One day last week I was reading one of the blogs I follow and saw a word cloud based on Romans 12. One particular phrase jumped out at me: “Pray hard.” This is a phrase that I’ve seen and heard quite a bit, especially over the last few years, and it’s always raised questions in my mind. What exactly does it mean to pray hard? Being the deep theologian that I am, it evokes images of a 5 year old in the toy department, his tiny fists clinched, his face red with tense emotion as he implores his father.
”But Daaaaaaaaddddddd!!!!” he says, making each letter a syllable of its own, beginning at the upper edges of his vocal range and sliding down a couple of octaves to the lower edges. “I really, really, really neeeeeeeeed it!!!!!”
Knowing this is probably not what the blogger had in mind, I went to Romans 12. The only mention of prayer is in verse 12. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” It’s a wonderful verse, but it didn’t say “pray hard” to me. So I did what all modern theologians do, I asked my Facebook friends what they thought. As always, I warned them that their comments might end up in a blogpost.
One friend said he thinks Jesus set the standard for praying hard in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night He was betrayed. I read the accounts in Matthew 26 and Mark 14 and wanted to argue that the anguish and sorrow came first, and then He prayed. But in Luke’s account, he says that “being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling on the ground.” This is certainly an example of praying hard, but how many of us, even in our darkest days will ever face that kind of trial? Are we expected to follow this example, or is this a way of showing us how fully human Jesus was as He faced the crucifixion?
Another friend said she thinks “praying hard” means to pray with your whole being, every fiber of yourself intent on what you’re praying about. I agree that focus is important, but I also agree with another friend who said it seems to imply that if we pray hard enough, we’ll get what we want. My brother, who is a real theologian, said that instead of praying harder to try and manipulate God or barter with Him to get what we want, we should try harder to get out of His way. That sounded pretty good to me, but then he said even that can become a gimmick of manipulation if we’re not careful. So what do we do?
There were more friends and more contributions, and I started to see a theme: enter the presence of God and be still, refocus, surrender, focus on His will, don’t give up when you don’t get the answer you expect but give in to His will, believe, He knows our needs, He has already given us what we need, lay it all out on the line warts and all, stand honestly before God, pray continually. It sounded a lot like “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”
The comments died down, and I organized and condensed them into what is hopefully a meaningful post. But what about me? What do I think it means to pray hard? One of the hazards of being a writer is that you sometimes wrestle with these questions in the wee hours. I woke up a couple of hours ago wondering how to wrap this up, and a couple of scriptures came to mind.
Matthew 7:11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Matthew 6:7-8 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
I also thought about a blog Christian wrote recently about my granddaughter Zoe. She had a nosebleed during the night, and in her sleep, she smeared it all over herself. When she woke up around 2:30, she went to her daddy’s bedside, stood with her little bloody face inches from his and sighed. When he opened his eyes, she whispered,
“Daddy, my pajamas are just such a mess.”
When she found herself in a mess, she went quietly to her daddy, believing he would know what she needed, and he did. He cradled her in his arms, stemmed the bleeding, cleaned her up, and put her back to bed with hugs and kisses and assurances of his love.
That’s not so hard, is it?