Have you ever heard someone, or yourself, pray in a way where the person praying not only tells God WHAT he wants, but actually tells God HOW he wants his prayer answered? It’s as if he is giving God a set of step by step IKEA instructions for assembly of the as of yet unanswered prayer.
For instance, during a prayer for surgery the person praying says, “Now God, guide the surgeon’s hands and help him to cut that tumor away. But Lord, don’t let him cut out anything he needs.” Wait…did God already not know this? Or perhaps he says, “Reach out with your mighty right arm and wipe away that tumor like an eraser.” This is like telling God how to do miracles. How about, "Oh God, protect my house while I'm on my trip. Let not the door be broken into or my windows smashed. But if someone does break in, don't let them have this, this, or this…"
I’m sure you’ve heard or prayed like this in the past. I’ve done it. But why? Why do we pray IKEA prayers? Is it a show of faith? Is it a way to exercise spiritual control? Could it even be a lack of faith, telling God HOW to do something? Or is it—gasp—okay to pray that way?
Believe it or not there are IKEA prayers in the Bible. Look at these…
When David asked for vengeance on his enemies he said, "O God, break the teeth in their mouths!" (Psalm 58:6).
How about Gideon? "Behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said" (Judges 6:37).
Do you see what’s happening? He’s not just asking for God to do something, he’s telling God HOW to do it. Contrast this with Nehemiah who probably said, “Help, Lord!” (Nehemiah 2:4).
Can you count on one hand how many IKEA prayers were answered in your life? You know, I can’t think of one. Oh, he answered, but not according to my page by page instructions in my IKEA prayer manual. My IKEA prayers tend to get expressed every time I’m on an airplane. I tell God how much turbulence is acceptable, I pray for the cabin crew for protection. I instruct God about different types of turbulence. I have a sneaking suspicion that when I pray like this God is in Heaven quoting himself from the book of Job, “Where were you when…” (Job 38:4). IE, “Do you know who you’re talking to here?”
What’s silly about IKEA prayers? Telling God HOW to do something as if he doesn’t already know what to do. But just like IKEA furniture, there’s something good about IKEA prayers. It’s the leftover pieces, extra screws, bolts, nuts, and Allen wrenches. I stuff those away in my toolbox because they’ll be useful for something later when I come to the end of myself and don’t know what to pray for next.
I’m writing this blog post on an airplane. But don’t worry, I’ve already prayed for the engines, wings, cabin crew, pilots, weather, turbulence and the crying babies. Did I leave anything out? Do I have a screw left over?