Someone recently asked me to write an endorsement for his upcoming book on intercessory prayer. He read my book on Hearing God in Conversation and wrote a positive review on Amazon.
His manuscript was easy to read, witty, and personal, with terrific stories. What’s not to like?
The book said that most Christians think the essence of prayer is petitionary, asking God for stuff. It claims that any such understanding misses the soul of prayer which is conversational: just sharing with God our joys, sorrows, fears, and failures, and asking to hear his voice.
I completely agreed with him. That’s the reason I added “In Conversation” to the title of my book. Because prayer is more than asking God for things; prayer is a divine dialogue between God and us. And in that conversation, amidst the sharing of my life, I also ask God for things.
But then the author said, “If God is loving, he will do the loving thing whether we ask him to or not. Intercession means we think he is unloving and will neglect us. Instead of asking for rain, we should just water our garden. I’m sick of the idea of the ‘mystery’ of God!”
The Mystery of God
While the author doesn’t like the idea of God being mysterious, we can’t have a real God unless we admit his nature is necessarily mystifying, and the reason is simple.
We make requests of God because we admit our limits (at least we admit some of them), and we acknowledge that he is all-loving and all-powerful. But if he is all loving and powerful (and we are not), then his ways are inescapably beyond us. Which means he is mysterious.
Which also means he can have reasons that we can’t understand, both for asking us to pray as well as not answering our prayers in the way we prefer.
Besides, the argument that God will “do it” whether we pray or not is just stupid (a theological term). Will he also make a deposit in my bank account when I skip work three months in a row; or will he cook dinner for me as I sit watching Netflix; heck, why doesn’t he just put the food in my stomach and skip my employment, cooking, eating, and clean-up altogether?
Partnership with God
God called Adam and Eve into existence, and then he gave them an artistic endeavor: to creatively beautify his garden. Why didn’t he do it all himself, if he is so loving and powerful?
Because he loves partnership with us. We plant the seeds, but he brings sun and rain. Oswald Chambers said it this way:
It cannot be stated definitely what the call of God is [mystery!], because His call is to be in comradeship with Himself, and the test is to believe that God knows what He is after.
God calls us to intimacy with him in our work, not because he needs our service but because he loves our company. The same partnership is true when we pray and he acts.
Bob Allums, a friend of mine, teaches prayer seminars through A Praying Life. For years, he has kept 3×5 prayer cards detailing prayer requests for hundreds of friends and thousands of needs. Each card is a recorded journal of intercessions and the stories that follow. He once said to me,
In prayer, God invites me to participate in his miraculous and epic story on this earth.
Bob has seen addictions broken, marriages healed, anxieties smashed, and needed money miraculously appear in mailboxes; all through his simple act of asking his Father for help. The answered prayers often take rabbit-trails Bob never envisioned, but don’t all good stories?
I have had manuscripts rejected, and it hurts. I tried to be gracious when I told the author I couldn’t endorse a book that denies God’s answers to prayer and sidelines his mystery. But my attempt at grace failed. He deleted his endorsement of my book on Amazon.
And the reason is not mysterious to me.
“God calls us to intimacy with him in our work, not because he needs our service but because he loves our company. The same partnership is true when we pray and he acts.” I love that. When I pray, of course I petition God for things that weigh on my heart. That’s biblical. But I also know that prayer goes beyond that alone. It’s about listening, and connecting, and knowing, and loving. Need and intimacy aren’t mutually exclusive; they walk hand in hand, or they should.
Can’t tip into your podcast this week, Sam, but I look forward to doing so once the time is right.
Samuel C. Williamson
Yes, prayer is mysterious (and what is so bad about that?). Sure, God COULD do everything without us; but isn’t his desire to work with is (in prayer as well as in work) the supreme compliment; isn’t it the supreme value of our souls; that he would love to be with us!
It’s pretty darn cool.
I have to agree with you, Sam. God says in the bible, that we should ask Him if we need anything and I also remember another quote “you do not have, because you do not ask” therefore-there are blessings we al have “God lets the sun rise on the good and the bad”, but there are things He certainly expects us to ask for.
Samuel C. Williamson
Yes, if the only reason we have for prayer is simply obedience (like your James quote, or even the Lord’s Prayer itself), that that is enough.
I also think the Lord simply loves to hear us call on him. It is a type of worship when we say, “I need you.”
Great touch on many high points on this one. Really make you think.
I didn’t see that ending coming, Sam! What a plot twist…but then again, that is why you are a published author! Great post as always–I have enjoyed a new season of prayer emphasis in 2019 by focusing on the principles in your book–thinking conversation and relationship instead of laundry list of petitions. Keep it up!
Samuel C. Williamson
For me, the fun thing about the plot twist is that it revealed the man’s need to get his way. (Which is all of our desires, alas!)
In his manuscript, he listed several times he prayed for something and didn’t get it, and so concluded prayer is not meant to be petitionary.
My experience of prayer is sometimes I miraculously get something; sometimes I get it but in a slow mode such that it hardly seems a miracle; and sometimes God takes me down a path I never would have envisioned.
Does that mean God doesn’t answer prayer? No! It just means he isn’t a mechanical vending machine that snaps to our instructions.
Hi Sam- I love your comments “the answered prayers often take rabbit-trails Bob never envisioned, but don’t all good stories?
I have had manuscripts rejected, and it hurts. I tried to be gracious when I told the author I couldn’t endorse a book that denies God’s answers to prayer and sidelines his mystery. But my attempt at grace failed. He deleted his endorsement of my book on Amazon.”
We were just reading Romans 8 and Pastor Tom was saying that Since Adam, all creation has been “groaning” for release back into that glorious relationship that was available in the Garden and now is available to us through trust in Jesus.
I think God has some great “Rabbit Trails” for all of us – what Graham Cooke calls “suddenlies”. They are unexpected and lead us places that are “glorious’ that we may never have expected. So, yes, we all need to keep on asking and talking and listening for and to God. He may be silent for a time, but that never mean he doesn’t care…not in my experience.
Thanks for another thoughtful and thought provoking post.
I’m not famous (yet) but I am happy to endorse your book.
Beliefs of the Heart
I never heard that term, “Suddenlies.” I like it. It describes how God’s action should appear to me. He’s God. I’m not.
Hi Sam. You know when I think about this area, I’m usually reminded of Tevya in Fiddler On The Roof. He is always talking to God and it is awesome to think we can do the same – even more so now that the Holy Spirit lives in us… I find it very satisfying and peaceful to converse with God while working on things and he often puts solutions in my mind to the problem at hand… I just need to be listening ?. Being a friend of God and have a conversational relationship is awesome and humbling. Blows me away at times ?. Bless you my friend
Beliefs of the Heart
I like how you “converse” with God and he “often puts solutions” in your mind.
If God is everywhere and present to us, we should be able to talk with him about anything, just as you and I would talk together if we were working on your car. And we should expect God to talk back.