Last December, trying to be on time to Nassia's preschool Christmas party in Philadelphia, I asked the Lord-out loud, so my granddaughter would hear-for a parking spot. After 15 minutes of circling I had to resort to the multi-tiered garage: $8. "You didn't come through, God," I complained inaudibly. He said, "Child, you asked for a parking place and I gave you a parking place. You're the one who has a hang-up about $8."
I realize the anecdote casts me in an unflattering light, but actually it represents progress for me. I never used to ask for parking spaces, ostensibly because it's a petty, non-kingdom-minded request, but really to protect myself, and God, from looking bad. Not to harp too much on the divine dispatching of cars, but that is after all the locus classicus of the prayer issue-just how involved does God mean to be in our lives?
Sleep-deprived and emboldened by James 5:14-15, I made an appointment with the elders to pray and anoint me with oil. (I brought the oil.) That was months ago and I'm still not sleeping. My friend David had words with the Lord: "Lord, why didn't you honor that act of faith?" David heard back immediately, "I did honor it; she has treasure in heaven."
A seminary professor I know was going blind and also went to the elders, and his eyesight was restored directly by God, to the bafflement of the Wills Eye Hospital specialists. Dr. Poythress informed me that the healing was not immediate but tarried a week or two-which is an outcome to James 5 that I had not considered.
It's the waiting that's interesting. I'm learning that waiting for answer to prayer is no more empty of activity than a molecule of water is empty of microbes. We are not to picture a La-Z-Boy chair but Eisenhower in the weeks before D-Day. Living "by faith and not by sight" is what we do between times on our knees, and often in a desert. God has little interest in being our personal prayer vending machine, and much interest in dynamic relationship. (Besides, if I knew for certain that I would receive everything I asked for in prayer, I would be scared to death to pray.)
In the best book on prayer I have come across, A Praying Life, Paul Miller writes, "When we have a praying life, we become aware of and enter into the story God is weaving in our lives. . . . Prayer is not the center of this book. Getting to know a person, God, is the center. . . . We are actors in his drama, listening for our lines, quieting our hearts so we can hear the voice of the Playwright. . . . If you are going to enter this divine dance we call prayer, you have to surrender your desire to be in control, to figure out how prayer works. . . . I often find that when God doesn't answer a prayer, he wants to expose something in me. Our prayers don't exist in a world of their own. . . . As I watch God's stories unfold, I watch for his little design touches, his poetry."
So we pray and watch and wait. This is true Existentialism. Nor do you have to be good at it. All you have to be is desperate without Him. Miller writes that we should start anywhere and just "get into the game. . . . All of Jesus' teaching on prayer in the Gospels can be summarized with one word: ask."
After a while of this you'll find, as Miller found and I have found: "I didn't learn continuous prayer; I discovered I was already doing it. I found myself in difficult situations I could not control. All I could do was cry out to my heavenly Father. It happened often enough that it became a habit, creating a rut between my soul and God. Jesus's ambiguity with us creates the space not only for Him to emerge but us as well. If the miracle comes too quickly, there is no room for discovery, for relationship. . . . Jesus is engaged in a divine romance, wooing us to Himself."
It's possible I'll be sleeping better soon, and it's possible I won't. So far, insomnia has lasted long enough for me to develop an entrenched habit of reading the Bible an hour a day before sun-up. Very funny, Lord.
If you have a question or comment for Andrée Seu, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.