Has anyone ever asked to pray for you? Isn’t that great when that happens? I mean, the very idea that another person who is not your mother or father or grandmother praying for you!
But in many cases a serious rub follows. After you say, “sure” or “certainly” or something like that, a person who has been indoctrinated in a particular way will often ask you “great, can you tell me something specific about you to pray for?”
Immediately you are taken aback. Or, at least I am. First the person wanted to pray for you. Wonderful! Now they seem to want you to volunteer some juicy stuff so that they can pray about “something specific.” How slick is that little religious routine! I feel like saying, “I’m fine with you praying for me, but I’m not going to sit down in your little confessional booth and give you a long list of sins.”
I’m not really up on my Evangelical playbook, but I think the “praying for something specific” technique is in there somewhere. Why would I think that? Well, one of the absolute core values embraced by Evangelicals is their presumed need to help God “get you saved.” The widely accepted theorem within this brand of religion is that before someone will ever be motivated to “get saved” they must first come to see how bad/fallen/broken/evil they are. So “something specific to pray about” can be a great ice-breaker, from the Evangelical worldview.
CS Lewis once spoke about one of the biggest problems many people have with prayer. Lewis said that even people who believe in God and believe in praying to him have a hard time thinking that God can listen to hundreds of millions of prayers at the same time. So let’s boil this objection down: the image of a god who can’t listen to hundreds of millions of prayers at the same time is probably more like an intelligent, wise old grandfather-god. A grandfather-god can answer prayer all right, but he just can’t listen to hundreds of millions of prayers at the same time. The grandfather-god has his limits.
The god who has his limits idea permeates religion – including Christendom. About 15-20 years ago I remember browsing through a book on prayer that was selling like hotcakes at Christian book stores. One of the keys to answered prayer, according to the author, was shouting and yelling. It seems the author felt that the grandfather-god is far away, and for that matter, his hearing may be a little less acute than it used to be. Those heavenly choirs booming his praises for all eternity have apparently affected his hearing. Given a God of limits, it’s only natural to presume that a grandfather-god can’t hear a silent prayer, or a whispered prayer.
The grandfather-god many have made in their own image is also behind the request to “pray something specific for/about you.” If we assume that God’s cognitive capabilities are far more like ours – that is, however brilliant God is, his mental powers can only go so far – then we have effectively reduced God into an image we can deal with, handle and of course, most important of all, manipulate. Of course, such a devalued sense of God has far reaching consequences when we consider what it means for Christ to live his life in us. If we fail to believe the biblical revelation that God is supremely transcendent in such a way that ”eye hasn’t seen nor ear heard” – if we fail to wrap our little pea-picking brains around the passage in Isaiah where God tells us that his thoughts are as far above and beyond our thoughts as the heavens are above the earth – if we fail to “give God his due” and worship him as he is, then we might as well pray to a little wood relic we have carved into our image and placed on the mantel above the fireplace.
In this day and age of Edward Snowden and the NSA, how can we seriously continue the religious superstition that God’s heavenly intelligence gathering agency, his surveillance gathering “company” of angels monitoring screens where data about you and me is constantly appearing as it is beamed into heaven by high powered satellites, is just not capable of knowing all there is to know about you and me? Because God’s data base has insufficient information we have to tell him specific problems/obstacles/sins about the person for whom we are praying. Really?
Us – Dear God/Our Father in heaven ….
Heaven – I’m sorry, but due to extraordinarily heavy volume of prayers right now God cannot pick up right now. Please hold – your prayer is extremely important to us. [Heavenly music starts to play – but we don’t like the music. As we wait and listen to this awful music we conclude, 1) heaven is playing the same music to everyone who is waiting on hold because heaven lacks the capability to know the kind of music we like, or 2) maybe heaven suspects us of having some really bad tastes in music, and because we love bad/evil/horrible music, heaven is giving us a course on music appreciation while we are on hold]
22 minutes later …. after Beethoven and Bach …
Heaven – Hello, this is your heavenly Father. Thanks for keeping in touch. What can I help you with?
Us – Well, I’m praying for my friend John. He seems to be confused and frustrated. Can you please help him?
God – So you want me to help John, but all you can tell me is that he is confused and frustrated? Do you know that millions of others of people are praying to me right now and they have specific things about the people they are praying for? Don’t you realize how much it helps me to know specific things? Go and talk to John and come back when you have something specific to pray for.
Come on – God knows all there is to know about you and me. He doesn’t need us to tell him something he doesn’t already know. Peter advises that Christ-followers that we should be ready to “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). So the next time someone asks to pray for me and wants something specific to pray about, I’m going to evangelize them right back and invite them to a discussion about our heavenly Father who has no limits.