So brothers and sisters, since God has shown us great mercy, I beg you to offer your lives as a living sacrifice to him. Your offering must be only for God and pleasing to him, which is the spiritual way for you to worship. Do not be shaped by this world; instead be changed within by a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to decide what God wants for you; you will know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect. [Romans 12:1-2 (NCV)]
While in my early thirties, in an attempt to straighten my teeth and correct an overbite, I wore braces for four years—and even had to wear the dreaded head-gear at night! For some reason, as the years dragged on, I seemed to think that everything I didn’t like about myself and my body would be miraculously corrected once the braces were removed. I imagined that, with straight teeth, I could possibly bear some resemblance to Cheryl Tiegs, a super-model of the era. Needless to say, I was disappointed when the braces were finally removed and I still looked just like me—only with nicer teeth. Not that looking like me was so bad, but I certainly wasn’t going to be asked to appear on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue! The fact that I didn’t want to do so made no difference; I just wanted everything I didn’t like about myself to miraculously change. It took some much needed maturing, both spiritually and emotionally, to understand that my discontent had nothing to do with my appearance and that real change doesn’t come from the outside; it comes from within.
Too often prayer expectations are a bit like my unrealistic expectations about the braces. We pray to change the world around us so that we (and those we love) will be happier. We ask God to make the teacher more understanding or the judge more lenient. We ask God to make the stock market improve, the house to sell, the spouse more loving, the job more fulfilling, and the boss to give us a raise. We ask God for prosperity, the healing of our loved one’s disease, successful children and the removal of our pain. We ask God to give us the life we want. Perhaps we’d be less disappointed in His answers if we asked God (with praise and thanksgiving) to make us accept and love the life we already have.
Rather than pray for God to change our little corner of the world to suit our wants, we need to ask God to make internal changes in us so that we can live well in His world and the life He has given us. If we ask God to use us in some way, He surely will. If we ask God to get us through our pain, rather than remove it, He will. If we ask God for peace, forgiveness, courage, wisdom or strength, He will supply it abundantly. If we ask God to guide us or give us a task, He surely will. What He isn’t likely to do is to change the world to fit our hopes and desires…or make us look like super models!
And shall I pray Thee change Thy will, my Father,
Until it be according unto mine?
But, no, Lord, no, that never shall be, rather
I pray Thee blend my human will with Thine. [Amy Carmichael]
Prayer is not a battle, but a response; its power consists in lifting our wills to God, not in trying to bring his will down to us. [Stephen S. Smalley]