Mixed Up Prayers
“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”
Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV UK)
For three hours last year, every email sent through one British Internet provider was re-routed to a single account. People started posting their “bounce back” messages on Twitter, wondering why their dinner reservation, business emails, and private digital correspondence were all being sent to somebody named Steve. After some investigation the company realised that a programming glitch was responsible for the malfunction and they quickly fixed the problem. However, all these emails inadvertently getting shuffled over to Steve got me thinking.
One of the questions I get from people when they find out I’m a pastor is, “How do I know I’m praying the right way?” It’s a great question. While we know that Christ has given us a model for prayer in the Gospels, and other theologians like C. S. Lewis and James Torrance have written thoughtful responses on this subject, one of the things I think we want to stay away from is thinking that if we don’t cross our i’s and dot our t’s that our prayers are stopped from getting to God. The opposite is true. Our Father has promised to hear our prayers. We have been told that we should be bold to approach God’s throne of grace. Listen to this Psalm: “But God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!” (Psalm 66:19-20).
We know that there is only one God and that when we pray, whether we’ve said the exact right words in the right order or not—he hears us. There’s no glitch in the system—our prayers are designed to reach God’s throne. And we know that Jesus, our Great High Priest, lives now to make intercessions for the saints. When we don’t have the right words, we know that the Holy Spirit helps translate our prayerful communication into the right words as it says in Romans 8:26-27. Puritan theologian, Richard Sibbes, explained it like this: “God can pick sense out of a confused prayer” (The Bruised Reed, Richard Sibbes).
God understands us better than we understand ourselves and responds to us when we seek him—even in our bumbling words and confused thoughts. For God, in Christ, does not so much answer our prayers, but at a deeper level always answers us as we pray.
Merciful Father, thank you that in your love for us you have made provision for us. We may be sure, therefore, that when we pray to you, you hear us. Either our prayers are ‘translated’ by the Holy Spirit, or our High Priest, Jesus, makes appropriate intercession for us. And once again we stand in awe at your loving way of dealing with us. Through Jesus’ name we pray.
Study by Joseph Tkach
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