This might seem like an odd thing for a pastor to admit, but I really struggle with prayer. It’s not that I doubt the efficacy of prayer, or how beneficial it is to speak with God and to listen to Him. I am as convinced as any person can be on those matters. But what I do often struggle with is what exactly I should be bringing up when I’m speaking with God. As in, what kinds of concerns are suitable to pray about?
Now, since God is all-powerful, it makes sense to ask Him to fix the really big problems. Praying for peace in Ukraine, for instance, or for the end of the opioid epidemic, are obviously requests that are worthy of His attention. But they are also very complex problems, where He would have to intervene in the lives of millions of people in order to change the conditions which enabled those crises in the first place.
And while I firmly believe that God can work in individual people’s lives to mitigate the suffering that they are experiencing, or that they are inflicting on others, it does seem a little unrealistic to ask Him to just make those kinds of big problems go away entirely. As such, I find it very hard to articulate requests that don’t seem to be naïve.
But, if I scale my expectations down too much, then that essentially becomes disbelief. After all, Jesus regularly chided His disciples for underestimating how supernaturally powerful He was. And He promised that whoever believes in Him would share in that power. So if I continually moderate my prayers to the point where I am only asking for what I think can practically be achieved, then I am discounting the possibility that God will ever surprise me.
The other kind of concerns that I’m often reluctant to bring up in prayer are really small problems. When I’m dealing with a cold, or my laptop keeps crashing, or I’m waiting to hear back from someone and they seem to be taking their sweet time, those are ideal opportunities to express my frustrations to God. Even though they seem like trivial concerns, they still matter to God, because everything matters to God.
As the author Wendell Berry explains: “we can say without presuming too much, that the first principle of the kingdom of God is that it includes everything; in it the fall of every sparrow is a significant event.” So, even if a problem is small enough that I can handle it without divine intervention, it’s still worth it to reach out to God and tell Him what I’m experiencing, as that will help to deepen my relationship with Him.
Tim Challen is Pastor of Virden Baptist Church