Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Prayer Makes Things Harder

Prayer is a funny thing at times. Consider two equally matched football teams. Prior to the game, they both kneel in prayer to ask for victory over their opponent. One will leave the field later believing that God answered their prayer and the other will leave the field wondering why God didn’t answer their prayer. Let’s not put any limits on God and say that he can’t answer both requests, but the reality of the situation is that he doesn’t often do that. From our perspective, it appears that God didn’t answer one of the prayers, but which one? And how does this apply when we ask God for our success?

There is more than one possibility here. One is that God doesn’t actually answer prayer at all, so the only value of the two teams praying was the placebo effect. Because they felt like God was on their side, they played with more confidence. Another possibility is that when presented with two choices God picked a favorite and his favorite went on to victory while the other went on to defeat. Then there is the possibility that because he had no desire to play favorites, he let them battle it out. He himself had no preference concerning who would win. And there is the possibility that he knew that the best thing for one team would be to win while the best thing for the other team would be to lose so that they could learn from the experience.

Aside from the placebo effect, I think all of the above are valid answers, but it isn’t always easy to determine which is what happened in a given situation. Hardly a team sport is played without someone praying for victory, but God doesn’t always answer that prayer. But let me ask you this: if you were playing a game against your brother, would you want to think that the only reason you won was because a parent stepped in and changed the rules to favor you? In sports, I think we find the same is true. Yes, we want to win, but we want it to be because of our ability, not because God gave us an extra burst of strength. So the best thing God can do for us may be to let us play in a fair game.

That doesn’t mean, however that God never takes an active role in the outcome of games. I don’t mean you’ll see angels in the outfield, but sports plays too important of role in the way the world works for me to believe God doesn’t influence games. The Bible tells us that God is the one who promotes people or removes them from power. There is a lot of power surrounding sports organizations, so God must have a hand in it. I think that if we could understand what God is doing, we would find that he inserts his influence much earlier in the process. Instead of sending a gust of wind to make the ball float one way or the other during the game, God aids the players during the weeks and months they practiced before the game. On game day, the winning team wins because they are the better team, but they are the better team because of God’s aid in their preparation.

I sometimes catch myself comparing what I’ve been able to accomplish to what others have accomplished. I’ve prayed for success in one thing or another and at times it seems like it does no good. It doesn’t have the same obvious conflict of interest that a game between two teams does, but if everyone had the success they prayed for there would be no incentive for us to work to improve our abilities.

It is my belief that when we ask God for success that he does hear us and he will help us, but instead of him just snapping his fingers and making it happen (though he may do that at times too), more often than not, we will see the answer come in the form of us having the opportunity to put in some really hard work. Only after we’ve put in the hard work do we have the experience and knowledge we need to achieve the success we’ve asked him for.

When have you seen things get harder after prayer than before?