The Paradox of Prayer
Growing up in the church, one sentiment I heard a thousand times was “I’ll be praying for you.” Along with reading the Bible, praying seemed to be the Sunday School answer to what a Christian person should do. So, when I was a little girl, I made a list of all the special people in my life, particularly those who didn’t know Jesus. I rattled off their names before the Lord, being sure to ask forgiveness of my sin and thank Him for the day. This began a burgeoning, albeit squirrelly and confused, habit of prayer.
While I’ve been praying for nearly 30 years now, I’ve often felt it’s not enough. Either it seems too rote and casual—like a middle schooler emoting to the stuffed animals on her bed, or too haphazard—like a shot from a flare gun: “HELP!”
I’m talking to the holy God of the universe, and I struggle with the amount of familiarity versus reverence. Especially in this season with little ones, I sometimes fall asleep while praying, both at the beginning of the day as well as the end. But it is this very struggle that causes me to remember prayer is indeed important, and because of its importance, I must think about it rightly and consider the posture of my heart as I come before the Lord.
Confidence and Need in Prayer
Recently a friend asked if it was weak to always pray, “Thy will be done”—from the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6—instead of really pressing in for what she wanted and believed was a reasonable request. She referenced Hebrews 4:16: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (NKJV).
Her question caused me to dig a little deeper, and I learned these passages are not contradictory in the slightest. There’s a beautiful paradox at work. It involves the knowledge of our vast need and the confidence we have being His children.
The Motive of Prayer
As with all of Scripture, it’s important to look at verses in context. In Matthew 6, where we find The Lord’s Prayer and the phrase “Thy will be done,” Jesus is giving His listeners examples of right and wrong ways to pray, and He also addresses heart motivation. David Guzik notes in his Enduring Word Commentary, “The right kind of prayer has a passion for God’s glory and agenda. His name, kingdom, and will have the top priority.”
Hebrews 4:16 is one verse in an entire book written to people who knew a lot about the Old Testament Law (they were probably Jewish Christians), and to declare to them that Jesus is superior. He is the ultimate Priest, the ultimate Mediator, and they could boldly come before God because of His ultimate sacrifice on the cross.
A distorted view of prayer can get in the way if we’re not careful, with two possible extremes. One views the sovereign nature of God in a fatalistic sense—“Oh well, He’s going to do what He’s going to do.” The other twists the fact that we can come before Him confidently, and selfishly rushes in demanding things. Are we needy? Yes—but He knows that.
Plural Prayer in This Season
What a strange and unsettling time we’re living in right now. A novel virus runs wild and we are told to stay home. The future feels a bit unnerving. This is a perfect time to become more disciplined in our habit of coming before God when we are in need and to consider what we really believe about prayer and test it against the Word of God. We are not alone in our need, nor in our prayers.
It’s interesting, Jesus’ example of private prayer is actually plural in nature—a beautiful reminder of the larger tapestry of the Church community, even when we pray by ourselves. Referencing The Lord’s Prayer, “The plural phrasing, ‘Give us … forgive us … lead us,’ is characteristically Jewish, focusing on the group rather than on a single individual,” according to The Jewish Study Bible. During these days of social distancing, let’s remember we are part of God’s family, even when physically separated.
Praying Like Christ
What if, when we pray, we believe we are asking something in His name but still aren’t seeing the results we want? Let’s look to Christ. Before His crucifixion, Jesus was in so much agony He sweated His own blood (Luke 22:44). He showed us the perfect example: “Abba, Father,” He said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36 NIV).
It is not a weak prayer to ask for His will, and it is also not unbiblical to ask for what you desire, with the ultimate intent for His glory and plan, just as we see in this prayer from Jesus.
Do we struggle to want what He wants and recognize that we simply may never understand? Yes, absolutely. The essence of all this is to focus on God—on who He is and how He is worthy of our lives, even the suffering.
Know Before Whom You Stand
There’s an inscription on a plaque that once hung above the Ark of the Covenant in an ancient synagogue: “Know Before Whom You Stand.”* And this, really, is what it’s all about. As believers, we come into the presence of God with confidence because of Christ, and we come humbly because we know that without Him we could never earn our way to Him.
Just as waves of the sea surge in and out, I have both rushed in and backed away from the calling and privilege of prayer. But I want to grow. Will you grow with me, sisters? May we continue to seek Him in prayer, to make it a daily discipline of our lives. Let us come humbly out of respect for God and our need of grace and boldly because of who we are in Christ and the grace we have already received.
Meet the Author:
Audrey Ann is a writer who cherishes the gift of travel, and a wife and mama who endeavors to love where she lives one playdate, grocery trip, and sunset at a time. An island girl with heartland roots, she's currently en route to the United Kingdom by way of Summerville, South Carolina. You can find more from Audrey Ann Masur on her blog, Pacific Åntonia, or on Instagram.