We were on vacation in the South. Daniel calls it God’s Country. Now were back in South-ie, the land of blackened snow heaps with yellow stripes, cars covered in salt, and elusive parking spots.
A few months ago when we found parking in front of the condo, we taught Violet to say, “Is this a great country or what?!” Now she’s prone to pronounce greatness wherever we find a spot. Motion sickness informs her fondness for a parked and exited car.
She’s not so fond of me praying for parking (or direction when I’m lost). “No, Mummy. No. Say ‘cat,’” she yells from her strapped down position in the back seat. “Cat” is the story of her day, retold as accompanied by Briscoe the Cat. In the midst of her tummy churning, she takes comfort from the familiar structure of the narrative.
Perhaps I’m helped by the familiar structure of prayer rather than any real work the prayer itself exerts on the situation.
“Why would God care about something so trivial as your parking spot?” scoffs a friend one day as we glare down a behemoth taking up two spaces. “He saved your sorry a__,” I shoot back, timely zinger negated by the cuss word. Minister’s wives aren’t supposed to swear, but we’re in Southie after all.
“So you think God does a miracle, intervenes supernaturally, shifts other cars around, just so you can walk a shorter distance to your door?” demands another minister friend.
“It worked that one time,” insists his colleague. “I was late to church. I prayed. I parked right in front of the glass doors. With that kind of bottom line, who wouldn’t try it every time?”
The theological question words like this: Either God is unchanging (“immutable”), so parking prayers will not shift his position on where your car will spend the night. Or God answers prayer, so parking petitions will avail much.
The problem with this polar approach is that Scripture supports both truths. God doesn’t change his mind like a human (Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29; Jas 1:17), but he does command us to pray (2 Chr 7:14; Matt 6:5–9; Jas 4:2).
God is dependable, but he is also active. His infinite nature and his will do not change, but he is nevertheless dynamic. Anthropomorphisms concerning God’s “repentance,” continuing revelation of God’s eternal plan, and changes in human perspective may explain some of our tangled understanding.
The Matthew 6 passage clears things up a little. Prayer to God does not involve discovering a formula because God already knows what I need before I ask. Instead even petitionary prayer is cooperative. Prayer works, as it were, because it works on me. As I partner with God, I learn to trust his will. And perhaps he allows my faith to be the means by which he brings about his will.
But does cooperation explain the search for perfect parking? Perhaps. All good parking spots come down from the Father of lights (Jas 1:17), and I am to count it all joy when I fall into bad parking spots (Jas 1:2–4). Whether I am humbled by the gift or humbled by the trial, it is a great country.
Yup. You should pray for parking because God wants you to talk to him. Perhaps next time, you’ll pray for something less trivial, like a sick (not just a motion-sick) child (Mark 9:14–29). Perhaps next time, you’ll be somewhere stationary, where you can listen to God, instead of talking. But car prayer’s a good start.
Which is good news for me because in God’s Country, we spent at least an hour in the car every day, sometimes more. If the child napped as we drove, I tried to listen. One night, however, I counted only 4 minutes of scattered chatting to God while I waited for access to my toothbrush. Since we returned, most of my prayer has taken place in the wee sma’s when I couldn’t get back to sleep. Today, during a rowdy non-nap, I requested patience and respect for Violet, but a few hours later I shouted. Perhaps prayer hasn’t worked (on me). Yet.
How’s it working on you? Do you pray for parking?