We often see prayer as a transaction with God. We make a request of Him and hope for an answer. We talk with God and wait for his reply. We give money and hope for a financial windfall. We exercise faith and believe for a breakthrough. We ask humbly for forgiveness and anticipate mercy. We request bread and look for it on the table. This is prayer’s privilege, possible due to the goodness of God. But God is interested in more than a transactional relationship with us. He wants a transformational arrangement. He is willing to give us daily bread, but such grace should move us to share bread with others. He doesn’t coach us to pray, give me my daily bread, but rather, give us. He assumes that we will pray – not from the end, but from the middle. That we will pray, not for ourselves alone, but with others in mind.
He, the giving God, wants to make of us, a giving people. He is willing to forgive us, but such shocking grace should so change us that we are then willing to forgive others. We want a single-dimensional legal transaction in which he commutes our sentence. He is not so much interested in having us “on the end” of grace, as he is in having us “in the middle” of grace. Forgiveness is to flow, not only to us, but through us.
We have developed a recipient mentality. God is the one to whom we go to receive – grace and blessings, forgiveness and mercy, direction and breakthrough, healing and deliverance, money for the rent and a pay raise for the future. With calculating faith, we reason that if we approach Him believing, with pure hearts and clean hands, on the basis of Scripture, then He will hear us and answer our prayer.
We make prayer about us. We make the priesthood of believers a personal and private thing. We have split ourselves off from others and sought private blessings. There is a time for using the privilege of personal petition. But, as with most things, God’s ways are not our ways. Like the disciples, tired and worn out, he will often meet our needs not with us on the end of our own blessing, but in the middle of someone else’s. Famished and weary, the disciples asked him to “send away” the hungry crowds (Mark 6:36). They wanted him alone to themselves. Instead, he took a young lad’s lunch, and had them break and bless the meager meal, and divide it to thousands. When the disciple’s stressful experience in the middle was over, there were twelve baskets full of fish and bread. Often, God’s way of filling up our basket, is to put us in the middle of someone else’s hunger.
We have fractured the theology of prayer. Focusing almost exclusively on the right of personal petition, while ignoring the responsibility of intercession (prayer for others) has left us with a narrow and less than holistic view of prayer, one that makes prayer about us. We have made Christianity transactional, when God intended for it to be transformational. He gives us bread, so that we become ourselves the givers of bread to others. He forgives us, as we act in forgiving ways, changed by the forgiveness of our own sins. He extends mercy, to make us merciful. He loves, but with the intention of making us loving agents of his own agape.
Transformation is His goal. Making us agents of His kingdom, from the strategic middle, is His objective.
This blog is an excerpt from a re-release of a popular title, Intercession: The Uncomfortable, Strategic Middle.
P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.