Jesus responded, ‘I assure you that if you have faith and don’t doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree. You will even say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the lake.’ And it will happen. If you have faith, you will receive whatever you pray for.’
Matthew 21:21-22 (CEB)
No wonder there are so many prosperity preachers out there! Reading through Matthew so far I have encountered numerous passages (see 17:20-21) that seem to suggest that with enough faith we can get whatever we want. This obviously proves to be a popular message, so it should not surprise us that many of these “prosperity gospel” churches keep on growing.
In an effort not to be in the prosperity camp nor in its close cousin, the let’s manipulate God camp, I have at times leaned on the, “prayer must not do much camp.” I rationalize it like this: It’s good to pray because it transforms us as we seek to be in relationship to God, intercession is good, the bible tells us to do so, and it helps us become aware of the needs of others and the world, so that we can be moved to do something about them.
In this scheme prayer becomes an empty practice that we do out of duty instead of faith. What’s the middle ground?
The Christian tradition reminds us time and time again of the mystery that is God. We cannot manipulate God (although in the Old Testament God at times changes God’s mind), nor can we in prayer demand for an in-braking of God in the world, no matter how hard we try.
Prayer is about a relationship, about getting to know God more intimately. As we grow in this relationship we are indeed transformed so that our desires, requests, and petitions begin to be centered on the other, and on responses of Love. At times miracles do happen, those remain part of the mystery of God.
I want to claim today my deep conviction that prayer is not magical but is indeed powerful. As we continue to hear about and see the devastation in Japan we must gather and pray. We must pray for those affected, we must pray for emergency responders, we must pray that there will be no more earthquakes. Most of all we must pray as a people who believe that prayer can indeed change things, it can change us, it can transform the world.
As the Lord prayer teaches us, is not about us, our prosperity, our blessing, our healing. In the end is about God’s kingdom calling us again and again to be about it in the world.