Today, some thoughts about prayer. Prayer and I have, at times, not gotten along. Often, overwhelmed by the monotony of my days and the lack of quiet time I have, I end up merely “saying prayers.”
When I was younger, it felt like this: trying to choose precisely the right words before an Almighty Omnipotent God (in a galaxy far, far away), because if I ask for what I need the wrong way, I won’t get it.
Over the years, I’ve gotten better at just talking–pouring my heart out, and not worrying about the words, because I know He loves me. And then listening, not on my knees impatiently, but throughout the prayer for ideas, and afterwards, as soon as I get even a seed of an idea, I’ll write it down and think about it, and see where it takes me.
But one area in which I’ve never really known how to pray, or tried very hard, is how to pray for other people to change. If I think they’re generally humble and want to do God’s will, I can leave it at, “Please soften his/her heart so that (fill in the blank).”
But what if they’re not? What if they’ve proven themselves to be extremely stubborn and hardheaded? Is it wrong to actively pray against someone else’s agency?
Because we know God WANTS us to have our agency and wants us to choose. He will not force us to do anything. That’s why we’re here: we chose the plan that would allow us to screw up. Otherwise, the reward for being automatons would mean little.
So if God isn’t going to make someone change, why should I pray for it? Shouldn’t I stop trying to make other people change, and focus on what is in my realm of control? Isn’t that the healthy thing to do? I mean, how many abused women stay with their husbands because they hope he’ll change? Or focus on how dissatisfied they are in their mediocre marriage because the person they married has far more flaws than they realized? Isn’t it better to pray for more love and grace for yourself to “accept the things you cannot change, courage to change the things you can, and wisdom to know the difference”?
I find this particularly challenging with people I’ve never met and will never meet. Like political leaders.
How do you pray with faith for someone to listen to others’ wise counsel, if he doesn’t indicate any signs of listening to anybody?
How do you pray with faith for someone to use his position to help and lift other people, when he seems fixated on his own image and plastering his name everywhere?
How do you pray with faith for someone to try and unite the country when he’s used divisive rhetoric throughout his campaign?
I know there are representatives of many faiths who have somehow found the faith to do this, like these pastors from NYC, who met with the current president and prayed for him (expressed in ways I thought were gracious and sincere), but also sent a very clear message to him about the kind of leader they hope he can be.
But what about when you’re on your knees, alone, and the intended recipient of your faith isn’t there to hear it?
Perhaps I need to rethink my focus. Perhaps my faith should be centered less in the ability of a man to be changed, and more in God’s ability to work miracles in ways I can’t imagine. Like serendipitous events combining to get qualified people in his cabinet. Or giving courage and discernment to those around him who have the power to act if (or when) the time comes.
Or boils. Boils might do the trick.
How do you sincerely pray for leaders whose actions you find troubling?