The question I asked in the previous post was how can we tilt the “how can we tilt the balance in this tug-of-war” that’s going on in our human nature (described in an earlier post). If you believe in God like I do, you may mention prayer and God’s help. Many think that prayer connects you to God’s supernatural power. Yes, it’s true but more than that prayer connects God to your failing, broken will power. More than you achieving something (that you pray for) through God it is God achieving something (character, the fruit of the Holy Spirit – Gal. 5:22-23) in you. In God’s eyes the latter is often more important than the former.
God has many good reasons not to display his supernatural power directly (and indeed most don’t claim to see direct miracles left and right). That’s outside the scope of this post but I will illustrate one reason that pertains to our topic. There are things that my two kids (a 3 and a 5 year old) find hard to do but instead of helping them I sometimes have them do those things themselves. Why? It’s because that’s how they learn. That’s how they become stronger and more skilled. The hard way is the best teacher. But God has in mind for us things much more important than what I have for my kids. God doesn’t want the answer to our prayers to be just a solution but rather a character builder. That’s particularly true when the solution has to do with our character and mindset as it’s the case with achieving our goals. Character is more than a solution or some means. It’s the end goal God has for you. It defines who you are. And it has a proper name: Jesus (Phil. 2:5; 3:10; Col. 1:27; Gal. 2:20).
Therefore there are some things God does for you and some things that you need to do for yourself. The saying “God helps those who help themselves” is often used to mean that you only have to rely on yourself. While helping yourself helps, for some goals that’s not enough. I either know or heard of many addicts who could just not help themselves. But some of them did their part in asking God for help and God and did the rest. The same is true for people who couldn’t forgive our couldn’t humble themselves.
Just as God has a part (like in the examples above), you, as a Christian, have a part as well and it includes prayer. James says: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8 ESV). Jesus says: “Abide in me, and I in you.” (John 15:4, 7). A few verses later “If you keep My commandments…” (v. 10, 14). In other words, if you do your part I will do Mine. Jesus died for all but not all people are saved. On the contrary, Jesus says that “broad is the road that leads to destruction” (Matt. 7:13). People need to believe (John 3:16) and belief is, in a way, like prayer. God doesn’t take over our free will. He takes us through a process of learning so that, in the end, we freely submit it to God. This happens when we come to the realization that He knows better, He sees farther and He loves more.
In conclusion, yes, praying to change indeed tips the tug-of-war that’s going on in our human nature in favor of mind and long term goals over body and instant gratification. But it’s not as much that God answers our prayers to change us but rather that He uses our prayers to change us. Soren Kierkegaard said that “prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.” The best prayer is not the prayer that changes things because, after all, they are just things. The best prayer is the one that changes hearts because, after all, they are more precious than all the things in the world (Mark 8:36). In the next post we’ll see how prayer works and how this change happens. I’ll end with an anonymous prayer, And God Said “No”, which includes the following verses:
I asked God to take away my pride,
And God said “No”
He said it was not for him to take away
But for me to give up
I asked God to grant me patience,
And God said “No”.
He said that patience is a byproduct of tribulation,
It isn’t granted, it is earned.