May the Focus of our Prayers Grow Up
In his book The PAPA Prayer Dr. Larry Crabb discusses the danger to our spiritual life when the focus of our prayers gets stuck at the level of asking God to give to us what we want.
Prayer is about communication with God—with our “heavenly Father.” There is a significant difference between the way a baby communicates with a parent and the way a healthy grown child communicates with a parent. A baby’s communication consists of screams, demanding that it receive the milk or the attention it demands. A baby never calls out in the middle of the night for the purpose of asking mom or dad how they are feeling. A baby never initiates a conversation to find out what is on a parent’s heart or mind. Hopefully, communication between a grown child and a parent will change. Hopefully, communication between a grown child and a parent will focus more on deepening the relationship than screaming to have one’s demands met.
If our communication with God remains merely on the level of crying out for what we want, something is seriously awry in us.
Larry Crabb writes, “Think about it. Older children still riding in strollers through grocery stores are among the most demanding creatures on the planet. They look past the spinach and apples to the boxes of sugar clumps advertised as cereal. And they demand, ‘Give me that,’ with no interest in knowing the one hearing their request and even less interest in trusting that person to choose what’s best for them. Petitioning without relationship—that’s what our praying so often amounts to, even though it’s well disguised. No matter how piously we couch our requests and no matter how passionately we declare our confidence in the Giver’s generosity, we stay in a receiving mode. ‘Gimme! Gimme!’ It’s all about us…. Let the Giver stop giving, and we throw a tantrum. We think of it as fervent prayer….
“If we value our satisfaction in Christ more than we value Christ Himself, we remain committed to ourselves and not to Christ. We may think we’re committed to Him, and in a sense we are—but only as a means to an end. The end is not Christ’s glory; the end is our satisfaction….
Christ’s relationship with His Father was the driving passion behind every request He made. Relationship preceded petition. His life is a profound demonstration of the point I’ve been making: that getting God is worth infinitely more than getting the things we want from God.” (p. 40-41, 42, 57, and 49)
Psalm 86 is one of five psalms in Scripture specifically titled a Tephillah (or “Prayer”). The psalm begins almost like a child still riding around in a stroller, as David cries, “Incline Your ear, O Lord, and answer me…. You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord, for to You do I cry all day long. Gladden the soul of Your servant, for to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul…. Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my cry of supplication.”
But at verse 8, the focus of the psalm shifts. The focus is no longer as much on the clamoring to get what David wants as on his relationship with God: “There is none like You among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like Yours…. For You are great and do wondrous things; You alone are God. Teach me Your way, O Lord, that I may walk in Your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere Your name. I give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify Your name forever. For great is Your steadfast love toward me….”
Psalm 86 is a model to us of prayer. It lets us know that it is still good for us to pour out our hearts to God, with the freedom to ask God for whatever we feel that we need. But the psalm also helps us to recognize that we should not remain only at the level of crying for our needs to be met, but that our focus should shift to seeking to deepen our relationship with God. It is in deepening our relationship with God that we find deepest satisfaction—whether or not we receive the things we think we need.
It is reported that the following bit of prose was found in the pocket of an unknown soldier:
I asked God for strength that I might achieve. I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do great things. I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy. I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men. I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for but everything that I had hoped for. Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered. I am among all men most richly blessed.