C. S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain:
We want in fact not so much a father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven — a senile benevolence who as they say ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves.’
Abraham Lincoln wrote about his prayers, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me was insufficient for that day.”
The reason for starting this essay with the two quotes is that I read them in different devotionals on the same day. I don’t know about you, but when that happens to me, I feel that God is talking to me. He is driving me to action.
There has been a movement within the churches in the past ten to fifteen years to promote the ACTS initiative. It’s a movement to focus daily prayers as Jesus taught us, but using the acronym ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication). One noted theologian said that once you’ve done the first three properly, there is little room or time for supplication.
Our problem is that we start with the ‘I wanna’ and never get around to the rest. Both C. S. Lewis and Abraham Lincoln talked about the ‘I wanna’ prayer, but the message is very different. Lewis’ thought of the senile grandfather harkens the lyrics of the Janis Joplin song, Mercedes Benz. For those who don’t know it, the song starts with “Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. My friends all have Porsches. I must make amends.” This sounds more like our prayers than we are ready to admit.
Lincoln’s prayer is quite different. It comes from being in deep water that is over our heads. In Lincoln’s case, he served as president during possibly the most troubling time in our nation’s history. His fault was that he actually ran for the presidency. Otherwise, it may have been another person’s problem. When we get in those situations, it is usually more squarely on our shoulders. God was whispering in our ear, “Don’t do it.” We did it anyway. Then we get on our knees and pray, “Lord, deliver me.” The problem there is that God does deliver us, in His time. We then listen to ourselves again, and we are back on our knees, asking for the next deliverance. As the shampoo bottle says, “Wash, Rinse, Repeat.” We keep repeating our sins after God has rinsed us.
I have countlessly had a silent prayer after saying the blessing before a meal. It goes something like this. “God, I don’t praise You enough. We come to You with our desires, some for us, some for others. We come to You, because You are the sovereign God of the universe. We are incapable of making this happen. Only You can send Your Holy Spirit to guide us, inform us, and strengthen us for the journey ahead. Only You sent Your Son to save us by dying on the cross. Only You put the stars in motion. Only You can prevent bad cells from forming in our bodies. Only You can drive out evil thoughts in our minds. We wouldn’t come to You with our desires if You weren’t the only One capable to grant our desires.”
That just took care of adoration. Confession would take all day, not to mention Thanksgiving. In Mark Batterson’s book, The Grave Robber, he asks if you’ve ever thanked God for keeping the earth in orbit around the sun. He asks if you’ve thanked God for maintaining cell growth in your body. Have you ever had breathing problems? If you have, it is not farfetched to thank God for each breath. The same could be said for heart beats when you have a heart problem. That could lead to 60-80 prayers of thanksgiving every minute. If you’ve had a disease that causes your heart to race out of control, as I have had in the past, praying for each heart beat could lead to over 200 prayers of thanksgiving every minute. When a normal heart rate is achieved after such an event, the 60-80 prayers of thanks are with much more gusto.
Yet, we still spend most of our prayer time on the ‘I wanna’ list that is in the forefront of our minds. Some of us justify it in that most of our ‘I wanna’ list is for other people. But praying for our spouses and children is really like praying for those who are an extension of us. I would love to receive lavish, but thoughtful, gifts from my sons and the grandchildren, only to be reassured that they could afford to do so. That is often not the case. Praying for our church friends is only one step removed. Aren’t they a church family? Should we stop praying such things? Of course not. But when we pray a prayer of adoration, we grow closer to God. When we pray a prayer of confession, He cleanses us, and we feel the resolve to complete the repentance of that sin. In other words, we are more likely not to repeat the same mistake. And when we thank God for everything, we are actually entering into a second bout of adoration. We cannot thank God without giving God the credit for being behind the good things in our lives. And if He is behind those good things, then we are acknowledging that He is a sovereign God who is all powerful and all knowing.
Once we have clearly worked it out within us, then when we ask for something, we are asking for God’s will to be done on earth. This is in part what Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians in Philippians 2:12 is all about. We are working out our salvation with fear and trembling. Once we get a clear picture of who God is by clearly trying to see Him as we adore, confess, and thank, we will bow down in fear and trembling. Our desires for a new house or a new car will fade. Our desire to be with Jesus for eternity will make those things disappear, replaced with what God wants in our lives.
God’s desire might just be a new car. My son could sure use one, but he needs a job more. There we start with the ‘I wanna’ prayer all over again, but God knows our desires. He knows how we will react when the prayer is answered. He wants our prayers of thanksgiving to be genuine. Our ‘I wanna’ prayers today should lead to prayers of adoration and thanksgiving tomorrow, whether the answer is Yes or No.
Yes, if God answers No, we should thank Him for guiding us in a better direction, one that brings us closer to Him.