I don’t want to discuss a full theology or practice of prayer in this post. I do want to talk about one of the things we should be praying for, namely, that we should be more like Jesus every day.
The scriptures are full of admonitions to be holy, to follow righteousness, and to obey God. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and follow him. The Apostle Paul tells us over and over that the one who has been justified by Christ is a new creation, is in Christ and Christ is in him. Paul makes it clear that we no longer are our own and that we are to put off the “old man” and put on the “new man.” The bottom line: we are to be more like Jesus every moment of the day because our lives are no longer ours but his.
This life of faith and of obedience is variously described as being a follower of Jesus, as being transformed by the renewing of our minds, as living according to the Spirit, as being filled with the Spirit and producing the fruit of the Spirit. This discipleship involves our own decisions – our own will – but is also very much the work of God in us, a work of faith. To lean too heavily on our own will could lead to legalism and living in the flesh. To ignore our own will could lead to spiritual passivity and disobedience. We decide, we choose, we act, but always depending on and being led by the Spirit.
So, what has this to do with being careful in prayer? Well, if being like Jesus is so important, then it must be something we should pray about. That is, we don’t just pray for others and for our own needs (both of which are legitimate), we also pray along the lines of “Lord, work in me today to make me more like Jesus. Develop in me a Christlikeness that will honor you. Lead me to make decisions based on the fruit of the Spirit and which will also grow me in spiritual fruitfulness. Teach me to deny myself. Lead me in the renewing of my mind,” and so on.
A needed prayer and a sincere prayer. Problem is, at least for me, is that too often I want it easy! Oh, I mean it when I pray along those lines, but I tend to overlook passages such as Phil 3:10, where Paul says “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Ouch. Too often I think, “I want to be like Jesus – patient, compassionate, loving, full of grace, full of truth, kind, and gentle,” or “I want to be known for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Then I simply assume (sometimes unconsciously), “Now, I’ll wake up tomorrow morning and be just like that!”
Wrong! Discipleship, the journey to Christlikeness, and the fruit of the Spirit most likely and most often involves difficult people, trying circumstances, temptations, times of fear, uncertainty, and stress. It may require choosing joy and peace and love and grace when none is deserved or humanly possible. In other words, it may require . . . suffering.
So, I hope we all pray for transformation, for the renewing of our minds, the narrow road of following Jesus, of being filled with the Spirit and his fruit. Maybe I shouldn’t say “be careful what you pray for” but “be aware of what you are praying for.” Be aware the answer to that prayer involves process, journey, and time, all of which can be painful and difficult. Ultimately, however, the journey is required, a joy, and well worth it.