"I prayed about it."
by Dr. Ed Welch
This is code. It means
“I want it,”
“I am going to get it,” and
“I don’t care what you or anyone else says.”
My daughter was three-years-old and enjoying a snowy, wintry day when she discovered that snow was great for both sledding and eating. When my wife saw her eating the snow, she told her that snow was not for eating and that she needed to stop.
That night our daughter added this to her prayer before she went to bed: “And Jesus, is it okay if I eat snow?” Immediately her eyes opened wide, “Mommy, he said YES!”
The human heart is writ large in a three-year-old. And how did she even know that toddlers could receive words from the Lord? We laughed, and still do. But we laughed because eating snow is not that big of a deal, and we could be with her and help her when tempted. At least, she had the concept of praying about everything. We would take one step at a time and reserve a discussion of the darkness of the human heart for later.
Things are not so innocuous in the adult version. “I prayed about it,” adult-style, is invoked when Scripture clearly teaches one thing and the person wants to do another. For example, a Christian woman is (somehow!) granted that coveted spiritual exception to marry an unbeliever. When challenged by her friends, she says: “I prayed about it.” Or another follower of Christ is startled to hear the Spirit say a resounding “YES, you can move in with your girlfriend,” or “YES, you can leave your spouse, because, after all, I want you to be happy.”
What “God” are these people praying to? This perverse, self-deceived foolishness is apparent to everyone except the person involved. How can we respond? We have a few possibilities.
The obvious place to start is to wonder if we are looking in the mirror. Where do I justify my own desires? Yikes, I don’t have to look hard. Lord have mercy on me.
Next, we tell the story. “Does it seem peculiar to you that the Lord would grant you, and you alone, this free pass, when it just so happens that what he is saying sounds very much like your own desires?” Or shorten it to: “In the age of the Spirit, God speaks to us (not just you). Have you received counsel on this? What have others said?”
Next, we bring in other people, with Matthew 18 in mind. Perhaps the Spirit will use the wisdom and gifts of the body of Christ as a way to lead the deceived person into spiritual clarity.
Ugh. I am guessing that if we read books on pastoral care from 250 A.D. we would find pastors describing this same problem. The human heart does not have to invent new strategies to deceive our consciences when the old ones do just fine.
Edward T. Welch (M.Div., Ph.D.) counsels and teaches at CCEF. He is the author of When People Are Big and God is Small.
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