With, not For

Prayers can be, and ought to be, different, because we are all different. We’re working on different issues, we have different belief systems, different goals in mind, and so on. Nobody gets extra prayer points for adherence to somebody else’s script. If the prayer isn’t heartfelt, if it isn’t meaningful to you, if it isn’t personal, it’s not going to do anybody any good.

Let’s not think in terms of memorizing a set of words. Instead, let’s work on incorporating a few ideas. At the beginning of this series, we talked about three elements of the prayer process: See, Speak, and Surrender. Prayer will work for you in direct proportion to your ability to answer these three questions:

  • Can you see God happening here?
  • Can you be so filled with that vision that you can’t shut up about it?
  • Can you let it go so that God has room to work on it?

In one way or the other, we’ve been talking about these three ideas for a long time now. We tend to hit the first two pretty hard. Let’s spend a minute on that third part.

Prayer doesn’t turn into miracle unless and until it leaves human hands and enters God’s workshop. When you take your car to the mechanic, you do so because you’re aware of something that needs to be fixed, but also in faith that it can be repaired. That’s the "see" step. You’re so clear on what you see that you’re moved to action; you take your lunch hour and drop the car off. That’s the "speak" step, the action phase. But the car can’t be fixed until you get out of the driver’s seat and go check out the magazines in the waiting room. If you won’t take your hands off the wheel, or if you just hover around the garage asking the mechanic why she’s using a wrench instead of a mallet, you would have been better off staying home.

Without looking, can you remember the last word of our Lord’s Prayer? I bet you can. You can, because it’s the last word of a lot of prayers. Amen.

That word doesn’t translate to "please oh please just this once," or "if you’ll just see your way clear," or even "I’m not worthy.” Contrary to popular belief, it also doesn’t mean “I’m going to be checking back in with you every day for a status report.” Instead, the word “amen” means something like “it is done,” or, even better, “I agree.” It’s like the end of a political commercial: My name is Jesus Christ, and I approve this message.

In other words, we say amen because we know that God is in charge; we’ve done our part, and now we give over. I know that this part takes a lot of practice, but the good news is that we’ve all been working on it throughout our lives. We’re actually pretty good at trust. At different parts of our lives, we trust parents, teachers, and friends. We trust other drivers on the road, the pilot of our airplane, the chef at a restaurant. No, it doesn’t always work out how we’ve expected when we deal with humans, but we’re still experts at trying.

for we walk by faith, not by sight— (2 Corinthians 5:7, NASB)

If you want to get good at prayer, think of all the ways in which we trust. Now use that momentum to start to trust God. Say amen. It’s the only way any of this works. It will work, though. Give yourself to this process, and everything will change for you. I’ve seen it happen a million times. Get ready for new adventures.

And get ready for the people around you to notice, too. Sooner or later, if you keep working at this, folks will come to you and ask you to pray for them. Sounds good, right? After all, we talk an awful lot about service and helping each other around here. So why not pray for people?

Hold that thought. As you know, I’m a parent. I love my babies more than anything, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them. Like any kids, they’ve gone through all kinds of healing opportunities, challenges, and growing pains. Like any parent, I’ve often wished that I could take their lumps for them, that I could overcome challenges on their behalf, that I could grow for them. But I can’t.

We can’t think for other people. We can’t learn for other people. We can’t grow for other people, no matter how much we love them. Honestly, we wouldn’t really want to, if we truly care.

Prayer happens on a soul level, between an individual and God. It’s private. And, because nobody can grow for anybody else, they can’t pray for anybody else. That’s not how this works. Instead, if I try to pray on your behalf, I’m inadvertently making myself some kind of intermediary between you and God. No matter how kind my intentions might be, that kind of thinking isn’t good for anybody. There’s a commandment about false idols.

We can’t pray for other people, but we can pray with them. We can pray seeing them happy, healthy, and free. We can see them like God sees them. We can choose to see with love and not judge by appearances. After Lazarus is risen from the dead, Jesus tells the people to “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:44, NASB). The miracle only works if we stop seeing him as limited. If Lazarus is to live, we can’t see him as dead. We have to let him go.

We say amen because we know that God’s got this, whatever it is. We say amen because God’s got us. And, whoever you’re thinking about, God’s got them, too. Let’s agree with Him.