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Pentecost 21 blog

Pastor Clay Schmit

Whatever You Ask in My Father’s Name

I am having this fascinating email conversation about prayer with a retired pastor friend. He says that we should be prudent in our prayer, asking only for the kinds of things God can readily give: strength, guidance, and the knowledge of God’s presence through any situation or circumstance.Those are fine, but I often pray for much more: as much healing as God’s will can allow, for example. These prayers are not always answered in the way that I hope. But, sometimes they are.

My friend says that there are only three possible ways to look at God’s response to prayer: The first holds that God is in control of everything which means that praying for God to change things also means that God is responsible when bad things happen. Note that this pastor lost a daughter to a mountain climbing accident. In his mind, this option means that God would have caused his daughter to die. We both reject this view. His second option suggests that God intervenes when God chooses. But, he rejects this because why would God not choose to save his daughter. Or why are some people healed and others not? Such a God is, in his opinion, a wishy-washy, or capricious God. His third option is that God does not actively intercede in human affairs. This is the viewpoint he embraces.

To join him in this choice means that when we pray, our best approach is to ask to receive strength and to have God remind us that God is present with us, no matter what we face. He finds great comfort in that—as do I.

But, I cannot leave it at that. It is too neat and not nearly satisfying. Jesus does say to pray, to cast all our burdens on him, and that whatever good thing we ask will be granted. Now, we have to admit that not everything we have prayed for has been granted. Yet, I still approach prayer as though God will, within the mysterious limits of his own will, grant things and intercede for us. It has happened to me, it happens to many, and I have certainly seen people given “miracle cures” of various diseases.

Upon reflection, I think my disagreement with my thoughtful friend is that there may be more than three ways to view God’s response to prayer. I hold to the idea that, since God’s ways are far beyond our ways—and that our wisdom is foolishness to God, God is not limited to the three options that we can readily perceive. My friend says that it makes no sense for there to be other than these three options. Okay, so let’s add that to the list of grace filled things about our faith that make no sense to us. Personally, I do not seek a God that makes sense to me. I embrace the mysteries of faith and know that somehow, in them and through them, God is active in our behalf. I’ll probably never know when or why or how. I guess I can live with that.

Pastor Clay