The Angelus 1858, Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875)
(…continued) Another example of not knowing how to pray would be in the area of farming. All farmers everywhere always hope for good weather and a good growing season and a good crop. But also, all farmers everywhere know that if every farmer in the world has a good year every year, the prices would go so low that no one could afford to farm any more. So how do they know what to pray for? Should they be selfish and pray for good weather only for themselves, and for bad weather for enough of the others to keep the prices up high? Or what? It is best for them to just say their prayers and leave the results to God, like we all have to do anyway. But then it is also best not to wonder too much why God doesn’t answer every pray for everyone every year. If the specifics were up to us, we would never know what to pray for.
I will give one more example. We all want to be successful in whatever we do, and if we are Christians we will pray for such success. And sometimes our prayers might get answered and sometimes not. When I was in college I was trying to decide between a career in corrections and working with juvenile delinquents, or, going on to seminary and becoming a pastor. I was, of course, praying for God’s guidance. It is a big decision for a 20 year old, selecting a career for the rest of one’s life. I was leaning towards corrections, had already done some school-related work in the area, and had some success. Then I did a three month practicum at a juvenile detention center in northern Minnesota in hopes that my time there would really make up my mind. I don’t remember for sure, but I suppose I prayed that all would go well and I would be successful there too. But it did not go well and I was not successful. Parts of it I enjoyed and I did a good job on some of my tasks. But much of it I found extremely frustrating, and I had some embarrassing failures. I suppose I could say that my prayer for success was not answered in the way I had hoped it would be. But really, my prayers for guidance were answered completely, because I realized then that I was not well suited for that work, and made my decision to go to seminary. I believe God has called me to be a pastor, even if it meant first letting me fail at something else. The point is, sometimes we don’t even know what we should pray for. At that time I was, without knowing it, praying for two different things– success and guidance; and a ‘No’ to one prayer was, at the same time, a clear and positive answer to my other prayer.
I ran across an old prayer a while back that is a good prayer for any situation. I have prayed it many times since I first read it. It is a short prayer, and a useful prayer those times you don’t know what to do or even what to pray. The prayer goes like this:
As You know, and as You will, Lord, have mercy. Amen.
That is all that is to it, but it is profound little prayer.
Let’s look at that prayer phrase by phrase. First of all, when we begin by saying “As You know,” we are admitting that the Lord knows more about the situation than we do. We don’t have to know what to pray for. We don’t have to figure out what should be done, and then instruct the Lord on the details. God sees everything and knows everything, while our knowledge of and insight into any situation is not only severely limited, but also clouded by our emotions and prejudices.
Secondly, we pray, “and as you will.” That is a phrase we are already using in our prayers. It is a part of the Lord’s Prayer, after all. “Thy will be done,” we pray, as Jesus taught us to pray. And, this phrase was also in Jesus’ own desperate prayer as he pleaded for help in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest and death on the cross. Jesus prayed that right after pouring his heart out to God and expressing his very human apprehensions about the suffering that was ahead of him, including even his request that he may yet somehow avoid it all. And then, Jesus ended his prayer by saying, “Not my will, but thine be done, Oh Lord.”
We, too, can certainly ask God for whatever we want. We don’t have to make sure we are asking for the right thing. In our pain and emotion and desperation we can pray in any way for anything we think might help. Just like parents want their children to feel like they can tell them anything, God wants us to tell him whatever is on our mind and even ask for whatever we want. But then when we are all done, we must leave it in God’s hands, trusting Him to sort it all out, and let Him do or not do what He thinks is best. We say our prayers, and then we say, “Thy will be done,” leaving it all in God’s hands. Or, in the words of this little prayer, “As you know, and as you will…” (continued…)
Matthew 6:10 — “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Matthew 26:39 — Going a little farther, Jesus fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”