Ever Tried Manipulative Praying?

June 7, 2011

Intense suffering brings a convergence into your life that wants to tear apart your soul. It is fear and faith going toe-to-toe in a loser leaves town match. And you are never really sure who will win.

This kind of internal consternation is the most vulnerable and fertile ground for the Lord to affect you. It is in this sort of trial where He can put something in you that (1) will never leave you, (2) for which you will be eternally grateful, and (3) many reap the benefits for the rest of your life.

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This perspective is why a person will look back on his most painful experience and say, “God was amazingly good to me at that time.” If you have been there, I need not say more. I have just described your pain and your praise.

You see the juxtaposition of this fear/faith, pain/praise tension in John Donne’s Holy Sonnet, Batter My Heart, where he pleaded with the Father to do whatever was necessary to transform him into a new creation.

Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn and make me new.

  • Has God ever battered your heart?
  • Do you want Him to do this for you?

Donne’s sonnet is one of the most radical prayers a person can pray. Notice the progression in his thought. Initially, he asked the Lord to knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend. Upon more reflection, he ratcheted up his desire to be transformed by God when he asked the Lord to break, blow, burn, and make new.

  • How desperate are you to experience the Lord, to be transformed by Him?
  • How desirous do you think the Lord is to try you, so He can remove the things that hinder you from experiencing Him?
  • Do you want your heart to be battered by God, so you experience transformation into something that is radically different from who you are?

When Life Kills Your Dream

Les Miserables is one of our favorite Broadway shows. One of the characters in this play is Fantine, a lady who lived a most miserable life that ended too soon. Her song in the play is, I Dreamed a Dream. Here is a stanza.

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living,
So different now from what it seemed.
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

For many of us, life kills our dreams. After we marry, we launch our covenantal boats toward a glistening horizon. Though we realize the potentiality of dark skies, we dismiss the notion because we had rather not think about it or we believe we’re different.

Even when we see the dark clouds forming in our lives, we do not perceive them for what they are, or we do not understand how the Lord may be about to teach us richer meanings of biblical faith.

I saw the dark clouds taking shape in our marriage but never realized the extent to which the winds were going to blow or how they would wreak havoc. I was in my second year of college, working on a Bible degree when God blindsided me while doing good.

I cannot adequately explain to you the depth of the pain. Upon arriving home on April 8, 1988, I realized my family was gone. Within fifteen hours I lost ten pounds. It was the longest and most torturous night of my life. I was in the throes of unmitigated fear, desperation, and physical suffering.

My desire for a family fully collided with the Lord’s desire to reveal Himself to me in a way that necessitated death. It was my death He had in mind. I was confused and depressed about the story He was writing.

During my time in Job, I read, meditated, prayed, and cried through his struggle. I will never forget the day when I arrived at chapter twenty-three and read these words:

But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind. Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him. – Job 23:13-15

My world stopped spinning long enough for me to hang on to every syllable out of Job’s mouth. I was stunned when Job affirmed what I already perceived about God–He was changeless, and what He desires, He does. My thoughts went wild.

Let’s Fake God Out

As I meditated on these terrible truths, my mind prematurely jumped to the end of the story–the happily ever after part. I learned how the Lord released Job from the crucible of suffering and how He blessed him with twice as much as he had before (Job 42:10).

Then I thought, “Maybe He will release me too.” Though I knew the book of Job was not a prescription for how suffering happens, I desperately wanted his ending to be mine too.

This desire for a happy ending brought immediate hope because it offered a way out of the pain. All I needed to do was inform the Lord what needed to happen next.

It was time to update God. I needed to make Him aware of what I had learned and how I had changed. His mission to mature me was complete. My thinking was, “Maybe He does not know I have learned all these lessons. I must inform Him how he can remove the hounds from hell that were harassing me (2 Corinthians 12:7).”

I was okay with His unchangeableness and the fact that I could not budge Him. He just needed to know His desire to change me had worked. “Lord, I am okay down here; everything is cool.” Once He gets the update, He will pour out a better blessing, in a different way.

There was a slight problem with my update. I knew in my heart that I was trying to manipulate God. The combination of desperation and hurt motivated me to prod God along, hoping He would expedite His plans for me.

Game playing with the Lord will not work because He sees in the dark places of our hearts and He always gives us exactly what we need even if we do not want it. It did not matter if I agreed with Him, He was going to finish His desires for my life (Philippians 1:6).

My Father knew best, and no amount of manipulative praying was going to sway Him. The real issue for me was whether I would trust Him enough to cooperate with the necessary surgery on my soul, regardless of how long it would take (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Call to Action

  1. Are you struggling now? Are you in a relationship trial? Are you trying to ignore what God is telling you? Are you tempted to “manipulate” God and others, as though that were possible?
  2. Suffering is impossibly hard, but do you see it as God’s mercy to you? What are you learning about your Lord as you walk through this trial with Him?
  3. How can we serve you during this season in your life?

This blog was originally posted at RickThomas.net

2 thoughts on “Ever Tried Manipulative Praying?

  1. Thank you, brother! How good and gracious (and patient) our God is as He works to conform us to the image of Christ, stripping away our hope in the idols of our hearts and using godly sorrow to bring us to repent of those self-exalting hidden desires of the heart.

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