Prayers of Indifference

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Recently I heard someone speak about praying prayers of indifference.

Praying prayers of indifference is where we model the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

In the gospels, on the night he was going to be betrayed, the night before he was going to die for all humanity, the night before he was to offer himself up as the ultimate sacrifice for the sin of the world, Jesus prays. You know, something important like that. And in his prayer, he struggled. He spoke those classic words in the midst of pain and agony: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.” In pain and agony, Jesus was asking to not have God’s wrath placed upon him. He was praying for another way. He was in so much agony over this that he sweated blood.

And then he prays with indifference: “. . .yet not my will, but yours be done.” Amazing. Wonderful. This is pure indifference. Why, though, is it indifferent?

Before I get to that, I kinda want to take you to what prayers of indifference are not.

For many years, I, along with so many other followers of Jesus, have ended our prayers with “Not my will, but yours be done.” And on the outside, it seems like a testament to faith, an act of surrender to God. To be honest, it’s more of a testament to a lack of faith and an act of just giving up on God. It’s an ending to prayer that is not so much like an “amen” but more like Eeyore, the depressed donkey with lowered expectations from Winnie the Pooh whose catch phrase is: “Not that it matters.” It has become a cop out in which we can easily blame God when our prayers aren’t answered (well, they’re answered with a yes, no, or wait…but that’s for a whole ‘nother post).

As followers of Jesus, we confess that God is sovereign—he’s in control of all things. He is in control of time itself. And for those in the Reformed tradition, this is emphasized so much more. We know that in him we can rest in his eternal grace in Jesus Christ and that he works for our good in every situation. We know he’s called us. And he is leading us.

Yet in prayer, we can come with a posture of unexpectation. We are to pray for all that is on our hearts. And we do but we then don’t expect God to act, using “not my will but yours be done” or more so “not that it matters” at the end of our prayers. If things work out, cool. When they don’t we blame God because, well, it was his will not ours. When we don’t want to do something we say, “Well, I guess God didn’t want it to happen” and God gets thrown under the bus. Or if it doesn’t turn out the way we wanted, we get mad and blame God. Again, the bus.

That’s the wrong way to come to God in a posture of prayer.

When we come to God (through Jesus) in prayers of indifference we begin with preparing our hearts and souls for prayer. Are we in a spot where we’re ready to follow God? Are we in a spot and ready to listen, truly actually listen, to God’s response? Have we come in confession of sin? Have we come with a heart ready to serve regardless of what God calls us to do?

And there’s the rub.

We must be ready to serve regardless of what God calls us to do. That is the prayer of indifference. That is what Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. In prayer, we lay all our burdens at the feet of Jesus. And we’re to leave them there. In prayer, we are to come in a posture of complete submission to God. We’re to be ready to be used regardless of our desires. In fact, prayers of indifference make our desires God’s desires.

When we say—truly say—with a posture of listening and service, “not my will but yours be done” we are praying indifferently. We’re not indifferent to God, we’re indifferent to ourselves. We become indifferent to our wants and desires. We become ready to serve regardless of the answer to our prayers—be it yes, no, or wait. We are indifferent to our wants and focused instead with a laser like focus, onto living God’s desires.

Are you in a place where you can pray prayers of indifference? Are you ready to do so?

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Participant

I am working through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and the issue of indifference is at the center of St. Ignatius's statement of Principle and Foundations.  Thanks for making this wonderful-but-difficult concept accessible to Reformed folks. 

Community Builder

Joel... Thanks for the post. Props though for me learning about this go to Rev. Douglas Kampstra who does The Deeper Journey through the CRC. He has some great stuff about this and other ways of prayer and spiritual disciplines. Blessings as you work through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. 

Guide

Yes - sometimes what bugs me about the "if it is your will" disclaimer in prayers is that it seems to be more about despair than alliance with God's will. When we pray for healing and repentance in the church, I don't say "if it's your will" - because I know that's God's revealed will, and his revealed will is what we're supposed to pray for! I think Reformed make this distinction between's God's revealed and secret will (how things in his sovereignty actually play out in the world) - when we pray to God, I'd suggest we are called to pray for his revealed will.

Admin

Hi Josh, 

After reading this post I became acutely aware of how often I say "God, if it is your will..." when praying. I began to question why this is my default after every "request" to God. Do I feel guilty asking God for the desires of my heart? Am I afraid of God answering with a "no"? I'm not always sure. 

Thanks for sharing this! I am trying to pray more boldly, knowing God is powerful and responds to our prayers. 

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