Note from Andrea: This article concludes a two-part series on prayer by a special guest blogger, my sweet, thoughtful husband, Adam Graham. The first part was posted last Thursday.
Superficially, the Kendrick Brothers’ latest film, War Room appears to say, “If you pray in faith, your marriage will be saved. If your marriage isn’t going well, it’s because you haven’t prayed enough.” We’ve known people who have had marriages fall apart in spite of their prayers and efforts to fight for that marriage, so that doesn’t ring true.
I don’t think that’s the intended point. When the film opens, Elizabeth is a realtor and the frustrated wife of a hotshot salesman Tony is neglectful, inconsiderate, arrogant, and often absent as his job takes him to other cities. He explodes at his wife when he finds out Elizabeth sent $5,000 to her sister without asking him. She’s haunted by guilt when she overhears her daughter telling her best friend that all her parents ever do when they’re together is fight. Elizabeth meets Clara, an elderly lady who challenges her to pray, to learn to really fight for her family before God in prayer.
**Spoilers Warning** The film charts her growth. Her walk with God in prayer makes her a calmer, more peaceful person. Her daughter sees and begins to copy her mother’s prayer habits. Finally, Tony’s dishonest deeds catch up with him and he’s fired from his job. He comes home and tells Elizabeth. She listens and says she’ll try and sell more houses until he can find another job. She’s all calm and that annoys him. She tells him, while she loves him, she refuses to have her joy wrapped up in him.
This is where her character arc peaks. At this point in the movie, Elizabeth’s prayer life hasn’t changed her husband, it’s changed her. In her times of prayer, she has found peace and joy which enables her to face the loss of the income of the guy who had brought home four-fifths of the family’s bacon. From there, the film focuses on the restoration of the marriage, but she could have handled it if things had worked out differently because her life had been re-centered and refocused. **End of Spoilers**
Prayer will always be frustrating if we view it as a vehicle for manipulating others by manipulating God to make them behave or to get God to fix our problems by fixing the world around us. God does move on circumstances and people at many times, yet it’s often true the one God will change is the one who’s on speaking terms with him. In other words, God changes us. Prayer is not primarily about God giving us things but about God giving us more of God. That sometimes changes our circumstances. More often and more importantly, it changes how we react to them.
This can be seen in the book of Habakkuk where Habakkuk wanted God to change his pronunciation of judgment against Judah. God didn’t do that, but at the end of his lament and seeking God the prophet was able to declare in Habakkuk 3:17-19.
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
Then there’s the Apostle Paul, a man so powerful in prayer and faith, he raised the dead. People took cloths he’d sweat on to the sick, and they were healed. Yet, he suffered a “thorn in his flesh” and when he prayed God to remove it, he was told, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9.)
On a spiritual level, Elizabeth from War Room, Habukuk, and Paul all got the same thing: more of God and more of His grace.
If we’re honest, most of us don’t come to God in prayer out of a desire to get more of Him, it’s mostly to get our problems fixed or out of a sense of obligation. We will find prayer a frustrating practice as long as that’s where we’re at. The people who I’ve known whose prayer life bares the fruit people want from prayer have moved past that being the measure of whether the time they’ve spent in prayer was valuable or not. They’ve been changed through the time they’ve spent with God.
Despite its flaws, The War Room is a valuable film that challenges people to pray and to think about prayer. It illustrates how prayer works primarily by changing us to be more like Christ and how it can bring God’s grace to others. The movie’s portrayal isn’t entirely satisfactory, message-wise, but that’s one of the challenges of doing a movie about prayer or writing a book or article about it.
Prayer is a mystery. We participate in it, but our minds can’t fully grasp all of what it means. We can make it too complicated and speak too broadly about something we don’t fully understand. God isn’t a genie who gives you everything you want, but God does give good gifts and God always begins by giving us Himself