I read an article recently, posted to facebook by my friend (and former student) Matt Bucher. It is called “The War Prayer” and is credited to Mark Twain. (Note: I have not verified whether this attribution is accurate. The story has a quality to it that makes the attribution at least seem plausible.) The story is thought provoking, I think. This is especially true for those from a Just War Theory or military background. However, even those from the peace tradition can fall into the trap in other areas of our lives.
In the story, the writer has the prophetic character call the soldiers “idols” and points out that prayers for their success are prayers that desire curses upon the enemy. This is, of course, never uttered in the actual prayers, but is a natural side effect of the prayers for military success in battle. This should give anyone pause, though I doubt it will sway those who view war as a necessary evil.
My immediate response, however, was to try to make it more personal. What elements of my prayers may have this same type of unintended consequence? I long ago stopped praying for success for my sports teams. This had two causes. First, I really cannot believe that God cares all that much about who actually wins and loses sporting events. (For more of my thoughts on this see my post “We Care About What Doesn’t Matter“.) I think God cares about injuries, and certainly we can pray that no one is injured. I also think that God receives glory when athletes use their abilities and play their best. I certainly think that prayers along this line are also warranted.
The second reason I stopped praying for victory is more important here. I realized that praying for victory for my team implies that I want the other team to lose, and their fans to be disappointed. In the past, this has honestly been my true feelings. I wanted Cowboys, Yankees, Braves, the University of Miami, etc. fans to suffer. I sort of had the impression that they deserved it for their choice of teams. I came to realize that God cared more about the people who were fans of the other teams (as well as fans of “my” teams) than He did about the actual outcome. Also, I have been specifically tasked to pray for my enemies and bless them. How does praying for the success of my own team accomplish this clear directive from my Messiah?!
Of course, this also works out in other ways. Does praying for the best possible parking spot imply that I want others to be inconvenienced? Does praying that the line will be short when I go to lunch imply that I want the store to not be doing good business? or just that I want others to have to wait behind me? Does praying that the light will change quickly so I can keep going mean that I want others to be delayed by the light going their direction?
How would my prayer life be different if I really though about whether I really meant everything that my prayers implied, and not just the part that sounded fine when I said it out loud? How different would yours be?
The biggest success I’ve had in this issue was in our foster/adoption process. I honestly tried to never pray specifically that the kids would be ours. I prayed that God would work out his best for the kids. If that meant going back to their biological mom, so be it. If that meant staying with us permanently, we would be delighted! We reminded ourselves to pray often for their biological parents and family. We prayed for God’s blessings on them. We prayed that their biological parents would find God, and get their lives back on track, even if that cost us the kids. If it brought God glory, and brought salvation to lost children of God, who were we to stand in the way? It wasn’t always easy, but we knew that we wanted God’s best, not our own way. I’m sure God will bless you as you learn to seek His heart and pray in ways consistent with His desire for your life!