Petitionary means asking for stuff.
I’m sure there’s all kinds of ways to ask God for things in prayer but I wanted to talk about two specific, very different kinds of petitionary prayers.
1. Prayers that call us to action, and
2. Prayers that call us to letting go.
Petitionary prayer is often the first way we’re taught to pray as children. “Dear God please let Santa bring me a red rider bb gun for Christmas.” And often our prayers don’t mature much beyond this. Just asking for things- the prosperity gospel. But even if we do feel we’ve moved past this - are we all totally immune from it?
It would seem ridiculous to pray to get an A on a French final and then never even attempt to learn to conjugate verb forms, right? When we pray to ask for something, often, what we’re praying for is actually an invitation for God to join us in our endeavor. Help me get an A on my French final and then studying your butt off. Well, in the same way - when we pray for an end to school shootings or the end of discrimination and violence against black and brown people - if we don’t actually invite God into our own embodied action, we might as well be praying to get an A on the french final and never cracking a book.
When we pray, we are not simply doing due diligence so that we can sit back and separate ourselves; we are jumping into it with our actual bodies to make actual change and asking God to sustain us in that effort. That’s why people hate “thoughts and prayers” because there’s an economy at work.. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
We give up hoarding privilege when we pray.
The second kind of petitionary prayer is much different, it’s a letting go. It’s the prayer of the addict the first time he walks in the room. The prayer of the mother as her child is wheeled into the operating room. It’s the person feeling like they’re never going to find love. The teacher feeling like they’ll never get through to a student. The pastor at the end of her rope. It’s the prayer for all of us when we’ve tried to control and contain and worry ourselves into some kind of behavior or outcome that just never comes. This is incredibly hard to do. Especially in our culture of work hard and succeed. When our way doesn’t work, we have to let go. We pray for our burden to be lifted. This takes the same kind of volitional effort as the call to action, sometimes even more so. It seems counterintuitive - The effort to let go. But when we do, God is there; and in those moments when we pray, “I can’t do it, help me,” we are changed. Burdens are lifted, miracles happen.
Prayer is hard.. It’s not praying for bb guns at Christmas. It takes commitment to step forward and to step back, but in either case the thing that we are petitioning for is for God to change us. To give us a new heart, to give us courage, or hope, or patience.
So right now, take a moment to think of a petitionary pray where you are inviting God to give you the courage and accompany you towards action; or think of something that you can no longer hold. Something that you can’t control, you can’t worry it into working, and you want to let it go.
Dear God - please give us the courage to pray the prayers that change us. Amen