This morning on the way into church we saw an elderly couple in the parking lot, and she had a cast on her arm. Later during the time in the service where people were invited to share prayer requests she jokingly talked about how hard it is with one arm to get your pants down far enough to go to the bathroom. Her husband hinted that he needed prayer too, seeing how he would need to cook for himself for awhile. Then followed the usual litany of requests for traveling mercies, successful job searches, and recovery from various bugs.
Prayer is a good thing, and I believe God is pleased when his children offer up even the most feeble and mundane of requests. I am sure He does not mind hearing general prayers for all the missionaries in the world and requests for Him to be with this person, be with that person, bless this one, and bless that one. No supplication is too big or too small. Aunt Edna is important to Him, and her hangnail has not escaped his notice. Even my pet peeve of prayers uttered with lip-smacking are OK to Him when offered sincerely from the heart.
It’s just that when I read Paul’s letters I get such a different picture of prayer than what we see in the average prayer meeting. I am in Colossians this week. There Paul thanks God on behalf of the Colossian believers for their faith, hope, and love, and the fruit evident in their lives as a result of their trust in Jesus and the gospel (1:3-8). Then he prays that they will be filled with the knowledge if His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, that they will walk in a manner worthy of and pleasing to the Lord, and that they will be strengthened by His glorious power resulting in patience and long-suffering (1:9-11). In the next chapter he tells them he agonizes over them, to the end that their hearts might be encouraged and knit together in love, and that they might attain to the full assurance of understanding to the knowledge of the mystery of Christ–in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:2-3). When was the last time you heard prayers along this line, either in church or in your own life?
Are we to believe that in all the churches to whom Paul wrote–seven in all as well as the letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon–there was no one out of work, getting ready to go away on a trip, or suffering from a flu or cold bug? Surely there must have been an Aunt Edna with a hangnail in there somewhere. Of course there had to be, but here’s the thing. I am not sure Paul would pray for God to heal the hangnail. To him the hangnail wouldn’t be the real issue, but rather how was God going to use it to draw Aunt Edna closer to Himself and kindle a deeper desire in her to know and love Jesus and His people.
Paul’s prayers teach me that in my own life I am too caught up in my own little mundane problems, that I miss what is really important for what seems obvious to my senses. The kingdom of God is not hangnails, job searches, journey’s mercies, or recovery from owies, but righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit.
At the end of the day the content of our prayers tell us where our heads are at spiritually.