The Annoying Power of Prayer
It was one of those rare Saturday mornings when Lauren managed to persuade me that breakfast out might be more fun than quiet introvert time. We found ourselves in a quiet corner of Panera, thoroughly enjoying a bagel and eggs. I was just beginning to think that maybe this wasn't such a bad idea when I heard them - the group of men studying the Bible a couple of tables away.
"The Bible says that God's in charge, so we just have to trust that God's making all of this happen for a reason."
Like nails on a chalkboard, the hurtful theology made my skin crawl. Why do we propagate such damaging notions about God as if they were the cure for all of our ills? God's sovereignty does not mean that God makes tragedy happen or ordains it to teach us a lesson. I could feel my anger rising.
"Calm down, pastor," Lauren said, taking my hand and giving me a look.
"Maybe I should go over and join them," I said, but Lauren shook her head.
"What's your motivation?"
I made a face, but answered honestly, "To tell them they're wrong."
"Probably not what Christ is calling you to do right now." And she squeezed my hand more tightly.
She was right. I hated that she was right. So I turned my attention back on my breakfast...and continued to eavesdrop.
They started talking about the country. About our politicians, our president, our local leaders. One was advocating for taking a stand against injustice - but the other one said no. "We're supposed to be obedient to our rulers." I could feel my face burning. "God is the one who brought them to power." My hand clasped Lauren's so tightly that the tips of her fingers turned white. "We need to trust that God is working through them and that all of this is part of God's plan - not try to fight it."
I had had it. I was going to explode. I could not believe what I was hearing. Thank God for Lauren. She could read the ire in my compressed lips and widening eyes. So she suggested that we pray. In public. Holding hands. For them.
Perfect. We held hands and bowed our heads. "Hi Jesus," we're not very formal when we pray together, "We're struggling with what those guys over there are saying. The theology is pretty bad - and pretty hurtful - and we would guess that they wouldn't really except us. Can you tell us what, if anything, we should do? And can you help them somehow - like, maybe change their hearts and their minds and all that jazz? And help us? Thanks."
Now, I have to admit that I'm the kind of person who sometimes likes to hold onto their anger. Sometimes being angry feels good, and I don't really want to let it go. Which made it particularly difficult when this next thing happened.
The men were moving into a time of prayer too, but they started by sharing joys and concerns. Well, the one guy who had been saying the most about not standing up to injustice because God works through our rulers started it all. "I'm still having a lot of trouble at work. Things just aren't looking good. I'm really worried and really stressed about it all of the time, and it's affecting the rest of my life."
Suddenly, compassion was trying to shove the anger out of my chest. It was annoying. I wanted to be mad. I wanted to be self-righteous. I did NOT want to feel sympathy. But God had other ideas.
Calvin said that prayer was more for the pray-er than it was for God. Praying, in his opinion, opens us up to the Holy Spirit's movement, allowing God to enter in and form us more profoundly. In that moment, Calvin's words became real for me. It was as if prayer had opened the door for the Spirit to move my anger out and my compassion in. It wasn't what I had prayed for, not as I conceived it anyway, but it certainly changed my outlook on the situation.
We had prayed for hearts and minds to be changed. They certainly were. We just hadn't expected them to be ours.
I'm glad they were.