very religious” because it sounds like an attack on the Almighty. Maybe I should tell you to avoid judging this book by its cover. Even the table of contents and all the preliminary pages may not be safe enough to rely on. This is an example of instances where the abstract may prove insufficient to give a picture of the story, not because of literary impotence, but because of the author’s freedom deliberately applied.
I want us to talk about prayer. Have you ever heard someone lament that their prayers are not answered? What about you yourself, do you have some prayers you consider not answered? What is it you consider a prayer not answered? How should we pray and for what should we pray? Does it make any difference how we pray? These are some of the things I want us to grapple with.
I once heard someone say “If all prayers were to be answered the way we asked, a lot of us could have been dead!” This is sobering and reveals the fact that we do not know how to pray. If we knew how to pray, this verse could not have been canonized, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” [Romans 8:26].
Most of our prayers are but scandals expressed in increased decibels. This is why the third person of the Godhead does an editorial touch to our prayers to make them “more competent” in the storehouse of heaven. We don’t know what to pray for. When we ask for wrong assistance from an individual, it also demonstrates our ignorance of the person and their office.
Before I go any further, I need to clear the air. I am trying to have a mental picture of a schemer who is looking for something which takes the shape of “WHY YOU SHOULD STOP ASKING GOD TO BE WITH YOU”. People in their spiritual struggles, pray and they seem to get back in the same murk and mire, this time round deeper and deeper. What is wrong with asking God to be with you? Maybe, to put it differently, “Is there anything wrong with asking your dad to be your dad?” I don’t know if you are getting the reasoning here. Your dad can feel like he is not doing well as a father, and maybe need to up his game, and this would even be hurting if he has been a dedicated father who has given his best. God’s promise is simple; “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
God has always maintained His side of the story. He is with us no matter what. God is a constant, and we are the ones vacillating in the gamut of being committal and being non-committal. God never leaves us, but we often by carelessness and sin forfeit His protection. Sometimes we lose the spirit of a statement with words that many may not understand. I feel like I need to explain the meaning of ‘forfeit’. To forfeit as used in this context means to give up. It is like we are holding hands with God, but we let go and push his hand away from us as we seek to hold onto other things. We push aside the bread of life and voraciously go for dead bread. We give up God’s protection by cherishing sin till it becomes our second nature. Look into the closet of your soul. Is there some unholy thing that you can’t do without? It is what is interfering with your hold on God. It is time to revitalise your hold on God. You can ask Him how to, but not to hold you, cause His arms are ever reaching out to rescue the perishing.
Prayer is a good thing in the life of a human being. The reason is simple: we were created to be dependent. We are safe as long as we remain faithful to God. However, we must not only pray, we must pray right. There is everything wrong with wrong prayers. Wrong prayers are a recipe for spiritual disaster and eventually distance us from God. Who wants to serve a God who does not answer prayers? But our God does not answer wrong prayers. So we make wrong prayers, get no answers, and equate Yahweh with Baal zebub the dumb impotent god. Wrong prayers are a direct attack on the character of God.
I got some powerful tidbits from the inspired pen of Ellen Gould White:
“There are two kinds of prayer—the prayer of form and the prayer of faith. The repetition of set, customary phrases when the heart feels no need of God, is formal prayer…. We should be extremely careful in all our prayers to speak the wants of the heart and to say only what we mean. All the flowery words at our command are not equivalent to one holy desire. The most eloquent prayers are but vain repetitions if they do not express the true sentiments of the heart. But the prayer that comes from an earnest heart, when the simple wants of the soul are expressed just as we would ask an earthly friend for a favour, expecting that it would be granted—this is the prayer of faith. The publican who went up to the temple to pray is a good example of a sincere, devoted worshipper. He felt that he was a sinner, and his great need led to an outburst of passionate desire, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
—(My Life Today, 19.)
“Prayer is not an expiation for sin; it has no virtue or merit of itself. All the flowery words at our command are not equivalent to one holy desire. The most eloquent prayers are but idle words if they do not express the true sentiments of the heart. But the prayer that comes from an earnest heart, when the simple wants of the soul are expressed, as we would ask an earthly friend for a favour, expecting it to be granted—this is the prayer of faith. God does not desire our ceremonial compliments, but the unspoken cry of the heartbroken and subdued with a sense of its sin and utter weakness finds its way to the Father of all mercy.”—(Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, 86, 87.)