November 14, 2018
Anthony Hopkins once played C.S. Lewis in a movie. C.S. Lewis is the most quoted Christian author of the 20th century and one of my favorite writers. The movie, The Shadowlands, tells the story of Lewis’ brief marriage to Joy Davidman, who was dying of cancer when the two were wed. Lewis knew she was dying and married her anyway because he loved her.
There is a great scene in which one of Lewis’ fellow professors remarks on how much Lewis had been praying over his wife’s situation. Lewis responds: “That’s not why I pray, Harry.
I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.” I’ll confess that, though I saw this movie more than 20 years ago, I think about this scene often and have quoted it on more than one occasion when talking with folks who struggle with prayer.
It’s easy to see prayer as though it’s a kind of vending machine, where we put in our thoughts and requests. In exchange, God gives us what we want. This isn’t really how it works. God answers prayers, but sometimes He answers them in His own timing or in ways we don’t like or understand. I have heard folks tell grieving parents that their prayers for the healing of their children went unanswered because they lacked faith. This is a misunderstanding of what the Bible teaches on prayer. The reality is that part of prayer is petitioning God for intervention, but part of it is expressing our hearts to Him, saying thank you to Him for the things He does, asking for forgiveness for sin, etc. I try to have conversations with my wife every day because it’s a part of being married.
It would be pretty base of me to have 3 or 4 conversations and then give up altogether because she didn’t bring me breakfast in bed. We don’t have conversations with our loved ones to get things from them. We talk to them as a part of knowing them and being known by them. Conversation is fundamental to relationship.
Talking to God is part of having a relationship with Him. If you look at the book of Psalms in the Bible, you can see that many of the prayers are about asking for needs to be met, but most deal with praising God or saying thank you. The Lord’s Prayer, which is found the Gospels and was taught by Jesus to His disciples, is 7 lines long. Two of those lines deal with asking God for protection or provision. The other five are about forgiveness or acknowledging God’s position and care.
It’s easy to miss the conversational component when talking to God or to forget to say thank you when we enjoy a blessing He has given us or to cry out to him when we are depressed or frustrated. I often try to start my prayer times by thinking about the stuff that should be praised about God and His work. It’s strange how looking for those things shifts my mind into a place where I notice them more often. The same can be said of saying thanks to God. The more we make it a point to thank God for the gifts He gives us, the more we learn to appreciate when we get them. Certainly God answers prayer as well, but a huge part of asking is talking to God. Doing so changes us.