Prayer? Try Rubbing a Lamp

Focus on the Family said in a meme:


I don’t wish.

I pray.

Because God is not a genie.


There was a time when I would have said the same thing with pride and conviction, holding myself up as an example of holy living.  I might have thrown in a few words to show off my humility but I came off as a bit pompous, nonetheless. 

No Matter How Much You Say a thing, It Doesn’t Make It True.

It always seemed to me that, no matter how much they deny it, most people really do speak to their God as a genie. Perhaps they don’t have to rub a lamp, but they have to keep their hearts clean and shiny, and say the correct words before they can get what they want.  Then, if they don’t get what they want, they are doing something wrong. Or some swear that God actually has answered their prayers, even if there is no evidence. 

I always wanted more than the genie experience.  I preached that praying should be a constant communion of spirits.  I tried to practice it, too.  I poured my heart out for hours at a time, hoping for that presence that “walks with me and talks with me, and tells me I am his own.”

However, that image of God turned out to be as unreal as a genie in the lamp. 

Praying Makes Us Helpless

To me, prayer is admission of helplessness. It indicates that I’m all out of ideas and I need someone to work some magic for me. 

Religious folk will acknowledge this helplessness and then insist that it’s a good thing, perhaps referencing sheep as metaphor.  If we are truly good, they say, we’ll recognize that we are always in a state of helplessness. We cultivate this helplessness in order for God to take a greater role in our lives. 

“We must become less that He might become more.” the preacher says with quiet intensity.

In other words, it gives the genie a chance to work. 

I confess that when I’m exhausted, desperate, and out of ideas, I find myself going back to the praying. 

“If you’re there, after all,” I say, “this would be a great time to appear and help out.”

But he doesn’t. And that’s my cue to go rest and regroup.    

I’ve written my own meme to remind me that I live differently now:


I don’t pray.

I think.

And I act.


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