About a month ago I was confronted by a number of people in different contexts saying ‘if we have faith, God will change things. We just need to pray.’ Confronted with this attitude from such a variety of spaces, I found myself voicing the importance of stepping up to the plate and beginning to do the hard work necessary. I think, too often, we, as people faith, abdicate the wrong responsibility. We pray for God to change things and then sit back and wait for that to happen when in fact a necessary part of the process of transformation is to plunge into the muck.
Immediately the serenity prayer springs to mind:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. The courage to change the things I can. And the wisdom to know the difference.
I fear that all too often we do not have the requisite wisdom.
In some ways we can be like the man in the flood. As the waters start to rise, the man prays to ask God to save him, and being a man of good faith he believes that God has heard his prayer and will respond to it. Not long after, someone paddles by in a row boat and encourages him to get on board to which he responds – no, God will save me. The water rises further he climbs to the upper story, someone goes by in a motor boat and says – come on, we will rescue you, to which the man responds – no, God will save me. The water rises further still, he is sitting on his roof, when someone flies over in a helicopter – they send down a ladder and encourage him to climb on – to which he says, no, no, God will save me. The man dies and when he gets to heaven he says to God, I prayed, why did you not answer me. To which God responds, I sent you a rowboat, a motorboat and a helicopter, what were you waiting for?
It is important that we practice discernment. We need to spend time in prayer not simply asking God to change things, but also asking God to show us what we can do. Particularly in the case of personal issues or relationship problems, all too often we pray for the magical finger snap that will put everything right, when in fact, part of our journey of redemption is to grapple with our own brokenness. The route through can be daunting, painful, and at times very dark, but walking the path in conversation with God is so much more fruitful in the long run.