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Janie B. Cheaney: Thy will be done


WORLD Radio - Janie B. Cheaney: Thy will be done

There’s a difference between praying dutifully and praying expectantly

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NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, March 22nd. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Here’s WORLD Senior Writer Janie B. Cheaney on expectations in prayer.

JANIE CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: Sometimes a single word can throw a whole new light on a subject you’ve struggled with all your life. Take prayer, for instance. How do you keep your prayer life fresh and meaningful? How do you avoid rote phrases and fake emotion?

Here’s the word: expectantly.

Psalm 5:3 reads like this in the ESV: “O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.” I’ve marked this verse in my Bible, memorized it, and recited it before prayer times. It’s striking and beautiful in the ESV—motivational, too, or it should be. But here’s how the verse reads in the Christian Standard Bible or CSB:

At daybreak, Lord, you hear my voice;
At daybreak I plead my case to you and watch expectantly.

The same meaning, obviously, but the CSB renders it more personal and urgent: Here’s my case, Lord. I know you hear me, and I know you’re going to do something.

Whatever it is, will be surprising, or frightening, or gratifying, but always glorifying—and exciting. To pray expectantly is like sending party invitations and waiting for the guests to show up. Or packing for a dream vacation. Or even watching anxiously for the cavalry to arrive when you’re in a tight spot. Knowing that something will happen makes all the difference.

That certainty is often lacking in my prayers. I pray dutifully, not expectantly. I know God hears but I don’t always know that he cares. I imagine him listening dutifully, not expectantly. Of course he knows what I’m going to say, and he knows even better what I need, and won’t he provide my needs regardless? It’s the old Calvinist dilemma: why pray if it’s all preordained?

But prayer is the mainspring of the drama of the Christian life, an invitation to participate in the grand story of redemption. I recall a pastor several years ago preaching that God builds his church through the prayers of his people. In the same way, he builds our lives. I’ve tried to take this seriously but then fall back into old patterns: duty, rote, resignation to “Thy will be done.” What if every prayer came with expectation? What if every time I brought a request, even one I’ve made literally thousands of times, I brought anticipation along with it? Here I am. Here’s what I’m asking. I know you’re listening, and I know you will act. You are acting right now. I can’t wait to find out how.

Of course, I usually have to wait—that’s the hard part. But I’ve offered the sacrifice, and as fragrant smoke rises to heaven, so does my expectation. He will act; he has acted; he is acting now. It may take some time to see it, but I’m watching.

I’m Janie B. Cheaney.

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