Disclaimer: this is my own musing on a topic which i am entirely not qualified to write about. read, but only with a critical mind.
i don't think i know how to pray anymore.
let me put it more accurately: i am beginning to learn to pray, all over again.
when i was really young, well, young enough to be afraid of dentists, i used to pray with all my heart that the school dentist wouldn't schedule me for a check up. i progressed to asking for top results in school and scholarships, because nothing mattered more to me than that. did God grant these requests? let us just say that i got more than what i hoped for, but less than what i asked for.
it was so easy to make demands as a child, but when i learnt more about Christianity, i become afraid to ask. it seems to me that every request has to be couched in hedged terms - 'if God is willing', and begin with, 'Lord, if it is Your will'. i learnt that i can i ask amiss. i am afraid that if i ask too hard, it just shows that i do not have faith that God would give me what is best. and i am afraid that God will say, 'very well then, your will, not mine.'
Christian books don't always help - in fact, great writers give contradictory advice. Philip Yancey, if i understand him correctly, urges us to wrestle with God (in Prayer: does it make a difference), like Jacob, to hang on to the angel until he was blessed with more than what he could imagine. but i remember being taught to submit to God and asking that His will be done all matters, like Jesus in Gethsemane, who asked that the 'cup be taken away from him', but eventually accepting 'God's will, not his own'? i am seriously confused! the more i read and seek, the more i am aware that there is something deeply profound that i do not understand about prayer.
there is nothing more discouraging than thwarted prayers. on TV programmes, i sometimes see people who do pilgrimages, bowing and kissing the ground with every step, to move the gods with their sincerity. i wish that God is like that. but no, when God's answer is no, at least in my life, i have never persuaded Him to change His mind. and i just don't see why. please understand, i am not asking to strike the lottery or have other secular demands. sometimes, i think that i am making perfectly legitimate requests that, God really has no excuse to deny. so why not, God?
i used to think that this is a cop-out answer given by Sunday school teachers when they have nothing else to say. but now i see it is true: between prayer and God's answer lies a great mystery that we will not understand on this side of Heaven. no wonder the psalmist says, 'my heart is not proud, my eyes are not haughty. i do not concern myself with great matters, or things too wonderful for me.' we would only know why upon hindsight, when all is revealed. on prayer, i learnt that we have to take a (very very) long term view.
how then am i going to pray? what is the good of telling God my heart's desires if His will is inexorable? i might as well always just say, 'God, about my life, may Your will be done.'
i can't think of a direct answer. but there is dawning realisation in my heart that, prayer is more holistic than demands-made-on-bent-knees. i shall emulate descartes, and demolish all the structures of theology that i built up over the years. maybe i got it all wrong anyway. then, i pick one piece of irrefutable fact that i know to be true, and upon it, establish a new understanding of God.
and this is what i have chosen: that God is an Almighty being who loves me and wants only the best for me.
sometimes i feel like when i pray, i am just keying in my requests into an impersonal cosmic computer. maybe i have forgotten that prayer is a dialogue, and all these desires are expressed unto Someone who is listening, and responding, and who sees the whole picture of my life, far more than i can ever see. in fact, this is probably why the answers to my prayers are sometimes so unexpected. the issue is not that God is not listening. the problem is, He is listening, and intervening, and working in these matters. but God is no unthinking genie in a bottle. He works according to His wisdom and in His own time. What can i say? i am only made of dust.
i can't say that i now have a better understanding of how to get God to give me what i want. but it makes me feel a lot better to remember that whatever i pray, the answer is given with the greatest love, by the greatest Being.