December 13, 2013

Humbled Prayer


I had not seen it before—this business of pride being the antithesis of casting care.  It’s right there prefacing a passage I’ve loved since I was a kid learning to cope with my propensity to worry…

You know the passage: “Casting all your cares on Him, for He cares for you.” (I Pet.5:7)  Ahh… such comfort for the the perennially anxious soul.  This is followed by a warning about the devil’s wiles and a call to remain steadfast in faith.  It’s an encouraging passage roughly equivalent to another favorite: Phil.4:6,7-- “Be anxious for nothing but in everything, by prayer and supplication…”  I have long lived with these verses and tried to walk them out with varying degrees of success. 

But somehow I have always had a conscientious bent to worry, as if it were the only responsible thing to do. It’s become a joke at our house.  Jim’s predictable response to some petty trouble I present is: “I wouldn’t worry about it”.  And my predictable rejoinder is:  “That’s why I have to; somebody’s got to do it!” It’s just logical right?  If noone bears the weight of this care how will it be taken care of?!  The first time that interaction was actually voiced it dawned on me:  No wonder I am anxious; I think it’s the responsible thing to do.

But this week’s sermon covered all of I Peter 5.  And just preceding this imperative to cast my cares on God is the imperative to: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (I Pet. 5:6 NIV) Could there be a connection between casting our cares and humbling ourselves?  The New English Translation says it this way: “And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand 7 by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you.” 

I had not thought of my determination to cover all potential troubles with a good dose of worry as actually being prideful, and an affront to God’s loving and mighty ability to care for me.  He is opposed to the proud.  It is the humble who truly know His grace.

I think I have mentioned before that I have been asking God to teach me to pray.  First it seems He must disassemble my faulty understanding of what prayer entails. It is not a spiritualized form of worry where I air my concerns and then tuck them back away for safekeeping.  He asks me to give them up to Him, to yield them to His Mighty hand.  Why is that so hard?

I think it’s because I really would like certain sorts of outcomes.  I would like to think prayer is a guaranteed means of avoiding accidents, pain, tragedy, and all manner of disasters.  If I pray, about everything, God will be the genie that makes life smooth sailing. Of course that belief also makes prayer a joyless burden and an impossible necessity.  Who can ever pray enough?  Where is the place of rest in God’s assured care? 

Under this erroneous belief prayer morphs into a superstitious religious exercise aimed at getting God’s attention, approval and blessing. It has all the earmarks of religion—of us gaining favor with a disinterested God in order to bring about our own ‘salvation’ through our own works (and words!) And it ignores the reality of relationship known only in Christianity-- that God indeed cares and loves and grants us His favor apart from any work on our part.  Our part is to repent of our independence and rest our case with this all-knowing, all-powerful and loving God who cares for us! 

Of course, this doesn’t guarantee a trouble-free existence.  Suffering is sure to come. (It is the context of I Peter). The older I get the more I see of it both in and out of the Church.  God does call us to pray (“Far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you”-- I Sam.12:23) but He does not guarantee our every heart’s desire.  Sin runs rampant on the planet and in our natures.  We will not necessarily be protected from the sins of others.  Abuse happens.  Drunk driving kills. Marriages fail.  People disappoint. Prodigals land in pig pens. No, prayer does not put life under our control.  We cannot even guarantee our own children’s safe passage through its perils.  God controls destinies. 

Did Joseph’s father not pray enough?  Did he think his prayers had failed when his favorite son was sold into slavery by jealous brothers? No, God had a bigger plan than even conniving Jacob could not foresee.  What was intended for evil God used to save the entire nation from starvation.

Did Moses’ mother not pray hard enough?  He was snatched from her as a toddler to be raised in a pagan palace.  This was his destiny under God’s mighty hand.

And what of Daniel and his handsome friends—young men in the prime of life, the cream of the crop in Judah—all seized by the enemy and conscripted to be trained in pagan-ness and serve a foreign power.  Was this part of their parents’ prayers for them?

This is the unsettling thing about prayer.  We are called to cast all our cares on God along with the deepest desires of our hearts, and then to leave them there with no guarantees that things will turn out how we think we’d prefer.  We are only assured that God cares for us, that He loves us and is mighty enough to cause everything to work together for our ultimate good and His ultimate glory (Rom.8:28). 

But as long as we view prayer as our means of preventing disaster and assuring success, it will be driven by fear more than a genuine desire to spend time knowing and being known by our faithful Creator.  Prayer and petition will become synonymous and we will miss out on the fellowship that prayer is meant to be and the relief that comes of truly casting our cares on our faithful Creator.

Maybe I don’t need to pray ‘better’ or ‘more’ so much as I need to humble myself under God’s mighty hand and rest there.  I don’t need another book on prayer or another sermon to propel me to it.  I need to realize my helpless but secure position as a dependent in God’s loving hand.  I need to trade my petition-oriented view of prayer for one that knows what it is to delight in the Lord and wait for Him to make my desires like His own. 

I read an article lately* which likened prayer to Mary's pouring out costly perfume on Jesus' head and feet. He called prayer: "poured out soul", 'gloriously impractical' as seen by the world.  He acknowledged that prayer that seeks to worship and not to ‘get’ seems like a waste of time but to God it is precious.  This is the heart of prayer that I have missed in my haste to accomplish something and secure dividends with my prayers.

This is the fulfillment of the angel’s tidings at Jesus’ birth--“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Lk.2:14  We as believers are that people, forever in a favorable standing with God because of Jesus. It doesn’t get any better than that. And from this position we are invited to commune with God in prayer. How can worry or pride exist here? 

O come, let us adore Him and cast all our cares and our every heart’s desire at His feet!


Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart. Ps.37:4

We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Rom 8:26-27 NIV

“Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” Heb.7:25


*”Rediscovering the value of prayer  in a high-tech world” by Robert Osborne, in Testimony Magazine, Nov/Dec 2013, p.9

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