There is nothing that says summer to me more than a day at the ballpark. I love everything about it! Sitting in the hot sun, sipping on a cold beer, having three hours to chat and relax and spend time with a friend — And of course, the actual baseball game. My summer is not complete without a few trips to cheer on the Canadians at the Nat, or a trip down to Seattle to see the Blue Jays play the Mariners at Safeco.

This summer, beyond getting really excited about the Blue Jays’ playoff chances, God has been teaching me a lot about prayer. Baseball and spirituality are not unrelated, one need only look to the classic 1994 movie Angels in the Outfield to see this. Lately I’ve come to realize that understanding prayer is a bit like understanding baseball, and going deeper in my conversation with God is a bit like spending a day at the ballpark.

Baseball is a team game, but what it boils down to is a pitcher standing on the mound, staring down a batter, winding up and pitching the ball. If we were to stop the game there, it would be incredibly dull. One of the many things that brings excitement to the game of baseball is the split second that the baseball is in the air, and the batter has coiled every muscle in his body, readying himself to swing for the fences. The swing of the bat brings possibility to baseball. In our prayer lives we need to swing the bat… but not just for singles or doubles, we need to swing for the fences!

The Lord’s prayer, probably the most prayed prayer of all time, does just this, but we tend to overlook its radical nature. The first petition we pray is “Your kingdom come, Your will be done Earth as it is in heaven.” This prayer is HUGE. It is all encompassing. When we are praying these fourteen words, we are praying for an end to all war, suffering, and sickness, and for Christ to come again and establish his kingdom here making all things new, and for Him to receive all the glory he deserves as every knee bows, and every tongue confesses “He is Lord!”

To take this back to a baseball analogy, this is not standing in the batter’s box, hoping that the pitcher will intentionally walk you, this is going all in swinging as hard as we can, hoping to hit the ball out of the park! If the prayer that Jesus taught us includes such a boldness in petition, shouldn’t we model our own prayer life the same way?

Sometimes God is going to show up with those highlight reel moments, other times we are going to be left asking questions. But the fact that our good Father welcomes us, as we are with our raw and honest emotions, into a relationship with Him through prayer is the best thing we could hope for.

Sometimes I think the prayers we pray are too small. We tend to pray, “Lord, do this thing, heal this person, help the Jays win the World Series this year… if it be your will.” With that one phrase we qualify and hedge our prayers. If the Jays win the World Series — “Great! God answered my prayer!” If they don’t — “That’s fine, I’m disappointed, but it clearly wasn’t in God’s will.” For me at least, this steals the power from my prayer life. It’s like a batter holding out his bat across home plate, hoping that a pitch will hit it.

The Bible says that our prayers are powerful and effective (James 5:16), and in fact we are called to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), for all types of things (Ephesians 6:10). The Bible also says that our God is able to do far more than we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). With all that in mind, this should not stunt our prayers, allowing us to be content with praying for small things and trusting God to take those small requests and do big things with them. This should actually motivate us to pray as big and bold as we possibly can, because God is able to more than we could request or even fathom!

By no means do I want to suggest that everything we ask for in prayer will happen (including the Blue Jays winning the World Series), and happen bigger and better than we can imagine. We still have to face the reality that God is in control, and is going to do things His way and on His timeline. So how do we deal with stepping up to the plate in prayer, and swinging for the fences, and only hitting a single, or even striking out?

Again, It comes back to the question of God’s will. I am not suggesting that we qualify our prayers with “if it be your will” just to cover our bases. When we petition our Father in heaven for something, and we don’t get exactly what we wanted, I think it is actually good to be disappointed. It’s how we relate to God, and what we do in this disappointment that matters. Our Father created everything, including us and our emotions. He knows how we feel. There is no point in being dishonest with Him in our disappointment, or anger, or sadness, or confusion. Instead, we should press into God, and allow him to speak to us where we are.

In these times of raw emotion and disappointment, God is still at work. Sometimes it is only in looking back that we can see the thread of God’s faithfulness in our lives. There are many ways to win a baseball game. It could be a stunning extra innings walk off grand slam, or it could be a hard fought defensive battle. Regardless, everything in a baseball game matters. Every pitch. Every player. Even a two-strike foul ball. They all influence the game as a whole. At the end of the game, when one looks back, they can see how a single (that they might have liked to be a double, or a triple, or a home run) actually brought them closer to winning the game. Even being called out is actually required to complete a baseball game.

So when God does things differently than we prayed for, maybe we just need to give it some time and space (and sometimes it take a lot of time and space) then look back and be grateful for the base hits, or even strikeouts that we wished were homers.

Sometimes things happen that are so painful, that I would never dare suggest one should be thankful. Sometimes we are left feeling like our petitions fall on deaf ears. But even there, in the sting of bitter brokenness and utter uncertainty, our God meets us.

In all of this, we need to be careful of holding our petitions above the practice of presence. Our God is not a cosmic vending machine. He is our Father and He is looking out for our best interests as we come before Him in prayer (Luke 11:11-13). Sometimes, though, we get preoccupied with our petitions and our prayers become almost transactional.

When you go to a baseball game, if you sit down and glue your eyes the diamond  expecting to see highlight reel plays for nine innings straight, you are going to be sorely disappointed. So much of the experience of going to the ballpark is the atmosphere. From a three-hour game, you might get five minutes of breathtaking highlights, if you’re lucky. But if you sit back and enjoy the game, the weather, and the food with the people you came with you are sure to have a great time.

Sometimes in our prayers we get so focussed on results and the highlight reel when God shows up in a big way, that we miss out on the pleasure of God’s presence. God is our Father, and He wants to spend time with us. When we approach Him in prayer to spend time with Him, we will not be disappointed, regardless of the prayers we pray and the answers we receive. Sometimes God is going to show up with those highlight reel moments, other times we are going to be left asking questions. But the fact that our good Father welcomes us, as we are with our raw and honest emotions, into a relationship with Him through prayer is the best thing we could hope for, especially our prayers aren’t answered the way we would like.

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