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Creative prayer: Submitting AND entreating

Lynne Baab • Thursday May 23 2019

Creative prayer: Submitting AND entreating

Some friends were talking about prayer recently, and a couple of them mentioned their desire to shift their prayers away from constantly asking God for things. They expressed their hope to become more focused on praying for what God wants and submitting to God’s action in their lives.

As they were speaking, a vivid illustration came to mind. Several years ago, my husband Dave walked the Kepler Track, a four day hike (or “tramp” as they say in New Zealand), one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. The first day of the hike is a series of switchbacks that climb from an altitude of just over sea level to 1000 meters (3300 feet). The second day involves a slight increase in elevation, then a long walk along the top of a ridge.

The trail along the ridge is maybe 2 feet wide. On both sides are dramatic drop offs. Dave walked along that ridge on a calm and quiet day, but he found it scary even on a calm day. He heard stories about people crawling along the ridge in high winds. (You can see the ridge in the top photo on the Kepler Track website.) In prayer, we are called by God to walk along a kind of ridge between dangers on both sides.

I believe that in prayer we are called to ask God for exactly what is on our minds. God invites us to pray honestly and fervently for our needs and desires, as well as the needs and desires of friends and family members, people in need around the world, Christian leaders, people who work in government, scientists who do the research to help us take care of this beautiful earth, historians who help us learn about the past, journalists who help us understand what’s going on in our world, and whoever else we believe shapes our life on earth. This kind of prayer is right and good, but it can morph into selfish preoccupation with our own desires.

I believe we are also called to ask God to lead us into prayers that reflect God’s will. God invites us to listen, through the Holy Spirit, to the voice of Jesus guiding us into prayer. God wants us to be willing to submit to whatever God is doing in the situations that matter to us. This kind of prayer is also right and good, but it can morph into passivity and inaction.

Walking the balance between these two aspects of prayer is like walking along that ridge at the top of the Kepler Track. We are called to walk a path that avoids the cliff on one side – our obsession with our own desires and a belief that only our wants and needs matter – while also avoiding the cliff on the other side – a hyper-spiritual approach that expresses only our desire to submit to God’s will.

The Bible invites us to pray honesty about what’s on our mind AND also express willingness to let God guide us. We are called to both entreaty AND submission. We must pray with sincerity AND assent to the purposes of God, candor AND surrender.

Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane illustrates this perfectly: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39).

I’ve been studying the prayers of the Bible for most of my Christian life. I am awed by the honesty in so many of the Psalms. These prayers model a radical approach to God with everything that is within us – our hopes, desires, longings, and negative and positive emotions. The prayers in the Psalms also model a deep praise for God and God’s purposes.

I am also awed by the prayers in the Apostle Paul’s letters, which express his longing for growth in faith on the part of the people he’s writing to AND a deep desire for God’s will for them. (I’ve written blog posts about Paul’s prayer in Colossians, the two prayers in Ephesians, and the prayer in Philippians.)

I am challenged by the balance in the Lord’s prayer: we are to ask for food, deliverance from temptation, and forgiveness of sins, while also praying that God’s will would be done.

In our prayers, we are called to both entreaty AND submission, walking a path between excesses on both sides.

Next week: emotion and passion in prayer. Illustration: daisy on the Kepler Track, watercolor by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column (for laptops) or below (for cellphones).

Another post on prayer you may enjoy: Thankfulness in the Apostle Paul’s prayers

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