When the pro-tennis player Arthur Ashe got HIV-Aids from a blood transfusion during heart bypass surgery, a reporter, knowing Mr. Ashe was a Christian, asked him if he was going to pray for his healing. Arthur Ashe's response shocked the reporter, just as it will many of us when we read it, "God's will alone matters, not my personal wants and needs. When I played tennis, I never prayed for victory in a match. I will not pray to be cured."
How many of us would say that?
I know when my own mother was dying of cancer, I didn't think that way. My family was praying for her healing daily. Do I think it's wrong to pray for the healing of someone? No, certainly not. But what it ultimately comes down to is: Am I willing to pray for God's will to be done no matter what the outcome? That can be hard - particularly in regards to our families. One of the hardest things for me to do was to give God my children. But why is this? He loves them far more than I do; after all, He did not even spare His own son because He loved my kids. His is a sacrificial love. Mine tends to lean more towards the selfish kind. This selfishness can also show itself in my prayers, which tend to be very me-centric, even when I'm praying for my family.
Dru and Asher Collie were by American standards a success. Dru ran a chain of coffee shops and Asher had her own photography business. Both did this while raising their kids. While considering adopting a child from Africa, Asher was looking up videos on YouTube of African children and came across one that showed the devastating impact of jiggers on children there. Jiggers are small sand fleas that enter bare feet, burrow under the skin, and infect the feet. This can lead to infections, paralysis, and even amputation. Asher admitted, "At first I tried to close off my heart and prayed that someone else would do something about this." But the more she tried to escape, the more God placed a burden on her heart for those children. She began to research the problem and realized that the solution was a simple one: closed toe shoes. If the children wore them, their feet would be protected. This led she and her husband to start Sole Hope. They not only provide shoes, but help with education, job training for the parents, and medical relief. They left their successful businesses because they believed that actions based on love and hope can change a nation and that such actions can ultimately lead others to Christ.
Once more, we see someone who sees a need and, ultimately, surrenders to God and says, "Yes, I'll do it."
In a recent poll, Americans were asked, "What do you pray for?"
82% said they pray for family and friends
74% said they pray for themselves
38% said they prayed for people who suffered a natural disaster
35% said they prayed for prosperity
13% prayed for their favorite sports teams
12% prayed for their government leaders
5% admitted that they prayed for the failure of others
48% said that they prayed every day
First, I found it telling that more people prayed for sports teams than our government, which we are called to pray for. I often think Christians spend too much time complaining about their elected officials and not enough time praying for them.
Nearly half, said they prayed every day. Even nonbelievers pray. Doctors and scientists are continually coming out with studies on the benefits of praying. But is longevity a good enough reason to pray? Many in our culture would answer a resounding, "YES!" Yet even among Christians, how many of them are praying as Christ taught us to pray? How many of us pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?" How many of our prayers are more focused on "mine" than "thine?" I will openly admit that I am guilty of this. I wonder how much of my prayers are focused on self and do I sound to God like my kids sound to me as they continually revise their Christmas lists and tell them to me?
Anne Lamott wrote that too often our prayers swing between "Help me, help me, help me" and "Thank you, thank you, thank you."
Mother Teresa said, "Prayer is not asking. Prayer is about putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depths of our hearts." She understood that prayer is, "Thy will be done," just as Christ prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. How may of us pray "Thy will be done" and actually mean it? Sometimes I know that when I am praying that outwardly, inwardly I'm still saying, "But Your will is going to match mine, right?" When we pray for knowing God's will in our lives, do we really want to know it? Or do we only want to know it when it matches our hopes and expectations?
So often I think we get in the way of God's will because we are still too focused on ourselves. A. W. Tozer wrote, "The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little forward progress is because they haven't come to the end of themselves. We're still trying to give orders, and interfering with God's work within us." How many of us need to get out of the way, empty ourselves of ourselves, and pray only, "God, I trust you. No matter what the outcome. No matter the path it takes."
Philip Yancey wrote, "I know the Lord is speaking when I stop listening to sounds from the world that feed my sense of pride and ambition." It is about letting go of our agendas. Prayer is not a wish list from a catalog where we have circled everything we want God to give us (a great job, lots of money, a happy, healthy family) and then are disgruntled, angry, and questioning when He doesn't. Faith is not about God serving us, it is about us serving Him.
I think when we reach this point that we let go of our wants and desires and let God be God, we will know His will because He longs to show it to us. Knowing God's will is not an Easter egg hunt. He does not hide it from us. Knowing God's will is not about having a road map, it's about having a relationship. When we pray, we are strengthening that relationship.
How often does God show us His will and we, like the rich young ruler, turn away because we fear what it will cost us?
Are we, like Asher Collie, praying for someone else to do what we are called to do? She realized the truth and surrendered to God. Like Jim Elliot, the missionary who lost his life while trying to evangelize the Huaorani people of Equador,said, "The will of God is always a bigger thing than we bargain for, but we must believe that whatever it involves, it is good, acceptable, and perfect." When we act on God's call, no matter what the outcome, we realize the joy that comes with conforming to the will of God. To know this will, we need an open Bible and an open heart.
To learn more about Sole Hope, go to their website at: