Frivolous, Serious and Just in Case Prayers

Mike & Daphne Renton

I have just been praying what many would consider a Frivolous Prayer. 

In front of me, below the PC screen, is a Post-It note on which is written “DID YOU PRAY BEFORE STARTING THIS ?” I wrote this a long time ago because I believe in Frivolous Prayer. 

My current Frivolous Prayer is that God will help me to explain In a way that will be helpful to others, Why I believe in Frivolous Prayer. You can be the judge on whether God answered this particular Frivolous Prayer. 

Let’s start by explaining what kind of prayer I see as Frivolous.  The dictionary says that this word means “Lacking in serious purpose, pleasure loving”.  Any prayer that is aimed at asking God to make life a little easier for us, to help us cope with life’s minor setbacks, I see as Frivolous. Typical examples are trivia like asking for a convenient parking place or a trolley on which to load a microwave oven being carried in for repair. Other examples are asking for help in finding your way when you have taken a wrong turning or when you can’t find someone you need to see in the fellowship.

Prayers that ask God for life changing experiences or opportunities or asking God to ease trouble, pain or sorrow, can never be seen as Frivolous. These are the prayers that everyone sees as Serious and what we think God expects us to pray for. Typical examples are asking that God will help us to find work or to grow spiritually or to meet an open couple or a soul mate. Even more Serious would be prayers prayed for other people. Obvious examples are asking God to protect our loved ones, to comfort sick and grieving families or to mend unhappy marriages.

Many people see Serious Prayers as the only kind of prayer that is ‘justified’. Anything else is disrespectful. They think that we should never bother God with issues that the Creator of the Universe could hardly be expected to pay attention to; to spend any of his precious time on. They see Serious Prayer as humble and they see Frivolous Prayer as self-centred and prideful; and therefore to be avoided. 

Many passages in the Bible suggest that God is not selective in the prayers he is ready to listen to. For example: ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ [Philippians 4: 6] 

Contrary to the common view, I believe that deciding not to bother God with our Frivolous Prayers is being more prideful than being humble ! In effect, we are saying that we should be able to cope with life’s little setbacks without God’s help, for heavens sake ! 

On the other hand, when we pray Frivolous Prayers we are acknowledging that we need God in our lives constantly. We need his help in everything we think and do. 

But there’s more to it than that. Praying Frivolous Prayers helps to build our faith. That’s because God so often answers our Frivolous Prayers. For example, he recently responded to my anguished prayer by bringing my totally dead cell phone suddenly and inexplicably back to life again. 

In this way, he shows us he is listening and wants us to see that “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” [Matthew 21: 22] ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’  [Romans 8: 28]

Yes, that’s all very well but God doesn’t always answer our prayers, even Frivolous Prayers. Why doesn’t he ?

Think about it. If God granted all our requests, would God be controlling us … or would we be controlling God ?

So if God is in control and has already decided whether or not he will answer our prayers, what’s the Point of praying any Prayer, Frivolous or Serious ?

Philip Yancey answers this key question very well in Chapter 6 of his book ‘Prayer: Does it make any difference ?’ 

First and foremost, prayer helps us to strengthen our relationship with God. Interaction is the essence of any sound relationship and spending regular time in prayer with God is the best way to do this. ‘Be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.’  [1 Thessalonians 5: 16]

Secondly, Jesus showed us the way. He must have thought it made a difference or he wouldn’t have spent so much time throughout his ministry in prayer. Jesus clung to prayer as a lifeline and continually flooded his Father with his prayer requests. He told his disciples: “Ask and it will be given to you … for everyone who asks, receives” [Luke 11: 9 and 10] 

At the end, he even prayed three times in Gethsemane that his Father would change his plan and “take this cup from me”. He knew full well that he had come to earth for just this outcome and had been predicting it for many months.  Despite this, he prayed “if it is possible” but added, “yet not as I will, but as you will.”  [Matthew 26: 39 – 44] 

Jesus gave us the perfect example of praying for a change in outcome that may be inevitable and yet asking God to change it anyway. It was a ‘Just in Case …’ kind of prayer. David prayed a similar, heartfelt prayer when his first child with Bathsheba became terminally ill, as had been prophesied by Nathan. But when God did not respond and his son died, he accepted God’s will without question and moved on. [2 Samuel 12: 15 -23] 

Putting Just in Case prayers before our Heavenly Father, who has shown us he is listening, can be very comforting, even uplifting, when we are seriously stressed or in deep trouble.

At some time, we all come to wonder ‘Why God allows Bad Things to happen to Good People’. We ask   why some of us enjoy (relatively) charmed lives while others inexplicably live miserable lives, suffering unfairly for no fault of their own. Even Jesus allowed Mary and Martha to suffer alone through the death of their brother, Lazarus.  Later Jesus explained that this was for the glory of God; so that many people would put their faith in him. [John 11]

It’s easy for us to understand and accept this. God has a purpose for allowing some suffering and that the good outcome will be revealed in time. However, it is not so easy to understand and accept the situation when something like this happens to someone close to us and we can’t see any good coming from their suffering.

We are unlikely, this side of heaven, to fully understand God’s thinking. But the Bible says that God does not only love us but also that he is just. [2 Thessalonians 1: 6] If we believe this, then the fact that the world we live in is full of hatred and injustice is another reason to believe that heaven is real and ready to redress all the wrongs we experience in this life.

Lastly, all prayer is good for us. It may not change the future in the way we want but it enriches our lives (and those who know they are being prayed for). It helps us to acknowledge that we are not in control of our future and to humbly ask for the help of the one who is. 

This may be difficult for us prideful souls but the more we practise, the easier it becomes. And when God answers our prayers (even Frivolous Prayers), this demonstration of his love and concern for us can make constant prayer much easier.  

To finish the first scripture I quoted above: ‘And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ [Philippians 4: 7]

For me, that is the Point and Power of All Prayer.   

Mike Renton 

For ICOC HotNews

(Mike & Daphne Renton serve as Deacons in the Cape Town Church of Christ)