Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

May 2, 2014

The debate over how to pray

— — Prayer can be a very confusing thing. Some people are willing to pray for a close parking space while others may utter their very first prayer in the trenches of war. But it gets even more confusing when people who pray don’t agree how to pray.

Do you ask specifically for what you want or simply pray, “Thy Will Be Done”? The following story shares two very different approaches to prayer:

“Many years ago there was a monk who needed olive oil so he planted an olive tree sapling. After he finished planting it, he prayed, “Lord, my tree needs rain so its tender roots may drink and grow. Send gentle showers.” And the Lord sent gentle showers. Then the monk prayed, “Lord, my tree needs sun. Please send it sun.” And the sun shone, gilding the once-dripping clouds. “No send frost, dear Lord, to strengthen its branches,” cried the monk. And soon the little tree was covered in sparkling frost, but by evening it had died.

Then the monk sought out a brother monk in his cell and told him of his strange experience. After hearing the story the other monk said, “I also have planted a little tree. See how it is thriving? But I entrust my tree to its God. He who made it knows better than a man like me what it needs. I gave God no constraints or conditions, except to pray, “Lord, send what it needs — whether that be a storm or sunshine, wind, rain, or frost. You made it and you know best what it needs.”

My first thought when I first read this was, ‘I don’t feel so bad if even monks don’t agree on prayer.’ Then I decided to ask a few folks to share their opinions about this tale of two pray-ers. I contacted pastors, Bible study leaders, faith bloggers, prayer warriors, and friends to see what they thought. Their responses follow:

“I have given this a lot of thought because I have also been confounded about prayers. Unlike the answer of Monk Two, I do think the Bible teaches that we should pray specifically, not generally. But I have prayed very specifically, received what I felt like was an answer, and then proceeded to a ‘disastrous’ result ... what I mean is a result to the specific issue I prayed about. But when viewed in a broader sense, relative to not just me or that specific issue, but to my family and where it would lead us, it was a good outcome. So I think that is the lesson I have learned — pray specifically, but understand that the specific outcome may not be what I want, while the overall impact is.” — G.A.

“The story is simplistic in that it seems to only honor the monk who ‘trusts God.’ And makes the other monk out to be ‘wrong’ for praying ‘selfish’ prayers ... At the end of the day I love the view of God who loves it when we pray. It’s tough to figure out how to pray and know how to handle the answers we get ... so we come full circle and have to trust that He really does know better than we do.  — B.E. 

“Sometimes when we pray we think of God as a genie in a lamp and we tell Him how we want him to answer our prayer.  If he doesn’t answer the way we thought he should, we feel he didn’t answer our prayers. In the Lord’s Prayer ... We are taught to ask for His will to be done.  We can ask him — and should keep asking — and we have to believe by faith not sight that He is moving, working and answering our prayers in His perfect way and time.” — B.V.

 “I know we don’t always understand the answers or reasons for all we have to struggle with in this life. It is hard to imagine that some of the things that happen are part of his plan and what is needed, but I do believe we will understand it one day.” — B.S.

“My response is that the problem with the Monk’s prayers wasn’t that they were specific. The problem rather was his underlying doubts in God’s goodness which are revealed in the way he prayed and in his response when it died.” — E.F.

“I love that there is so much mystery about that gift, that we can’t possibly understand how it works or how he works through it. All I can say is that from my own experience, the Holy Spirit has prompted me to pray for certain people at certain times and in very specific ways ... The beauty of prayer as I have experienced it, true prayer that both talks and listens, is that it always changes me. It may not change the situation or the person I’m praying about, but it always changes my perspective and my heart, and ultimately deepens my faith.” — T.A.

If prayer is less about requests and more about our relationship with God, then it changing me, my perspective, and my heart may be the answer I need — no matter what the problem or prayer request is ... or the manner in which I pray.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family, and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in North Carolina with her family. Contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.

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