Recommendation: Read “Hugo’s” very articulate, very honest response to Friday’s post “The prayer God hates to answer… but will.” Also, read the tender and gracious response to Hugo posted by “All4God.”
Hugo and his family endured a bitter and unjust tragedy – the murder of his father. Hugo claims that it’s “nonsense” to suggest that we should not expect to know “why?” such things happen and that instead we should pray and ask God “how can something good come out of this?”
Is it nonsense? To suggest that God seldom answers “why?” is not the same as saying that God WILLS evil things to happen. It’s fair to say that God is “God” and still reject the notion that God was an accomplice in this terrible tragedy. To believe in an all powerful God doesn’t mean believing that God is “in control of everything” or that everything that happens is God’s will. To believe that God is all powerful and all good is simply to trust that God is able and willing to recreate every situation and turn it into something unimaginably good. Most Christians (and Jews as well) both believe that God permits free choice for humans – and for spiritual beings that also inhabit our world. But once we make choices, even evil ones, God is still able to counter our choices and recreate the world all over again, to still bring it around to something wondrous and beautiful.
Even for Hugo and his family, there is hope. God did not make this evil happen. In fact God hates injustice and shares much the same anger that Hugo expresses – though he’d express those passions differently that Hugo has. Still, God isn’t locked in a box. He can, if invited in prayer, turn this horrible darkness into a new day.
To everyone reading this: Let’s pray that God does just that!
On Wednesday I posted an excerpt from an interview that poet and force behind www.popthought.com , Alex Ness posted on his blog last year. Here’s another. Background: We’re talking about “Six Prayers God Always Answers,” one of the books I’ve written with Jennifer Schuchmann.
Alex Ness: Your book title suggests that you know which prayers God answers. Isn’t this a bit presumptuous?
Mark Herringshaw: It’s not The Six Prayers God Always Answers… Actually, we’re saying God answers all prayers, but not always in ways we expect. These six are categories for appeals we tend to make: desperate prayers, questioning prayers, prayers for justice, audacious prayers, selfish or audacious prayers, prayers of beauty. We could have sliced prayer any number of ways.
Many see prayer as a mechanism – do this, say this, just the right way, and out comes a mass produced response. We think God answers all prayer personally and his main objective is to keep conversation going. Often he answers with words not actions. He does respond with actions but his point is to build friendship. When my daughter asks for the car keys to got out for the night she wants my answer to be simple – I reach in my pocket and give her the keys. But in reality the exchange is more complicated than that. I ask her questions before I hand them over. “Where are you going?” “When will you be back?” “Who will go with you?” “How are you doing?” Her first request becomes an avenue for dialog. That’s how God sees prayer. It’s an invitation for him to get personal with us. He has something we want and he uses that as leverage to build our capacity to speak and listen.
Alex Ness: Why these six? Are you planning a follow up book of prayers God always rejects?
Mark Herringshaw: Actually we include some of those prayers too. There is one prayer God doesn’t want to hear – the prayer that isn’t a prayer. We’ve all heard people make speeches at us while praying. Maybe we’ve done that ourselves. That isn’t a prayer; it’s a manipulation. God hates religious posturing. He’d rather have us hideaway and prayer in secret so we’re not tempted to use prayer as something it isn’t.
We also say there is a prayer God seldom answers: “Why?” God is honest. When we ask “why?” he’s obligated to tell the truth. But he can’t because a full truthful explanation to why some horrible thing had to happen would probably take him a million years to explain and we don’t have the time and the brain capacity to get hold of it. So God simply says, “Long answer is too long. Short answer is, ‘I’m God and you’re not.’” Instead, he challenges to change the question from “why?” to “How?” “How can I turn this bad situation into something good?” That’s a prayer he loves to answer! It could be number seven I suppose.
Finally, there’s the prayer God hates to answer but will – “Leave me alone.” God won’t force himself on us. If we want to be removed from his presence and influence, he’ll accommodate, though it breaks his heart. He sends no one to hell. But he’s built it for those who don’t want to live in his house.
What do you think?
Sometimes we learn best by modeling those who go before us. We can learn by our own experiences; we can learn by the experiences and counsel of others. One way to grow in prayer: emulate those who pray easily and naturally and simple. Here’s a beautiful prayer often attributed to the 13th-century saint, Francis of Assisi.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
There’s an upside down and backward virtue in following Jesus. As Jesus himself taught, we are first only when we are last; we lead when we serve. Francis understand that our best prayers grow from truths that God himself has already communicated to us and demonstrated for us - In prayer we ask God to fulfill what we know God values! For the best prayers echo God’s heart! Francis seems to have understood this.
Can I do the same?
Last year, my poet/blogger/cultural-critic/brain-trust behind “Popthought” friend Alex Ness, ran an interview he did reviewing “Six Prayers God Always Answers” the book I wrote last year with Jennifer Schuchmann. Alex has a poignant way of cutting through the “c” to get to the heart of matters of things “spiritual.” Over the next couple days I’ll post some excerpts from this interview. Toss in your comments as well… You can read more of Alex at “deadtomyflesh”.
Alex: You seem to imply that we can “test” prayer. Really? Under what conditions can we test prayer without putting the screws to God?
Mark: What’s wrong with testing, or as you say, “putting the screws to” God? The Bible is full of stories of people who put his promises on the line, stepped out and forced God’s hand. He seems to like that kind of boldness. He respects it and often responds. Look at Jesus. He’s at his best when people get desperate and impose on him – the men who tear the roof off Peter’s house to get their sick friend in front of Jesus, the sick woman who crawls on her hands and knees to touch Jesus. That touch secured her healing but as a sick woman she had no right to impose like that. It was audacious and rude. She was testing Jesus. It worked.
“Testing” crosses the line only when it becomes “testy” – an presumptuous provocation. If I take God up on something he’s already said, something he’s promised to do or said he prefers, he respects that immensely. He’s already said he hates injustice. I’m not “testy” if I put God on the line with a prayer about feeding the hungry and oppressed in Darfur. That’s a test God would love to take, and pass.
Testiness is different. In the Gospels the Devil tempts Jesus to jump off the roof of the temple so God can rescue him. This is showy manipulation and God won’t have any part of that. That’s a test he won’t take. If I fall off a roof, I can cry out and expect his help, of some kind, though perhaps in a surprise way. If I jump off a roof just to force God’s hand I’ll likely end up a pancake. God doesn’t take to the circus bit.
Thoughts? Do you ever “test” God? How has God responded?
Ice Cream: A Prayer of Thanks
“God, thank you for ice cream. Well done! Sure, we humans have been clever enough to combine your goods in a creative way, But you made the milk, the eggs, sugar, the flavors we use to fancy it up and the ice that makes it cold. Thank you, thank you. And please enjoy it with me. Jesus, you never
posted 8:58:40pm May. 30, 2013 |
read full post
“I Need a Job” - A Prayer
"Lord, you know I need work. I want to do my part and carry my weight. I’m not asking for a handout; but I do need your help landing the right employment. It’s been too long and I’m feeling frustrated. You know exactly the situation that fits my skills, my interests and my experience. You know
posted 2:02:50pm Mar. 28, 2013 |
read full post
Super Bowl Power Outage: Let There Be Light - a Prayer
“God, light matters. We need light and when light goes out, we’re thrown into confusion and even fear. When power fades or goes out, we need to turn to you. God, you are our power source. You are the source of light. As the lights have gone out in the Super Bowl it reminds us that you alone are
posted 8:52:33pm Feb. 03, 2013 |
read full post
SAD: A Prayer for Joy and 'Vitamin G’
“God, I need vitamin D, but even more I need ‘vitamin G.’ Today, I am heavy with sadness. These winter days are gloomy and cold and I crave the light. I was made for light. Even my body knows this. I need the vitamin D that comes from light, and now, in the shadows I feel pushed down and heavy
posted 6:58:33am Jan. 30, 2013 |
read full post
Egypt: A Prayer
“God, today we pray for Egypt, a nation one again in great turmoil. Save Egypt from violence and despair. You love this land, and always have, even when that love demanded your hand of discipline and judgment. Egypt along the Nile is intricately woven into the fabric of our histories together. It
posted 8:15:16am Jan. 29, 2013 |
read full post