There seems to be a prevalence of magical thinking among many Christians today. It probably has always been so. What I mean by magical thinking, is the belief that if a certain ritual or form of words is employed, God will have no choice but to grant us our desires.
This is a fundamentally flawed view of our relationship with God. We do not, can not control Him. We are made in His image, and we are precious to Him, but it is as a loving parent that He provides for our needs, and often even our whims, but He is not obliged to do so. We are the beneficiaries of His grace, His unmerited favour.
Are our requests those which seek not our will, or His? Jesus when pressed by His disciples gave a simple model prayer in which He showed us priority. “Our Father, who is in Heaven, holy (and honoured) is your name.” The prayer begins with praise of God’s greatness. It continues with an intercession for the well-being of the church and in fact for the creation as a whole: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.” Only then, does self petition come into play: “Give us today our daily bread.” Not great wealth; or once and for all gifts, but our basic daily needs. Then more importantly, provide for our spiritual well-being: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” This too requires something of us, it acknowledges an obligation on our part: to forgive. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Lord, please take care of us – a simple plea.
I am not saying God will not give us “abundantly more” than what we ask for, but we shouldn’t be of a mind set to “demand it.” It isn’t the form of the prayer (even the model one), but this again is a heart-felt petition of a child to a father. What is even more interesting to me is that it is that simple. There is no demand on His part for elaborate ritual. Just simple conversation, with a praising, yet contrite heart. It is there that we begin to see the power of prayer.
“Religious” actions are equally a problem. I am not speaking of good deeds, or living a life of righteousness; but of outward forms. In Second Kings 5, Naaman sought healing from God, so went to Elisha the Prophet to obtain it. “9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” 11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. 13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy (NIV).” Naaman wanted to see something spectacular. He wanted ritual, incantations, (or even a chicken swung over his head). He didn’t expect (or want) simplicity, but that is all that God wanted from him. The faith to obey, was all that was required.
Jesus taught a simple prayer, Elisha prescribed a simple cleansing – we need to seek the simplicity of a reliance on a simple faith. This is a faith in which He is in charge, a faith beyond magical thinking.