Our Prayer Instincts Are Backwards

Image: RyanJLane / iStock
Image: RyanJLane / iStock
What I learned about our prayers on a shaky flight to New Zealand.

Most of us pray the Lord’s Prayer backwards.

Eleven years ago, my wife and I were on an Air New Zealand flight that felt like it was falling out of the sky. Approaching the Queenstown airport in mid-winter—with mountain ranges on both sides and a huge lake straight ahead—we were caught in a giant wind tunnel. The plane was shuddering and sporadically dropping 50 feet at a time. The cabin filled with shrieking and praying. Many people were crying out to a God in whom they did not believe. Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there certainly aren’t many on buffeted flights.

Thirty minutes later, after having landed safely, the group of strangers waited at baggage claim, looking awkwardly at each other. No doubt, many of them felt silly.

The content of those prayers fascinated me. I suspect it reflects the way many of us intuitively pray. The most common petition I heard was some variant of “deliver us from evil”: “Help!” “Save us!” and “Oh, God, please don’t let me die!” Crises prompt cries for deliverance, with the immediate need for safety drowning out all other concerns. Whenever I listen to baptism testimonies at my church, I am struck by how many people called out to God for the first time in a moment of personal danger.

The other prayer I heard, though more infrequently, was “forgive us our sins” in some form or another: “I’m sorry” and “God, please forgive me.” People want to be at peace with God when they die. So after crying out for rescue, they apologized as they prepared to meet their Maker. (By far the most demanding line of the Lord’s Prayer—“As we forgive those who sin against us”—was not heard over the din.)

After these sorts of petitions, most of us pray, “Please.” This is probably the most frequent type of prayer we utter. “God, please give me this job.” “Fix my marriage.” “Keep my children safe.” “Provide for my family.” Or, more traditionally, “Give us today our daily bread.” Life comes first, then forgiveness, and then physical provision. It’s like a prayer form of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for what humans need to thrive (first physiological needs must be met, then safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization). We attend to our self-preservation, even in prayer.

Click here for more.

SOURCE: Christianity Today
Andrew Wilson