Jul 4, 06:58 PM
"I’m not the kind of person," a friend recently shared with me, "who prays for specific things." She typically has prayed that God help her get through the day, that she will have strength to meet each challenge. And with her having recently lost her husband to cancer, such prayers have meant a great deal.
But something happened the other day that nudged her into a different approach. "I came across some troubling stuff that my son had written on a facebook page," she recounted. She felt terrible. "I began praying that day," she recalls, "‘God, please bring a man into my son’s life.’" She wanted for him a male presence, a mentor, now that her husband and his father were gone. She turned her fervent desire into a prayer.
However emotionally understandable my friend’s request might appear, such praying doesn’t make sense to some, as I’ve mentioned here before. It seems so childlike, even primitive.
Broad, expansive prayers? Sure! Prayer for, well, world peace? Of course.
But particular things? As my colleague and friend Leigh Spruill puts it in a recent blog, "to pray about personal finances in a month when it seems impossible to pay all the bills, to pray for a specific issue in one’s marriage, these seem to be audacious, if not presumptuous." Even to pray for provision for a son newly bereft of his dad—might it not, by its very concreteness, leave us in the position of telling God what to do? Talking and asking and interrupting God when, as the TV show used to put it, "Father Knows Best"?
Jesus did pray, it is true, in his garden of Gethsemane agony "Not my will, but yours, be done." And he urged us to pray in similar fashion: "Your will be done." Paul the apostle, as I’ve noted in a sermon I’ve written to preach soon, prayed "three times" that his "thorn in the flesh"—some ailment or harassment from a group of antagonists—be removed.
So yes, there’s that intellectual side to the argument against specific prayers.
And then there's our own can-do drive. I find that for me the reluctance comes not so much from philosophical questioning, but a kind of unspoken assumption that if I can do something, if I want something, if something cries out for action and attention, well, I will just do it, or get it. Why ask when, thank you very much, I can do just fine on my own?
But my friend’s story reminds me of another angle: How God hears.
For that very evening, the evening of the day she prayed, something caught her attention. "A friend I’ve known for years," she told me, her eyes big with a kind of newly convinced wonder, "called and asked my son out for lunch." They went, and the two bonded. They plan to keep meeting. The man even began giving the teen-age boy part-time work. And he stays in touch.
A specific thing, indeed. Was it any accident that my friend felt free (or even prompted) to pray for that very outcome? What do you think?