Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Dangerous Prayer

He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way (Psalm 25:9).

To any and all who, like me, often pray for guidance, a word of caution is in order. Let the pray-er beware: Prayers for guidance are dangerous prayers. The writer to the Hebrews assures us that we can approach the “throne of grace” with confidence. But when it comes to your quest for guidance, don’t let your confidence make you careless. Tread lightly before God when you seek God’s guidance.

The reason: God will likely answer your prayer.

As I’ve thought about this I’ve had to admit that my prayers for guidance are often no more than a series of multiple choice questions that I’ve placed before the Almighty. In other words, I’ve identified the acceptable options and what I’m really seeking is the divine cheat-sheet, thus insuring the right answer among the various options I’ve already envisioned for my life.

Without editing for pastoral correctness, my prayer goes something like this:

Lord . . . I don’t know what to do here . . . I could do this, and then that will happen . . . I could do that and then live with the implications for thus and such. But surely, you will guide me to this or that. Please let me know which. Amen.

Of course, there may be more than two options on the table. The point is, we often pray for guidance having already determined the acceptable destinations. The reason prayers for guidance are dangerous is that God is perfectly free to answer in ways we never imagined. We offer such prayers cautiously because to ask for God’s guidance also means that we’re ready to follow it, wherever it might lead us.

There’s Peter, going to the rooftop to pray, observing the liturgical prayer hours like a good and faithful Jew. As Peter prays (surprise, surprise) God answers. God asks Peter to eat forbidden slimy things. God tells Peter to go with strangers to the home of a Gentile soldier. Was this the kind of guidance Peter sought as he faithfully observed the afternoon hour of prayer? (See Acts 10:9-48).

There’s Paul, packing his duffle bag and setting off to check up on all those little congregations he had helped to start years earlier. When he tries get back to the province of Asia the Spirit stops him. Paul then tries to enter Bithynia only to be stonewalled yet again by the Spirit of Jesus. And then, trying to grab some sleep in the midst of this frustrating journey, Paul dreams a dream in which he is being summoned to Macedonia. Macedonia was not on the itinerary. But guidance doesn’t always show up on the AAA trip-tic (Acts 16:6-10).

God wants to answer your prayers for guidance, but be ready. God may take you to a place you never would have chosen to go. God may lead you to do something you never thought you’d do. God may have someone in mind that, as of today, you’ve never laid eyes upon. Be ready and be warned. God answers prayers for guidance.

Psalm 25 provides the language we need when asking for guidance. Verses 4-5 ask God to “show me your ways” and “teach me your paths.” The request is repeated as the Psalmist says, “Guide me in your truth and teach me.” A key to how God answers that request is found a few verses later. “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.”

God guides the humble – those who don’t know the destination and know they don’t know, those who are most willing to go wherever God leads, those who have given up trying to determine the best possible outcomes and options. As we pray we will think through our options. We are free to ask for what we want. But true guidance comes to those who are humble, open to wherever God may lead. These are dangerous prayers – but worth the risk.

Are you really ready for God to guide you today?

Our prayers for guidance often limit you, O God. We confess to setting agendas and laying out the best options – then looking to you for help. Grant to us a humility that is willing to go wherever you lead and do whatever you ask, to the glory of your name above all else. Amen.

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