Maybe you’ve prayed it, too — Dear God, please don’t let my kid become an illiterate hobo. Please don’t let me kill that woman, not today. Please let most of the regulars show up this week. Please don’t let us elect Hitler.
Maybe it started out as a joke — she’d lose her head if it wasn’t attached — and turned into a plea — Dear God, just let her be gainfully employed someday. Or maybe — well, I’ve successfully ruined everything — Dear God, please don’t let me ruin everything! After a while it’s not a joke anymore. After a while it’s a settling.
I found myself last week praying one of those prayers for my children. A tired prayer, a low expectations prayer. And as I was muttering the words, I suddenly heard them. Is this the best God would do for His children? Can He, would He, not do more?
The problem with weak little prayers is that they are a barometer of the faith speaking them. Puny prayers pour out of weak faith. Sad little prayers betray resignation and disbelief, or perhaps a whittled-down God. Years ago I copied a Eugene Peterson quote into the front of my Bible:
“‘Fears the Lord.’ Reverence might be a better word. Awe. The Bible isn’t interested in whether we believe in God or not. It assumes that everyone more or less does. What it is interested in is the response we have to Him: Will we let God be as he is, majestic and holy, vast and wondrous, or will we always be trying to whittle him down to the size of our small minds…?”
Little prayers whittle. They shrink down our view of God, bit by bit. We fail to see God as Redeemer — one who redeems, one who transforms, one who picks up the rubble and with it builds a temple. Asking God to just please not let the worst happen is like asking Michelangelo to please cover up the crude, unfinished block of marble with a nice drape and hide it in the corner.
It’s not that Jesus taught us to pray entitled prayers, you-owe-me-God prayers. It’s not “God is a piñata and prayer is the stick,” as one pastor memorably put it. He’s the one, after all, who gave us “Our Father, who is in heaven, holy be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done.” Humble. Simple. Daily bread, not lavish feasts. Your kingdom come, not my own.
But Jesus’ simple prayer is nevertheless huge. Imagine if you prayed that way for your strong-willed child, your broken marriage, your floundering career, or your insignificant little church.
“My good, good Father, who reigns over everything, who controls every last detail, even your name should amaze me. Oh, Lord, may your crazy, beautiful, upside-down kingdom come. May all you set out to do triumph over all that your enemy tries to screw up. May all that you had in mind when you made me and put me here at this exact moment come to pass — I want what You want for my life, and I believe that Your imagination is bigger and better than mine. Lord God, You know what I need better than I know it myself — do that. And help me to be completely, deeply, joyfully satisfied in You. Give me the power to forgive, to believe the best, to hope all things, to love the way You always, unfailingly love me.”
We named our firstborn Joshua, with a confident prayer that he would be strong and courageous like his namesake. Now two of our kids are teenagers, and I’m the one with knees knocking. Now I ask God to make me brave, to give me strong and courageous prayers. That prayer I prayed last week? That was weak sauce. The God of the universe is chiseling a masterpiece. Get out the camera, folks, it’s going to be amazing.