Have you ever met a Buddhist member of a Baptist church? Yeah, neither have I. But as evangelicals, we have a way of morphing ourselves into functional Buddhists for a few minutes every Sunday morning. It only happens when the leader of a bible study asks the question “Does anyone have a prayer request?” Admittedly, it’s probably an overstatement to call us functional Buddhists but hear me out…
Buddhism teaches that the fundamental problem of the universe is suffering, with meditation as the antidote. On the other end of the spectrum, Christianity teaches that the fundamental problem of the universe is mankind’s rebellious sin against God, salvation in Christ being the only answer. Buddhism doesn’t even have a category for sin or evil, it simply doesn’t exist in their vernacular.
If an unchurched person were to sit in a bible study group during the obligatory prayer request time, they would almost certainly come away with the impression that suffering is the most pressing issue on our hearts. After all, nearly every prayer request is related to someone’s sick family member or friend, a lost job, or a broken relationship.
Before I proceed, let me make it clear that I understand how important it is that God’s people pray for the sick and hurting among us. I’m writing this blog post from a children’s hospital waiting to talk to my son’s oncologist. Our family has lived off the prayers of God’s people and it’s through that experience that I’ve become a staunch believer in praying for the sick. My concern is not in what I hear during prayer request time; it’s what I don’t hear that concerns me.
A Memorable Moment
The most memorable prayer request in my seven years as a bible study leader came on an average Sunday morning. I began our small group time with the same question “Any prayer requests?” A young lady raised her hand. Through tear-filled eyes, she proceeded to open up about her struggle with alcoholism. She specifically asked that we seek God on her behalf to sustain her soul with strength to resist the temptation to drink. You could’ve heard a pin drop in that room.
That single humble prayer request from an honest struggling believer is what spurred me to start a men’s group at my house. That young lady had highlighted an issue in my own soul that had gone previously unnoticed and I felt a burden to see myself and the other men in our group humble themselves just like that girl and seek God’s power to change our hearts.
The problem with the prayer requests and prayer lives of many Christians is that we ask God to change our circumstances without asking him to change our hearts. The apostle Paul prayed specifically three times that God would remove his main source of suffering which he referred to as a “thorn in his flesh”. God responded by telling Paul that the thorn he was enduring was purposed by the Father to cause him to cling tighter to His all sufficient grace. God wasn’t interested in changing Paul’s circumstances, rather He was seeking to continuously transform Paul’s heart.
When it comes to prayer, we seem to have no problem asking God to give us our daily bread when we lack it. But for some reason, we struggle to ask God to lead us not into temptation and to deliver us from evil. Instead, we just ask that He lead us not into cancer and deliver our friends from sickness. If sin against God is the biggest problem in the universe, then certainly our prayer requests and prayer lives should reflect that reality.