The problem I am submitting to you arises not about prayer in general but only about that kind of prayer which consists of request or petition.... I have no answer to my problem, though I have taken it to about every Christian I know... ~ C.S lewis
In Petitionary Prayer: A Problem Without An Answer (Clive Staples Lewis; Christian Reflections. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1967 pp. 142–151), Lewis observes that that there are two types of prayer, one which he calls the "A Pattern" and the other the "B Pattern". The crux of the problem is thus: the first pattern is given in the Lord's Prayer,
9“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10Your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.'"
~ Matthew VI (all quotations from the NIV)
and in the agony of Gethsemane,
42“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me;
yet not my will, but yours be done.”
~ Luke XXII
while the second pattern is seemingly at odds with the first, as in such examples as
13 "...I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."
~ John XIV
7"Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you."
~ Matt VII
23"...my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
24...Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete."
~ John XVI
How are we to reconcile these two seemingly diametrically opposed patterns of prayer? On the one hand we are to trust our Lord and Savior to lead and guide us in what He knows is best. This, of course, sounds perfectly reasonable. But at the same time we are told without qualification (except in a few cases where truly believing is requisite) that what we ask for will be granted.
I share Mr. Lewis' desire to know the truth, a workable and satisfactory solution to the problem, asking my friends, pastors, counselors, and some (ostensibly) well-studied men and women, to provide some kind of special, as of yet undisclosed insight. But as yet I am not satisfied. The problem remains unanswered in my experience, as apparently was C.S. Lewis'.
I have asked well-meaning, though not highly-sophisticated people, to try to provide answers. Here is an example of the typical response:
When Jesus instructed his disciples on how they should pray, he indicated that there was a positive causal role in prayer regarding the coming of the Kingdom. One aspect of the kingdom is the presence of the King, so Jesus could say that the kingdom of God is at hand! Another is the acceptance of kingly leadership and fealty (loyalty). This is imperfectly implemented at best. There is a pitched battle being waged over the seating of the king. Satan has usurped the throne and doesn't want to forsake it. The king of the present age is being defeated by saints who will pick up their crosses daily and follow Jesus and who will pray as led by the Holy Spirit - macro prayers for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven and micro prayers of petition for our individual needs (prayers that stimulate and deepen our individual relationships with God) and prayers of intercession as the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the needs of others and gives us His heart of compassion.
This just doesn't seem to do justice to the question. It doesn't really address the issue at all. All this letter is saying, at bottom, is that we are to do both. I may be missing the point, but to me this letter just doesn't make for a good case.
I have been extremely frustrated over this issue, and hope that there are insights that have been gained over the many years since Mr. Lewis' question was first posed. In the meantime, although I draw closer to God in my relations to Him, e.g. in talking to Him about my life, my hopes, and my many other daily considerations, I have not been able to intercede.
In closing his paper, Lewis asks (reasonably), "How am I to pray this very night?", and many are the nights I have hit my pillow with the same thought.
Do any Christian denominations or prominent Christian thinkers address the apparent paradox of petitioning God, who apparently promises to answer all prayers, while also yielding to His will?
For more information, please see
C.S. Lewis and Petitionary Prayer (De Mentor), an overview of Lewis' views of prayer in general, and
C.S. Lewis on Prayer (Dr. Art Lindsley), a paper from a biographical viewpoint.