Need a Yes to a Prayer?
While I was editing the notes on Proper 19, I noticed the advertisment inserted at the top of the column which proclaimed. "Need a Yes to a Prayer?" Immediately I thought of an answer: then pray for something God will want to give you. A little flippant perhaps, but some serious thoughts underly it.
I do not doubt that the advertiser is in earnest, and that the information on offer is based on the real promises of Christ that what is asked for in his name will be granted (John 16.23-4) - Wiser minds than mine can take on the discussion of the full meaning of "in my name". Christ makes it clear that we should ask God for anything we need, asking continually without growing weary (Luke 18.1-8) and asking in confidence (Luke 11.5-13).
Whatever the answer offered in this advertisement might be, however, the quetion seems to contain the dangerous assumption that the purpose of prayer is to make God give us things, or make things happen. It makes prayer sound like far too automatic a thing, as if it were merely a matter of producing the right formula to gain the right answer. More than one writer has observed that it turns God into a sort of dispensing machine for those who have the right coin. I wonder sometimes whether those who teach in this way really believe that God is living, free and loving.
In fact prayer is a thing far richer thing than just asking for things and receiving them. In prayer we come to know God, and even to know ourselves as God knows us, to learn to know God's will and to learn to do it. Petition and asking in prayer are part of a richer relationship relationship than just asking and getting; in that relationship when we ask for things we must also listen and learn whether we really want or need them, or perhaps there is something else we want and need more. The balance between asking and learning is best expressed in the collect for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity in the Book of Common Prayer:
Let thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall please thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Perhaps someday I'll find out what this advertisement has to offer; but in the meantime I will learn about prayer in the old fashioned way, by praying and listening and meditating on the scriptures. The "Yes" may not always be obvious, but I have never yet been let down.
I think I'd better let the ad below - which promises to tell us why God permits evil - go without further comment. If that question could really be answered in a pamphlet -and a non-denominational one at that - this would be a happy world indeed.