11 July 2012

A Problem With Prayer

Joel gets crazy bad mosquito bites.  Fortunately, Kijabe has very few mosquitos but with all the wet, foggy air lately we've had another problem: mold.  So, we tried sleeping with our windows open in an attempt to dry out the air in the house.  This was fine for a couple of days but then, Joel got enormous bites all over his face.  So we closed the windows.  Still more bites.  Then Joel added another step to the bedtime routine:

"Dad, did you check the room for mosquitos?"
"Under the bed?"
"Well, I think mosquitoes usually like to hide on the ceiling."*
"Oh... (long pause) Did you check the ceiling?"
"Did you check in the closet... up high?"
"OK, I'll check the closet...  No mosquitos here either."

And finally, a question that made me cringe:
"Daddy, can you pray that no mosquitos get me?"

Heather overheard from the other room and after bedtime asked, "So are we going to have a faith crisis in the morning?"

I wasn't sure.  Joel is a magnet for mosquitos.  If there is one near, he'll be bit.  And it's not as if he won't notice a bite.  His bites quickly swell to half-inch-thick welts the size of quarters and they last for days.  One bite on his eyebrow made his whole eyelid puffy and droopy.  I wasn't sure what kind of faith crisis we'd wake up to but I expected one.  Joel's prayer was way too specific - and it was too likely he'd get more mosquito bites, so I began to think of contingency plans.

Later, I began wondering exactly why I was so bothered about Joel's prayer request. Matthew 7:7 clearly says, "Ask and you will receive..."  Why don't I take this at face value? What is it that makes us as parents immediately think, "Well you know, Joel, God sometimes says, 'No.'"  Why do we as Evangelical Christians rush to tack on the phrase "IF it's your will, Lord" when a request seems too specific, or too measurable, or too miraculous?  Honestly, I approached Joel's prayer with at least as much belief that the answer would be, "No."  Why so little faith?

I've been reading "With Christ in the School of Prayer" by Andrew Murray** the last few weeks and it has a recurring theme:  Prayer increases our faith - we lack faith because we do not pray.  I've always thought of prayer requiring faith*** but maybe this is because I've not approached prayer properly: Haven't we all come to the uncomfortable realization at one point or another that our prayer life consists of a whole lot of asking without much listening? Maybe we ask, but do not receive because we ask wrongly (James 4:3).  Maybe we ask wrongly because we're not really approaching prayer as part of an actual tandem relationship, but with a self-centered God-as-giver, man-as-receiver kind of attitude.  

I haven't done too well at this tandem relationship lately.  We've been crazy busy, preoccupied with all kinds of things.  I was uncomfortable with Joel's request because I wasn't in step with the Holy Spirit and I knew it.  I wasn't comfortable asking because I felt guilty - a kind of going-to-an-old-acquaintance-you've-avoided-for-weeks-asking-to-borrow-something type of awkwardness.

Praying and checking the closet for the boogie-man... er... mosquitos has been part of the bed-time routine for about four weeks now.  Curiously - no more mosquito bites, save one night that I forgot to pray about mosquitos - The next morning, Joel noticed fresh bites on his nose and without hesitation said, "DAD!  You forgot to pray for mosquitos last night!"  

*Come to think of it, on the underside of the bed probably is a pretty good place to find mosquitos.

** You can download the entire book as a free PDF file here.  It's in the public domain.  You can also purchase a copy for Kindle for $2.79!  Hmmmm...

***Andrew Murray does say that some faith is required to pray in the first place, but that we cannot move beyond being 'ye of little faith' without time in prayer.