So its Friday night and a few of your friends are coming over for dinner. You shoot them a text a couple hours before you fire up the grill and ask them to bring a bag of chips and salsa. They arrive, right on time, with the chips and salsa in hand — and immediately you begin to wonder, even if just to yourself in silence, whether they brought the chips and salsa because you asked them, or if they would have brought the chips and salsa regardless. Did they bring the sides by happenstance or because I requested it? Are these chips the result of coincidence or cause?
Actually, in reality, you don’t wonder this at all. You know that they brought the chips because you asked them. Okay, so maybe they would have brought the chips without you asking, but you don’t entertain that thought. Why would you? It’d be silly.
So then why do we do that with prayer?
Why, when we ask God to do things and he does them, we so easily slip into the assumption, or at least the temptation, that these things would have happened without him? We don’t do that with our friend’s chips and salsa, why we do that with God?
[I’m going somewhere else with all this, but let me just stop for a minute and say that the way we treat God a lot of times is unfair, and not just unfair, it’s straight up damnable but by his grace. He doesn’t deserve our second-guessing him — and that’s the understatement of the century.]
C.S. Lewis, in his essay, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” explains that God has given us a gift in the reality of causality. Without causality — without X causing Y — the world would be a soup of unrelated events and we’d all be so lost that we wouldn’t know the next step to take.
But causality isn’t just a guide for us to walk through this world, its also meant to draw us closer to God. He doesn’t need our “causes” to do anything, but he has set it up this way. Again, this is completely gratuitous, but he has hardwired the world so that we can bank on certain causes and effects. We can tie events together. We can associate one thing with another. And more than anything, in causality he has given us a framework when it comes to trusting him. Causality is the nuts and bolts of God’s covenantal character. He wants us to know how he acts and why, and we even get to participate in the whole thing. And he does this because he wants to.
But perhaps the reason we’re so obtuse to it all — maybe the reason we don’t naturally connect our asking to God’s doing — is because we think of prayer as only asking for big, concrete deliverables. Sometimes prayer does mean asking God for very concrete things. I recently asked God for a 15-passenger van. I just straight up asked for that, and he gave it to me, literally — someone out of state called me within a week and told me they wanted to buy me a van. I prayed and asked God (and reached out to a friend about an adoption fund in our church planting network, and after a few people spread the word and it made its way to Georgia, a godly couple felt led to buy my family a Ford Transit Passenger). God did that. And for me to think any differently would require my repentance.
The provision of the van was an occasion for hugs, high-fives, and fist pumps. God did that.
But here’s the thing: I also pray every night that God would sustain me — “Now I lay me down to sleep, Lord, I pray, my soul to keep” — and he has.
He has sustained my physical life, and my spiritual life, every single day since I began to pray that. Would he have sustained me without my asking him to? Well, he did for years before I made it a prayer, but why would I even wonder that now? He brought the chips and salsa, man. The real wonder is why every morning when I wake up it’s not all hugs, high-fives, and fist pumps.
Now, just like with our friends, God doesn’t always bring the chips and salsa when we ask, but when he doesn’t, there’s always a good reason why. And it’s never because he doesn’t love us.