God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of his own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players, to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a dealer who won't tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time. ~ From Good Omens by Terry Pratchett
I've been thinking about prayer a lot recently. A small group I am in was reflecting on the story of the Persistent Widow. A Widow requires justice about a matter with a third party, but the judge in the case appears reluctant to respond to her. Eventually she wears the judge down with her continual pestering and so he grants her request. Jesus tells the parable so that the disciples would learn to always pray and not give up. (verse 1).
I can remember in my early twenties being drawn to this parable. I was praying for something to happen and my prayer times turned into me pestering and bullying God at nearly every opportunity. I remember the praying, but I cannot remember what it was I was praying for. All I have as a reminder is a curious hand scrawled note at the bottom of the page that says 'What she wanted was right in the eyes of God/the Judge.'
Prayer is complicated. At times I beg, plead and cajole. I sound more like a petulant child than a faithful follower, and sometimes it feels like I am rolling dice.
Imagine that for God to answer a prayer you have to roll pips totaling 11 with a handful of dice.
With a single traditional 6 sided die it is of course impossible.
That's what prayer felt like some of the time to me. I'm throwing the die but the heavens were silent. Consequently I started studying writings on prayer, and learning new techniques. Suddenly it felt like I had added another die into my throws.
With two 6 sided dice, the probability of rolling an 11 is 5.56%
It happens often enough to keep me rolling, but rarely enough that it isn't a foregone conclusion. So I upped my game even more. I can remember attending Concerts of Prayer and All Night Prayer Vigils. Another die added.
With three 6 sided dice, the probability of rolling an 11 is 12.5%
Pray longer. Pray harder. Pray in the Spirit. Pray in Tongues. Pray with Liturgy. Pray with meditation. Pray in groans that words cannot express (I once heard of a church offering a workshop on how to 'Groan in the Spirit'!!!)
You would think that as you add more dice the odds get better and better, but that is not the case.
With four 6 sided dice, the probability of rolling an 11 is 8.02%
With five 6 sided dice, the probability of rolling an 11 is 2.64%
With six 6 sided dice, the probability of rolling an 11 is 0.54%
No matter how much time I spent in Prayer and Worship, in Missions and Service. I could not influence prayer in my favor. Long nights of prayer over tear stained pillows couldn't produce results. It made me very fatalistic. God has determined what God will do, and praying won't change it.
Then I read bible passages like Genesis 18:20-32 where Abraham bargains with God over whether Sodom should be destroyed or Exodus 32: 7-14 where Moses persuades God not to destroy the Israelites over the Golden Calf incident.These passages make me hopeful, and frustrated. I can't comprehend being in a conversation with God let alone having the temerity to argue...and win.
(We could of course get into a lengthy discussion here on Free Will and Calvinism etc...but let's not)
The word 'Prayer' comes from the Latin word 'Precari' which means to beg. The Hebrew word l'hitpallel which we translate as prayer has quite a different meaning however. The word pallel means to judge, clarify, differentiate or decide. The word is in the Reflexive Tense which means the subject acts upon his/herself.
Prayer in this mindset is a reflective mindset. It opens me up to examine my attitudes and assumptions. To reflect on the prayers I offer to God and to seek out what is behind them. Why am I praying for the outcomes that I am? To hold the answers that I expect to see from God loosely.
To not be so caught up in wanting to roll an 11 that I fail to see that a roll of 7 is better for me....
...or better yet, to put away the dice completely and enjoy God's presence without the need to play games.