“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”
Several years ago at my recovery meeting the topic of discussion turned to prayer. It’s a hot button issue to people who are willing to start a minor skirmish over God and the definition thereof. I had opted to not share but then the meeting chair called on me to speak. Oh no!
Briefly, I tried not to get into specifics by citing only the need for prayer in our programs. However, I made the mistake of saying that I do not make requests for God to fulfill my wants or desires. Immediately, I sensed the intensity of the man sitting next to me, a person I had never seen before. Sure enough, when I had finished, he jumped my frame.
“When I pray, if I want a new car, I ask for it. If I want a girlfriend, I ask for it. If I need money, I ask for it …..blah, blah, blah.”
The man was angry and turning red. Looking around the room I noticed other people smirking and shaking their heads. I then realized again why I don’t discuss at meetings the actual phrasing of prayer, only the need to pray and the confirmation that a Higher Power will indeed respond.
What do you pray for? No, I’m not digging into the privacy of your prayer life. Let me share a story. For years as a teen-aged boy growing up and as a young man caught up in alcoholism, my prayers centered around me. And they always ended with, “Hear my prayers, give me what I ask and I will live a better life for you.” I was trying to bribe God and I always ended, as I was taught, with the words “in Jesus name.”
It was an egocentric trip to the candy store where I expected the proprietor to dispense forgiveness, mercy, and heavenly favors and then put the bill on the tab of a man called Jesus, someone I scarcely remembered from Sunday School, someone whose name I used more often in fits of rage than in worship. But I prayed heartily.
Today we joke about the bowl prayer: “Oh Lord get me through this night and I will never drink again,” as we hang our drunken heads over the toilet bowl. But it was a nightly occurrence years ago. I must remember those nights lest I convince myself that it wasn’t really that bad. Again, my prayer was a communication with God which invoked a promise that I never intended to keep.
Even in early sobriety, my prayers were centered around me and my needs. But, I did learn to start with a gratitude list and then a sincere thank you. Changing habits takes time and work. Changing prayer habits usually takes a kick in the butt by God interceding on my behalf through the words of another brother/sister in brokenness. As my friend was praying aloud with me, he emphasized the words, “….and Thy will be done,” looking directly and intensely into my eyes.
Why was this such a profound revelation to me? And why was the timing right? I haven’t a clue. All my life the words, “thy will be done” were included in my prayers. But, on this particular day I finally understood that we were not talking about my will, but rather God’s will for my life. My petitions would be filtered through God’s will. And that’s how I learned not to pray for specific things, not for specific actions, not for specific favors. Why? Because God knows every one of my needs even before I do. They will be fulfilled, or not, according to the wisdom of a Higher Power.
Today, the reason for my prayer life is to specifically list the things for which I am grateful, list the things which I have done in error, beg for forgiveness, and intercede for other people. And then, “thy will be done.”
But, that’s not the end. There is a price to pay. Self-sacrifice. Theology says God’s grace is free but the book of James 2:20 says, “faith without works is dead.” Those works are the things I must pursue in service to my fellow-man. I am in no way trying to tell anyone how, when or where to pray. I know better than to go down that thorny trail. But, I can testify to the miracles that happened for me when I turned my prayer life from one of “me, me, me” to one which implores, “thy will be done.”
“We had not prayed rightly. We had always said, ‘grant me my wishes,’ instead of ‘Thy will be done.’ The love of God and man we understood not at all. Therefore we remained self-deceived, and so incapable of receiving enough grace to restore us to sanity.” Bill W., AS BILL SEES IT, pg 295