Why pray?

I pray because Jesus prayed. And yes, Jesus prayed as if prayer makes a difference. Of the many prayers he made, most were for others; few were offered for himself. I remember a time when my CG was playing our own version of Imaginiff and they guessed that most of my prayers were for ministry needs. I am sorry that I’m not burdened for God’s kingdom as people think I am, and I wish I were more so.

Sometimes I would ask ‘Why’ in response to some senseless tragedy or evil deed reported in the newspapers. I never get any answers, but many times, after praying for comfort and mercy for the victims and comeuppance for the perpetrators, I long for heaven. I long for heaven where I know that every tear will be wiped away, and there will be no more sin and no more suffering. In his book Prayer, Philip Yancey shared that he too cannot answer the question ‘Why’, but adds that in Jesus we know how God feels: “Jesus gave us a face, sometimes streaked with tears.” In response to the pleas of the weak, God responded with compassion and love.

Then there were times where I wondered if I should bother God with the trivialities in my life. I pray for the arrival of buses and trains, especially when I’m running late. I pray for my back ache (not trivial to me actually). But most of the time I don’t tend to take these frivolous requests because I try to do something about the issue myself. But about this dilemma with ‘trivial’ prayers, Yancey has this answer:

I know no better answer than the example of Jesus, who knew above any of us the wisdom of the Father and yet who felt a strong need to flood the heavens with requests. Although Jesus offered no metaphysical proofs of the effectiveness of prayer, the very fact that he did it establishes its worth. ‘Ask and you will receive,’ he said frankly, a rebuke to anyone who considers petition a primitive form of prayer. When his disciples failed to heal an afflicted boy, Jesus had a simple explanation: lack of prayer. [Philip Yancey, Prayer, Chapter 6: Why pray?, 71]

***

I was especially distracted by certain trivialities recently. It doesn’t take much for the evil one to distract me from the important daily communion with God: just entertain me with a bit of TV (especially when American Idol is back…), internet and youtube. As much as I realise at the end of the day that I wasted much time on banal entertainment, there was only a tinge of regret. I had thought of committing the distractions to God, but they were usually half-hearted requests. Jesus never prayed half-heartedly. Each prayer made was not just to prepare Himself for a spiritual battle, but prayer itself was the battle.

For most of us prayer serves as a resource to help in a time of testing or conflict. For Jesus, it was the battle itself. Once the Gethsemane prayers had aligned him with the Father’s will, what happened next was merely the means to fulfil it. Prayer mattered that much. In the words of Haddon Robinson: Where was it that Jesus sweat great drops of blood? Not in Pilate’s Hall, nor on his way to Golgotha. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane. There he ‘offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death’ (Hebrew 5:7). Had I been there and witnessed that struggle, I would have worried about the future, ‘If he is so broken up when all He is doing is praying,’ I might have said, ‘what will he do when He faces a real crisis? Why can’t He approach this ordeal with the calm confidence of His sleeping friends? Yet, when the test came, Jesus walked to the cross with courage, and His three friends fell apart and fell away. [p75]

The problem with me is not that I don’t know there are spiritual battles to be fought in life daily, but that I take them too lightly. So what if I know that the devil schemes? So what if I know that prayer is part of the weaponry to use in these battles? I’ve been too caught up in this temporal, visible world that I don’t pay enough attention to engage in warfare in the invisible realm. Lord, I’m trying. I’m trying to remind myself. You would have to help me see through spiritual eyes, to perceive what I can’t see with human eyes.

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