Should I pray for parking spaces?
An internal debate about the nature and character of God.
I had begun to find it oddly disappointing when people got excited about God providing them with a parking space. Recently reading John Piper’s book Brothers We are Not Professionals[i], I felt that he too would share my disappointment. In a chapter encouraging pastors to help their people to understand how God expresses his love, he encourages us to focus not on the gifts that God gives us but on the eternal truths of how God is revealing his own glory by ‘making much of us’. He lists several eternal truths that express ways God blesses his people including creating us, sending us a saviour and adoption into his family. This chapter seemed to back up my own feelings that my prayers and thankfulness should focus on eternal matters and that I (and other people) should be less concerned about praying about everyday life and less enthusiastic about seeing God work in that area, especially if our bigger prayers were seemingly unanswered.
However, a deeper and more thoughtful reading of Piper’s chapter helped me to see that this was not really his point at all. Rather, he is arguing that when God does us good it is for his glory and that got me thinking again about my attitude towards praying for parking spaces!
There are obvious dangers of focussing our prayer lives on our own everyday situations. Namely, that we will become so focussed on ourselves and our own situations and that soon we only have faith for God to work in the small things. We become settled in our relationship with God and satisfied with answers to small prayers. We also risk building our relationship with God on whether or not he gives us these small blessings and losing our faith when things start to go badly for us or when we experience painful times.
However there seems to be at least an equal danger in failing to ask for God’s help with the everyday details of our lives and in only looking for God to act in big ways. Paul tells the Philippians to pray about everything as an alternative to anxiety. If we ignore the things that are causing us to be anxious because we believe that God has better things to deal with, we forfeit his peace and the opportunity for God to share his perspective of the situation with us. As we stop looking for God’s hand working through the small things we quickly stop expecting God to work at all. That’s why it is ok to get excited about parking spaces, perfectly timed supermarket bargains, provision for a new fridge freezer or a broken fence because it builds our faith and helps us to pray with greater faith that our friends will be saved, a family member healed, nations won for the kingdom. We need to have this faith and a growing understanding of who God is and how he works all things together for his glory.
I need come to a fresh understanding of God working in the small details to build a big picture which glorifies him. I need to acknowledge again that God is glorified through his interaction and relationship with his people. I need to learn that it is good when God blesses me and my friends and allow that to lead me to pray for others and to begin to see how the big picture is slowly being woven together. Most of all I need to appreciate that God is the God of both the big and the small, not the God of the either or. Reading Isaiah 40 helps me to do this. Here God holds his children in the palm of his hand, offering them the comfort of a mother whilst also taking them through impossibly demanding and difficult situations. I must not despise the comfort of God but equally I must not seek it more passionately than I seek God’s glory.
[i] John Piper, Brothers We Are Not Professionals, 2013