There seems to be no end to people’s odd reactions when you tell them about praying. I’ve written before about prayer being thought of as fun, and recently, I encountered a new response.
On Friday, I’ll be signing a lease agreement for a new place to live. Interacting with the landlady the other day, she told us of an upcoming natural gas inspection which would have to take place. She was really hoping not to have to replace the boiler in the house.
My wife and I went away and asked for God’s favor during the upcoming inspection.
When we saw the landlady on the afternoon of the inspection day, she delightedly reported that she did not have to replace the boiler! She doesn’t believe in God, but we mentioned that we had prayed for just that outcome.
“Well, good job with that one!”
It’s almost as if she thought we did something just the right way so that we got the outcome we desired. We prayed just the right words, in just the right way, at just the right time…with just the right amount of talent and skill in order for the prayer to “work.”
It sounds funny, but what can you expect? She doesn’t believe in God, she’s not a Christian, and so any idea that we had a conversation with an all-powerful, loving, supernatural Deity isn’t going to compute with her; thus, the only option is that some special effort of our own brought about this result.
Honestly, I’m not sure that her perspective is all that different from many of our own. Although we may believe in God, we can often find an element of “doing it right” or desiring to “perform well” when it comes to prayer. Who doesn’t like to be told that they pray beautiful prayers?
And we do talk about “learning to pray”–even the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. So there is an element of “skill” involved. But that’s reasonable: prayer is communication, and there’s plenty of people out there making money by presenting seminars and writing books on how to communicate effectively.
So there is something of us in this process of prayer. But ultimately, it doesn’t come down to our ethereal eloquence, our theological theatrics, or our dogmatic drama. It’s us talking (and listening), and God–as a loving Father–responding, doing just what’s best in and around us…which may or may not accord with what we asked for.
I am certainly glad that my landlady didn’t have to buy a new boiler, but I can’t take any credit. I believe it was right that we prayed for her–it was the obedient thing to do, the blessed thing to do. But we didn’t do a particularly good job. God’s just a particularly good God.