Be careful what you pray for!

June 21, 2020

Ever hear the expression “be careful what you wish for”?  The inference is that when we wish for something, we might not be completely aware of what is expected of us if the wish comes true.  

When I was a child I wished for a pony just about every day for a year.  If I had actually gotten what I wished for, it would have caused major changes in my life that I wasn’t expecting! First of all, we lived in an apartment. A pony can’t live in an apartment – we would have to move! And even if we moved, who was going to take care of the pony? Who would muck the stalls, clean the tack, feed, water and curry ‘my wish come true?’ I would have to hire someone to do all of that….I only received fifty cents a week in allowance!  I wasn’t ready for my wish to come true – because it came with expectations I could not meet! 

I believe a variation of that expression can be applied to the Christian life. Be careful what you pray for.  

If we truly believe that prayer is more than a pious word linked with ‘thoughts,’ as in ‘ thoughts and prayers,’ more than mental processing, and that the words we pray don’t just dissolve into the ether, but that God is really listening when we pray, then we should be careful! Prayer comes with expectations!

I’m not talking about those prayers some pray so flippantly for parking spaces, winning the lottery, and the like. I’m talking about life changing prayers – world changing prayers – the prayers we pray in conversation with God as we hear God speak into the core of our beings “What do you want Me to do for you?”  

Look through the interactions Jesus has with those He heals, feeds, empowers, forgives, includes, exorcises, etc. Notice not only the miracle that happens – but focus on the whole event – it is basically conversational prayer. “What do you want Me to do for you?” Jesus asks and then performs a miracle – but that’s not the end – Jesus has expectations of the one who . 

  • The blind man prays to Jesus for sight – Jesus obliges. The man’s life of begging is over;  he now will need to get a job and a new community since the Pharisees threw him out of the synagogue. John 9
  • Blind Bartimaeus was so confident in Jesus’ power that he threw down his most precious possession, his cloak, and made his way to the Lord.  Again, the conversational prayer – Jesus’ miracle and the expectation of answered prayer: Bartimaeus would clearly see to follow the One Who heard his cry! Mark 10:46-52
  • The woman caught in adultery was forgiven. The expectation: to sin anymore. No longer was being a prostitute an option, she must reorder her life! John 8:1-11
  • Mary Magdalene was possessed by seven demons.  Jesus exorcised them from her. She became one of the Lord’s closest followers. Luke 8:2

Each answered prayer changed the life of the one who prayed. Each time, there was an expectation that the individuals would participate in what they had asked for: stand up and walk, take up your mat, go and sin no more, follow, etc. And as a bonus, that change would in turn influence those bystanders who had witnessed the power of God to change a life! 

But others who experienced Christ’s answer to their prayers weren’t convinced of the need for change. Let Jesus do His thing, thank you very much, but they didn’t live into the Lord’s expectation. That would be the case of the impaired man at the pool near the Sheep’s Gate John 5

  • In that prayer conversation, Jesus again asked : do you want to be well? Of course, I do! That’s why I’m here!…..
  • But later, Jesus found the healed man in the temple area, not worshipping, just hanging around.  
  • Interestingly,  Jesus then told the man to stop sinning. Why?
    • Could the man have been continuing to beg even though he was healed?  Just a thought, but it makes sense to me! 
    • The man was expected to do something new with his life; yet, instead of living into the change that came of answered prayer he just went back to his previous lifestyle!  

I don’t know about you, but thee are times when I’ve been like that last guy!  I pray for changes to occur but don’t actually expect to be part of what changes!  

I pray for peace all the time. After all, who can possibly watch the news without dropping to her knees and crying out for peace where there is no peace?  Well, that’s great and oh, so noble, but… 

  • in order to have peace, I need to be willing to undergo peace-filled changes in my own soul. 
  • Peace that lasts comes as I lay down my defenses and need to be right and become open to others and seek common ground for the greater good. 
  • Praying for peace means changes in me as well as the rest of the world – am I ready for that change?

I pray for justice,  but justice only comes if I am willing to sacrifice my own sense of security and self-image for the well-being of another.  

  • Am I really willing to get in there and work for justice when I see injustice regardless of what others may think of me?  
  • Am I willing to sacrifice my own perceived power in order to empower others?  
  • Praying for justice brings with it the expectation of active alignment against injustice.  Am I ready for the change – or do I find myself making excuses. 

I pray for reconciliation and forgiveness?  Talk about prayers with expectations!  

  • Praying either for forgiveness or for the strength to forgive brings the expectation of humility to both sides.  
    • Who happily admits to being wrong?  
    • Who wants to give up leverage in holding a wrong over someone else’s head?  
  • Without forgiveness borne of humility, there is no room left to pray for reconciliation! 
  • Reconciliation begins in the willingness to walking the way together again laying all bitterness and guilt aside.  
  • Am I ready? The expectation of humility is HARD………..

Be careful what you pray for! Why? 

Because, prayers for changing life circumstance at every level first begin with changing us. 

It is as change comes within each of us, that God’s change for the world will flow through us!  

Be careful what we pray for!

Perhaps that would be better stated as:  courageously live into expectations of those things which we pray for. 

Now that would be a true miracle that would begin to change things!

And to God be the glory!  AMEN.

Published by Pastor Catharine

Retired ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have a Master's of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (with an emphasis on Spiritual Transformation of Community) from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: