Prayer: Provision of Wants Versus Needs
Jennifer Fulwiler has a great post on prayer on her blog, Conversion Diary. It’s nice to see someone reflect on what prayer should actually entail. Too often God is considered to be some kind of magic genie that grants our every wish.
Jennifer, on the other hand, has it right. In a theology of prayer, a balance has to be struck between specificity and generality. What do I mean?
Right now, I’m unemployed. It’s a long story. My wife’s income isn’t enough to sustain us, so something has to happen and quickly. If I pray, “God, please grant me a new job tomorrow morning,” what do you think is going to happen when I open my e-mail?
That’s right. No job offers. I doubt my cell phone is going to ring anytime soon either.
Am I missing something?
Yes, I am. Where in the Bible does God ever promise to give me everything I have ever wanted? Last I checked, Jesus called us to deny ourselves–our physical desires and perceived needs–and take up our crosses, and follow him. The Christian life isn’t one of ease, wealth, and good health-o’plenty (despite what Joel Osteen might tell you). A Christian life is one of sacrifice and (dare I say it?) persecution.
That message doesn’t sell well, especially in the United States. So hacks like Osteen spread their false prosperity gospel quite easily, even though there isn’t a shred of Scriptural evidence for what they’re saying. People buy it, hook, line, and sinker (see 2 Tim 4:3).
Why should the followers have it easy, living in the lap of luxury, when the master lived a pauper’s life and died a torturous, shameful death? The servant, Jesus wisely quips, isn’t greater than his master (Jn 15:20).
Jennifer suggests “zooming out” a bit. In other words, instead of thinking only of your health, wealth, prosperity–your perceived needs–try to think in terms of what you actually need.
So, I’m not going to get that magical job offer in my inbox tomorrow. Do I need a job? It could be argued that I do. But I think what I really need is a way to provide food for my children. We have food stamps forthcoming. And we already receive WIC benefits. God, perhaps, is working through these programs for the time being in order to provide for us.
None of us are starving. None of us will, it seems. Ah, God has promised that in his word, for we are more important to him than lesser animals, yet those do not starve.
And I have enough marketable skills that I won’t be without a job for too long. So God has provided a short term solution for us in the welfare benefits, but has also provided a long term solution in the form of the marketable skills I have gained over the years I have been employed. It’s not a clear, concise, detailed answer that magically dropped out of heaven, but it is an answer to prayer!
Next time, instead of focusing on minutely detailed answers magically provided as if from nowhere, “zoom out” a bit, as Jennifer put it. Look for the more underlying need and pray for its provision. And, as in everything, look for God’s will. Because, really, this life isn’t about you.
Posted on October 4, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged Bible, Christianity, Evangelism, God, Jennifer Fulwiler, Jesus, Joel Osteen, Prayer, Prayers, Religion and Spirituality. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.
Wow, I have the same opinion of Joel Osteen. He seems more tolerant, more “modern”, more appealing, but I think he can send people to huge deceptions.
That said, I believe the whole “God works in mysterious ways”, “God doesn’t give us everything we ask him for” “God has a plan”, “Help yourselves and God will help you” is a great adaptation religion has undertaken to survive, like scientists attempting to hold on to the concept of the ether (medium everywhere in space, even after Einstein made it useless, an attempt to conciliate religious doctrine with our contradictory observations. I know you can cite the Bible and claim that the passages don’t promise magical answers to our prayers, but there are passages where Jesus says things like “faith can move mountains”, “ask and you shall receive”, “anything is possible to those who believe” and stuff like that. The other (negative) passages look more like attempts of the writers to cling on to a theory that doesn’t agree with the world around us, the way Buddhists and Hindus blame a previous life, the way disease was explained by one’s past sins by the Jews at the time of Jesus himself, the way natural disasters have been blamed on gods since the beginning of time.