I am indebted to my parents for teaching me to pray as a child. When I was five or six, I was given the all important responsibility to pray for the health and wellness of our chicken. I prayed for angels to guard the chicken coops and keep them safe from snakes and biawak at night. My dad was a pastor in the remote regions of Malaysia. But I digress.
Prayer, to me, was like a checklist. Or, at worst, a wishlist. Sicknesses, check. Friendships, check. Exams, check check check check. Finances, check. Unsaved friends and relatives, check. Safety, check. The possibility of future romance, giggle giggle check. Of course, I say more than just "check" in my prayers. But the idea is that I asked for "God's will to be done" without really knowing what I was asking for. I assumed God's will was mysterious and unknowable.
The big boys came down with the stomach flu last week. Hanan first, then Emeth. My little balls of energy and unceasing chatterboxes were uncharacteristically quiet. During the day, they took turns spilling fluids of all kinds. During the night, they woke up every hour, crying, and feverish with hurting tummies.
My default prayer would be for the pain to go away, for healing, and soon. But, is this all I can pray for? Even children of non-Christians eventually recover from the stomach flu. How then do my prayers affect my family? What difference do my prayers make? What is the point in praying? When they are better, should I give thanks for the healing as the work of God or just accept it as the natural course of things?
What am I to pray for?
Our life of prayer (or lack of) reveals the desire of our hearts. The prayers we voice before God and before one another are statements of what we think we need, what we care most
about, what we love most.
If my prayers are only about my external circumstances and if I seek God merely for his blessing and protection, my regard for God is as a genie in a lamp. My wishes are his commands. I am the master and God is the slave.
Let me emphasize here that there is absolutely nothing wrong with praying for our circumstances. But praying merely for God's blessings is not enough. We
find wonderful examples in scripture of how God changes the circumstances of his people. Even so, the needs and sufferings of this world are minor emphases. Miracles are but signposts that point to greater realities.
God separated me unto the Gospel, made me his child, to reveal his Son to me and through me. This is my Father's will, that I may know his Son. And while I learn to behold him, my Father promises that I would become more like him. Therefore, last week, as I was praying for my sick children, I prayed for Christ.
In their pain and discomfort, I prayed that my children would learn to turn to the Lord for help and courage. I prayed for grateful, trusting, cheerful hearts. I prayed that we, their parents, would be the willing hands and feet of Christ. I prayed that we would grow in kindness, patience, and compassion for one another. I prayed that in our (teeny-tiny-relatively-minor) suffering, we would have a greater longing for Christ and to be with him forever. I prayed that our sickness would not be wasted, but that it would help us remember Christ.
*David Powlison helped me tremendously while I was thinking through this subject, "Modeling Grace through Prayer Requests."