Don’t fall out of the box – more on problems in prayer

Further to all these difficult situations I’m praying for where ‘nothing’ seems to be happening: yesterday I read this verse:

14 Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 

1 John 5:14 (NKJV)

Now this promise is good because a) it promises me that that God will hear me but it is also b) tricky because it contains an ‘if’ clause.

IF I ask ‘anything according to his will‘ .

My problem is ‘how do I know what God’s will is in my friends’ situations?

I only know that I want them to ‘get better/move house/make the right decision/find a job’ (delete as appropriate) but how do I know if that is what God wants for them?

The Bible tells us that when we don’t know what to pray we have to rely on the Holy Spirit, here is what Paul wrote to the Romans (I’m quoting the Amplified Version Classic Edition because it brings out all the shades of meaning behind the original Greek words and is hugely helpful):

So too the [Holy] Spirit comes to our aid and bears us up in our weakness; for we do not know what prayer to offer nor how to offer it worthily as we ought, but the Spirit Himself goes to meet our supplication and pleads in our behalf with unspeakable yearnings and groanings too deep for utterance.

27 And He Who searches the hearts of men knows what is in the mind of the [Holy] Spirit [what His intent is], because the Spirit intercedes and pleads [before God] in behalf of the saints according to and in harmony with God’s will.

Romans 8:26, 27

I love the idea of ‘unspeakable yearnings and groanings’. I suppose some might interpret that as the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues and I’m not saying they would be wrong in that interpretation but I love the idea that groans and sighs are also prayers.

However it is another prayer of Paul in Ephesians 3 that has helped me most with the this dilemma of how to pray when you don’t know what to pray for. In Ephesians 3 Paul prays for believers that they might comprehend something incomprehensible: the height, depth, width and measure of the love of God.

Now if something is by definition incomprehensible… how can we be expected to comprehend it?? Park that thought for a moment and bear with me.

I’ll resort to diagrams. Here is the love of God:

box 1

I know it’s a cube!

But it has height and depth and breath so let’s imagine that the love of God is a box. The trouble is that in this image above you have nothing to give you a sense of scale. There is nothing that will tell you the size of the box.

And mostly when we think of things we are able to measure (ie able to comprehend) then that means that we are bigger than the box.

box 2

This image is how most people would like to comprehend God – measurable, definable, limited, understandable, comprehensible. But God is NONE of those things!  Therefore we are not bigger than the box – the box is bigger than us. And this is good news, I do not want a small god!

So if the box of God’s love is bigger, much, much bigger, than us. We end up with an image much closer to this:

box 3

The little person inside this box gives you a sense of scale but in fact the box is still far too small. Think of something much more like a penny on the centre spot of Wembley stadium and you are getting a little bit closer to some sense of the magnitude of God comparative to me (or you).

Some people do see themselves as being inside God’s love but their dimensions for the box still leaving them feeling very cramped and fearful that they might fall out.  Romans 8 makes it clear that you cannot fall out of this box. And the whole of Ephesians makes it clear that the dimension of God are … huge! Beyond comprehension in fact.

You cannot grasp how wide, deep, high and long is the love of Christ – and the reason for this being impossible is because if you were to grasp it you would be a person outside of God trying to measure him. You can only begin to comprehend the dimensions of God’s love when you live inside that love. In other words only when you experience it, when you live in God’s love and allow God’s love to live in you, do you discover yourself to be held in a big, spacious and safe place, the dimensions of which you cannot measure but the boundaries of which always keep you safe, regardless of the long list of things that threaten your peace (height, depth, angels, demons, death, life etc)

So how does all this help answer my question?

I can sigh and I can groan for my friends in pain and distress. I can stay with them and ‘watch and pray’ (see previous post) but best of all I can pray for them that they will not fall out the box. And I can have absolute confidence that this prayer is a prayer that is in line with God’s will for them and that he hears me and that he will answer this prayer because it is the best and only prayer that whatever we go through we may know we are not alone, not abandoned and not outside the boundaries of God’s love, ever.


One thought on “Don’t fall out of the box – more on problems in prayer

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  1. Really liked your illustration as I have often thought how we like to put God in a box. It reminds me of the book title by JB Phillips “Your God is too small”.

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