I've been thinking a lot lately about how God answers prayers.
You know, this Creator of ours has one tough job!
Sometimes I get into this frame of mind where I believe all 7 billion people on the planet are lifting up their prayers and desires to God, and they all fall perfectly into sync. Well… sort of. There are those of us who practice different religions and, as much as many of us are sad to see it, we pray for the downfall of the other (that eternal Other that we can't seem to accept as ourselves). Hoewever, sometimes those prayers are actually quite meaningful and meant to be an expression of desire towards learning from one another rather the continuing on our divided roads.
Okay… so different folks pray for different things from different religions. Got it. Makes sense.
What doesn't make sense to me is when Christians specifically pray for things that come into strict odds with the the Christians next to us. What does God do with that? If I get what I've prayed for, does that mean I've "prayed down" that other believer who didn't want that very thing to happen? Does it mean I win?
Suddenly I get a cold feeling in my stomach.
Here's an example from real life: I've been praying fervently for this vision of Coming Home — a retreat space for exploited youth — to come to pass. Yet others would pray that it would not come to pass because it is not as Christ-centered as they believe it ought to be, or that it is not an effective lifestyle that would reach a mass amount of youth with an evangelistic message.
I believe social justice is integral to the Gospel.
Those praying differently believe otherwise and have told me so.
Who does God listen to?
Well for starters… God listens to all of us (good thing God is God, and not me because I'd be hiding away in my closet before the first round of oppositional prayers hit me, iPod in ears, body rocking back and forth). Just because the children disagree, doesn't mean the parents stop listening to one over the other. No favouritism, right?
I guess I struggle with those teachings and doctrines that declare that God will give us the desires of our hearts. Perhaps it's true; but how in the world can it be true when my desire comes into direct opposition of another's desire? What if what I believe to be true is so foundational to my faith that I, in all integrity and honesty, come before the throne of grace with my cares and concerns and dreams… but the person next to me would need to stand down in order for those things to happen?
Someone has to be told "No."
Does that make the desire of the denied person wrong or sinful? I would say not, but again others might have another opinion.
Perhaps, too, in our society that values individuality above all things — especially in evangelical churches where individual salvation is the pinnacle of the message — we have lost perspective of the greater good, the common good, the community good, God's good. Maybe it's time believers took a step back, got our bearings, and became willing to shift focus so we can start seeing that ol' forest — heck of a lot more to it than those trees. While not letting go of the powerful transformation of the individual, perhaps there is a fuller sense of who Jesus Christ is and His message that we could explore.
When believers pray that others would start thinking like us, believing like us, or taking things seriously like us… is there really a time for that? I'm speaking more about doctrine here. I could pray myself blue that Jenny would finally get the message that she could give me a hand with the daycare, but really… that matter could be settled by talking to Jenny.
I'm talking about how when we pray that "those Christians" would finally see the light and start taking God seriously! (who said they weren't before?)
…or when we pray that "those Christians" would embrace the real Gospel message. (who said they haven't been up until now? And who got the authority and power to define 'real message' anyway?)
… or when we pray that "those Christians" would be more inclusive. (is there more than one way to be inclusive?)
The kicker comes when God answers all of us, and we're all knocked off our asses in shock at how things play out.
Yup… Johnny sure started taking God seriously! He's down at the bar every night, drinking a pint with neighbors and friends, speaking gently with them and listening to their lives. Whereas before, he would be looking to start a brawl. "Yeah, but God! He's not taking You seriously in the way I prayed for!!! He's DRINKING!!"
Tina began sharing her home and life with women leaving addictions and prostitution, having once lived that life herself. "Yeah, but God! She's not sharing the real Gospel using the right words! No one's going to get saved through THIS! It's a nice things she's doing, but it has nothing to do with conversion."
Number One Community Church began deliberately toning down Sunday services, choosing rather to meet in homes, especially in homes of LGBT people, single parents, immigrants, indigenous people, so they could learn their need for "the Other" as much as the need to share their their transformations by the Gospel. "Yeah, but God! That church is being TOO inclusive! They are on a slippery slope and so the whole social order of our faith will be at risk!"
See what I'm getting at?
I have no doubt that prayer battles are all deeply answered in beautiful nuance and love from our God.
My prayer then, I guess, is… "God… can we stop prayer against each other now? Can we stop the wars?"
Maybe God's looking at me and saying:
"I don't know. Can you?"