In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. John 16:23-24 (NIV)
You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:2-3 (NIV)
I was driving by this church marquee in my hometown and couldn’t help but wonder, what exactly is a million dollar answer? What exactly is a ten cent prayer? Oh, don’t get me wrong, I get the gist of this sign. Don’t throw up a half-hearted prayer and think you’re going to get a miraculous answer. But really, who has given a half-hearted prayer and waited in eager anticipation for it’s answer? Who I ask? No one. That’s who.
Allow me to elaborate. I’ve thrown up some of those half-hearted prayers. Heck, you might even call them penny prayers. I didn’t really expect an answer. You know what? It was those penny prayers that most often seemed to be answered. “Lord, I know I’m pushing it to get to work on time. Please let all the lights be green between here and work.” “Lord, let there be a parking spot close to the door at Wal-Mart”, on Saturday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. “Lord, I’m almost out of gas. Please help me make it to the gas station before I run out.”
It’s the prayers that I really thought long and hard about, the ones I was just certain I was asking with the right motives, the ones I knew from reading the Bible were clearly in God’s will that I waited expectantly for an answer to. Those million dollar prayers that got ten cent answers. Then that would get explained away. God’s answer was no, and I didn’t like it. I must have some sin in my life. I must be asking with the wrong motives. “Lord, we’re having a terrible drought. All the farmers will lose their crops, wells may run dry. We really need some rain.” Of course if you ask for that long enough it’s bound to rain, and thank God for it. Never mind all the burned up crops, the dead fish and other animals, the wild fires, people suffering from a shortage of water. Thank God for that three drops of rain we got.
You live and learn. Sooner or later you might acknowledge that God has no control over the rain or much of anything else for that matter. “Ask anything in my name and you will receive it.” Then when we pray expectantly we’re told God doesn’t impinge free will. We’re told God doesn’t interfere in the laws of nature. That would just mess things up. So the deists weren’t that far off then, eh? God started this whole shindig and then just stepped back to watch it unfold. He’s impotent. Bound by his own laws. So much for sovereignty. So long omnipotence. If there is a God he can’t or won’t help us. We’re on our own.
I’m not sure which is worse; that God can’t help us or that God won’t help us. On the one hand He’s bound by His own laws and can’t disturb the natural flow of things. Praying to that kind of God serves no purpose. But we’re told that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16) What does it effect? Certainly not anything outwardly. On the other hand God could possibly be this omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient entity who has simply chosen whom he will hear and whom he will ignore arbitrarily. Either way it seems like a waste of time asking for anything of God. I’m better off keeping my ten cents.
Some have reduced the act of prayer to simply having fellowship with this invisible being who doesn’t speak back except through a book. It’s only a way to commune with our “creator”. Is that all he is? Is that all he’s done? Ask any child who has been birthed and left on their own how much they think of the one/ones who brought them into the world and see what answer you get. Better yet, ask that same one how loved they feel by their “parents” and see what answer you get.
Better still is the “prayer isn’t about changing others or the world around us, it’s about changing our own hearts”. Hmm…any type of meditation will do that. It’s about getting alone with your thoughts in a quiet and peaceful setting. It’s not the particular object of the meditation that is important. It’s the focused energy, the stress reduction, the self-regulation that are important. •”[M]editation refers to a family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calm, clarity, and concentration”:228-9
I think I’ll meditate for awhile and take two aspirin. It seems about as effective. It appears God has taken an extended leave of absence or he just isn’t there. That’s just my ten cents worth.