Today’s question comes from Cheri. She writes: “With the ongoing health issues and struggles we as a family have faced with John (my adult son) I have frequently been amazed and taken aback by the responses of the Christians in my circle as I have shared my prayers and concerns. They responses that prey on my mind fall into two camps. One is the predictable ‘Give it to God’ camp where folks seem to feel that we’ve prayed about this once and should just now leave it to God. It’s like they think I/we don’t have a strong faith because we continue to pray for John’s healing. As John gets worse, not better and I/we are praying for miracles; the other camp crops up. These are the folks that believe that miracles in the grand sense stopped happening in Bible times and what we have now is modern medicine and the comfort of Heaven to come. I believe that praying continuously for healing can be appropriate and that asking God for a miracle for my child, granting that it may or may not be His will, is also entirely okay. Thoughts? Ideas about how to respond to these well-meaning (I trust) naysayers?”
There is much to process from Cheri’s remarks. Let me pull together a few thoughts in hopes that this will be a jumping off point for further conversation from my readers. With that said, let me plunge in.
So much conversation about prayer in Christian circles is predicated on two theological beliefs about God. The first belief hinges on the assumption that God is completely transcendent – or completely separate from – God’s creation. The second belief hinges on the assumption that the primary purpose of prayer is to change God (or, at the very least, change God’s “mind”). These two beliefs generate a prayer practice known as intercessory prayer. Its purpose is to wake God and inform God about what is happening in our lives. Once we’ve done that we hope we can motivate God to take the particular course of action we want.
While a large percentage of Christians believe this is the only way to think about prayer, there are MANY Christians who understand prayer quite differently.
Such individuals don’t believe that God is completely separate from God’s creation – but rather God in infused in God’s creation and permeates it. Given that God is fully present amidst God’s creation, prayer then is no longer seen as a way of bringing God up-to-date on what’s happening and trying to lobby God to one’s preferred outcome. The primarily purpose of prayer, then, is to strengthen the individual’s connection to/relationship with God. It’s goal is no longer to change God (and God’s mind). Its goal is now to change/strengthen the individual him or herself so that she/he can deal with the circumstances one finds oneself in.
From this second way of thinking about prayer, it makes complete sense to pray regularly for a loved one (including oneself) since the individual praying needs to regularly connect with the Ultimate Source of Power and open her/himself up to accept the challenges and outcomes that one faces – regardless of the outcome.
As you can see from my brief remarks, so many of our basic theological assumptions – assumptions that sadly too often go unexplored – form the character of our prayer lives. I can see given some of the theological assumptions your friends make why they might be troubled why you and your family continue to pray even after “giving it up to God”. However, given other theological assumptions that folks like myself make, it make ABSOLUTE sense for you and your family to continue your regular prayers for John. And please know that I will continue to pray regularly for John, you, and your family too!
So how about you? What things does Cheri’s question raise for you?