Happenings, News

Steering wheel or spare tyre?

THERE are no atheists in the frontline trench. How true, for when under fire, even the man who had habitually denied the existence of God begins to pray desperately.

It seems almost common to our human nature that personal danger often turns the cynical atheist who thrives in fair-weather into a hysterical theist who shakes the doors of heaven with his supplications.

Whatever it takes to bring us to God in prayer must be good. But surely limiting our prayer only to those times when we feel we need God’s help is not what God expects of us. Many Christians use prayer like an emergency button to be pressed as and when needed. But prayer is not intended to be like that.

Corrie ten Boom put it very well when she asked whether our prayer life is like a steering wheel or a spare tyre. Think about it. The driver has his hands on the steering wheel all the time when driving. Constant attention is paid to it, and it is used all the time. The spare tyre, on the other hand, is largely forgotten until a punctured tyre is discovered. Then it takes centre stage, but only for a while, for when the problem is solved the spare tyre is returned to its invisible and forgotten status. That, however, is not a good strategy. After replacing the punctured tyre with the spare tyre, too many drivers have discovered on lonely roads or busy highways that their spare tyres are too soft. They had failed to check and maintain their spare tyres. That is the price of constant neglect.


The problem with treating prayer like a neglected spare tyre or an emergency button is that we then miss the real essence of prayer. Prayer has to do with developing intimacy with God. If our prayers reveal that our desires are really for the things we ask of God every now and then, then we have missed the point. Prayer is really desiring God, more than anything else.

As Sadhu Sundar Singh (see Page 7) said, “Prayer does not mean asking God for all kinds of things we want, it is rather the desire for God Himself, the only Giver of Life.” Alas, our prayers often reveal misplaced or misdirected desires.

WHEN we are converted from self-centredness to God-centredness, we discover true prayer. Self-centred prayers are common among Christians even when praying for the church, as the great preacher Charles Spurgeon pointed out in his sermon “Ask and Have.”

“Moreover, if our praying, however earnest and believing it may be, is a mere asking that our church may prosper because we want to glory in its prosperity … then our desires are nothing but lustings after all. Can it be that the children of God manifest the same emulations, jealousies, and ambitions as men of the world? Shall religious work be a matter of rivalry and contest? Ah, then, the prayers which seek success will have no acceptance at the mercy-seat. God will not hear us, but bid us begone, for he careth not for the petitions of which self is the object. ‘Ye have not, because ye ask not, or because ye ask amiss.’ “(Jam. 4:3)

Self-centred prayer pours loving attention on the self. It attempts to recruit God and His help to help fulfil the self’s desire and carry out its plans. Self remains at the centre of such prayer while self-promotion and self-fulfilment are the primary goals. The purpose of such prayer is similar to the “spare tyre” prayer we looked at earlier.

True prayer, however, develops our intimacy with God, pays unhurried attention to Him and results in our cherishing and enjoying of His presence. The primary purpose of such prayer is to know God, not to use Him. Living in an environment that majors on using people rather than relating with them and loving them, it is easy for Christians to enter into prayer in the same mode. They may continue their wheeling and dealing and bring it into their conversations (or should it be monologues?) with God. They try to sell their agenda to God or try to manipulate Him to serve their unredeemed goals.

They need to hear that ultimately our life is not about us; it is about God. The many prayers that are prayed from the wretched prison of self must, I am sure, both bemuse and amuse the angels in heaven who hear them. How odd it must seem that people look constantly for gifts from the One who Himself is the greatest Gift of all (2 Cor. 9:15). How sad when our prayers show that we don’t really believe that God has already written the final sentence in history. Instead, our prayers bulge with anxious requests and there is no time or space to savour His wonderful presence. Lack of faith causes restlessness. We fail to discover the joy and peace of resting quietly in His presence, of giving unhurried attention to Him as we receive His life-giving love.

The solution lies in developing God-centred prayer. We need to recognise that God is at the heart and centre of our lives, and that our highest joy is to know Him intimately. We need to build our lives around prayer (and not the other way around). Our Lord Himself had regular times of prayer, no matter how busy He was (cf. Mk. 1:35). His prayer was characterised by how He always addressed the Father — “Abba”, an intimate term that showed that prayer was essentially a profoundly loving relationship.

It is when we develop such a rich and regular prayer life that life’s dangers and challenges will see us keeping our poise and peace.

Just like the prophet Daniel. When he was thrown into the lion’s den (Dan. 9) he was calm and unharmed. At that point, prayer was not like a spare tyre for him. In fact it was because prayer was like a steering wheel in his life that he was thrown into the lion’s den. He kept his regular rhythms of prayer in spite of opposition. Surely such a prayer life led him to know God in an intimate way. And because of this, he had a deep confidence in God, whose presence in the lion’s den kept him calm with faith even when the breath of hungry lions blew ominously upon his face.

How about you? Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tyre?