One of the topics that I went to at church last night for a teaching session we were having was on preparing to teach. I like the guy who did it. It was my favorite session of the night, but there was one part I really disagreed with. He spoke of how prayer was important, which I agree with, and he said we should pray for transformed lives, which I again have no problem with, but then said “And if you do that, God will do it. After all, he says if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”
Okay. Now we’ve got problems.
My thoughts immediately went to people who would be praying for transformation. What about that young man who is struggling with internet pornography and prays again and again for God to change him and it never seems to happen. What is he to assume about the power of prayer?
What about the girl who wants to lose weight and prays for God to help her because she wants to feel attractive, and yet she doesn’t seem to be able to do it successfully? What is she to assume?
What about the wife who is praying that her husband won’t come home drunk that night? What is she to assume about prayer when that doesn’t happen?
Now, I realize all of these have a factor of human free-will, but I think the problem is that transformation does not always come immediately. The young man will probably spend much time trying to get over internet pornography before he does so successfully for instance. It could help him to get a good counselor and good friends.
God can transform us, but prayer I do not believe is meant to be used as an immediate cure-all. We can even think of other cases where this doesn’t happen. Not everyone who is physically sick and prayed for is healed. There are Christians who have died of hideous diseases though people prayed they wouldn’t.
If we turn prayer into a blank check, we set up a misnomer idea of what the Christian experience is to be. If we don’t get what we pray for, then it is just assumed that we must not be good at prayer or God doesn’t love us, or we’re not good Christians, or any combination or more.
We can even think of things God cannot do for they violate his nature. Could we pray for God to turn evil into good in Jesus’s name or vice-versa? Could we pray for God to make a square circle in the name of Jesus? Could we pray that God will cease to exist in the name of Jesus?
Too often, that phrase “in the name of Jesus” turns into a mantra of sorts where we think we are twisting God’s arm when we say those words. That is not a Christian view of language though. We cannot force God to do anything by our words. We can only ask him to do things.
So what did it mean? It meant that back then, you would want to speak to a patron (The Father in this case) and to do that, you needed a mediator, a benefactor. (The Son) If your will was in accordance with what the patron wanted, he would grant your request. The Benefactor was the one through whom the request was made.
That’s it. It is not a cure-all. Instead, it is a piece of advice to stay in the moral will of God and pray from that position. We cannot make prayer what it was never meant to be lest we distract it from the awesomeness that it is.