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.
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.