petitionary prayer and faith

as i have done for the past three years or so, i went to morning prayer today. and i wondered, why should any of the prayers we pray matter? why should god who created the universe care or help me to finish my semester at school or to have more wisdom?

a few years ago, i wrote a paper on petitionary prayer. my thesis was that petitionary prayers play an indispensable role in our sanctification process: as our prayers get answered (or not answered) we learn about the character of god and as we pray we experience god of the universe as our god.

i don’t know how job or st. paul kept up their faith in god. sure when things are going well, you can believe that god is for you. ironically, at those moments you might forget about god because you don’t need god to help you. but when things are going badly and take a turn for the worst, people tend to turn to god and ask god for help. and in such difficult times, god may be more real to you and you may rely on god more for everything because you can’t rely on anything else.

but what happens when a bad thing happens and another bad thing and another bad thing happen to a person? i don’t mean that things that happen have to be viwed as “objectively” morally a bad thing. but when someone feels that gods is not with them, that god is not for them, what happens to one’s faith?

i’ve been told in the past to seek god more in times of trouble: read the scripture, spend time in prayer, and rely on your community of faith. but what happens when those things fall through as well? then i suppose, you still read the scripture, pray to god more even if you are praying that you don’t know what to pray, and tell others to pray for you.

i’m reminded of prosperity gospel – people counting on god to bless them b/c they believe that god is good, and perhaps also b/c they believe their works warrant their blessing. most people would say, no god never promised happiness just that god would be with us through it all, the good, the bad, the happy as well as the sad moments. but what does it take for one to say, god is not for me (as opposed to god being for you, showing you favor). more importantly, when you have been pushed to the edge, to your limits, how can you turn back to god?

god doesn’t test us more than we can bear, right? the bible says so. probably god knows what your limits are. but when you feel that you have been pushed and pushed to the point you can’t bear the pain, suffering, disappointment, despair anymore, what then?

prosperity gospel – does god want you to be happy?

so the tradition i was brought up in, is big on prosperity gospel. god wants to bless us, spiritually and materially. if we keep god’s commandments, pray hard and live in accordance to god’s will, god will show god’s favor upon us. and of course, to complicate matters, the tradition i believe in now is not big on prosperity, at least not in the way most prosperity preachers would like their congregation to believe.

i just read dave sung’s blog where he asks what prosperity gospel folks would do with the passage where apostle paul asks god three times, to take the thorn away from his side and god responds to paul by telling him that god’ grace is sufficient for him (pasted from dave sung’s blog out of laziness on my part):

7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

so how would prosperity (god wants to bless us – physically, materially, spiritually) gospel preachers respond to this passage?

i think the problem with prosperity gospel is that they emphasize material (wealth, health, etc.) blessing at the expense of spiritual blessing. and those who criticize prosperity gospel folks do it at the expense of limiting how god can/does bless us. granted, i know those who are pointing fingers at prosperity gospel preachers are saying they are limiting god and choosing to believe in a god who is like a santa clause – giving toys (or blessing) to those who are good (theough works, not grace). and well, i can’t disagree there! they are picking and choosing to believe in a god that does not fully capture who god is as revealed through the hebrew bible and the new testament.

but the non-prosperity gospel preachers don’t/can’t/couldn’t deny that god could bless us if god chooses to – in all aspects, not only spiritually, but materially, physically, etc. we can’t run with hebrew bible (as well as some NT) passages where god says do X and god will bless you. for instance, if you commit your works to god, or if you ask, if you have faith, etc. then god will “bless” you. now exactly what the blessing is, isn’t that what prosperity gospel preachers are choosing to focus on wealth, health, etc. BUT they shouldn’t leave out spiritual blessing. and those who are non-prosperity preachers shouldn’t just say god blesses us spiritually because god can and does bless us in anyway god chooses to.

i just realized that the distinctions i’m seeing here explain why my parents and i don’t understand each other sometimes! okay, a lot of times. wowsers.