A few years ago, Park Service officials in Washington, D.C. noticed that one of the monuments was beginning to suffer an unusual amount of wear. They soon realized that excessive scrubbing to remove the bird droppings was the source of the problem. In an attempt to remedy the situation, they began experimenting with different cleaning methods. But nothing seemed to help.
So they installed netting to keep the birds away. Then the tourist complained because the nets were so unsightly. Finally they asked the question, “Why do we have so many birds coming to this particular monument?”
It seemed that a large amount of insects were swarming around the monument, which was attracting the birds. Thinking the right insecticide would provide a solution, they spent several months testing different formulas. To their disappointment, each one only worked for a short period of time, leaving the problem unresolved.
The mounting frustration along with the lack of a solution prompted another question, “Why do we have so many insects swarming this particular monument?”
They discovered that the bright lights illuminating the memorial in the evening were attracting the insects. Further experiments revealed that ninety percent of the insects could be eliminated by simply turning on the lights one hour later each night.
Adjusting the lighting reduced the amount of insects, which reduced the number of birds in the area. The amount of bird droppings diminished significantly – which reduced the scrubbing – which reduced the wear and tear on the monument.
The brushes, netting, and insecticides had only addressed the symptoms. The root cause was the lighting. A simple adjustment to the lighting impacted all the downstream effects and eventually resolved the problem completely.
So what can bird droppings on a National monument teach us about prayer?
In large part, it perfectly illustrates the approach many of us have towards prayer. Meaning that a lot of our prayer time is spent trying to solve problems without first having a clear understanding of the root causes.
Often times, what we have concluded the problem to be is nothing more than the downstream effect of something else. Then we frame our prayers or hopes around solving a problem, rather than pursuing root causes. And just like the Park Service workers, a lot of time is spent on things that produce little to no results.
The truth is problem solving prayers don’t solve that many problems. In fact they can actually create a higher level of frustration. Problem solving prayers lock us in to one-dimensional, linear thinking. It puts limitations on our dialogue with God. It produces a “fix it” mentality controlled by humanistic reasoning and experiential bias.
Problem solving prayers focus on symptoms without addressing root causes.
In case you’re wondering what this looks like from a heavenly perspective, just go to YouTube and search on “dogs chasing their tail.” Is it any wonder that so many people become weary and frustrated with prayer? At some point we all get tired of running in circles.
May I propose a different approach? What if we stop focusing on trying to solve problems when we pray? What if, instead of focusing on the symptoms, we pivot our thinking and start looking for root causes? What if we begin employing the power of a Divine Question?
Asking Divine Questions in our prayer time opens us up to receive Divine Solutions. Divine Questions elevate our perspective. Divine Questions remove the limitations from our mind and allows us to think about people and situations the way God does. Divine Questions help us know ourselves better. They help us know God better.
Mostly Divine Questions reveal the areas of life where we are not experiencing the gift of salvation and the power of the Cross. Divine Questions sound like this…
Why is this person or situation stealing my peace?
This is where being gut honest with God pays big dividends. Many times we get tripped up on demanding the person or situation change. Asking this Divine Question shifts the focus to why it bothers YOU? If something is stealing your peace, maybe it’s because your peace is in something that can be stolen. Find out what conditions you’ve place on having peace and you’ll get to the root cause of why it’s being stolen. Hint: There is only one give of peace. Peace is a person not a condition.
What am I putting my faith in other than God?
Some answers might include: a job, a credit score, a missed opportunity, a past mistake, another person’s decisions, your own ability or inability. Answering this question will help you locate where you’ve misplaced your faith.
Why can’t I love this person the way God does?
It’s just so much easier to write someone off or marginalize them instead of praying about why you can’t love them. Not that they haven’t given you plenty of reasons to feel that way. Pondering this question will help you think about what you are hoping to get from the relationship.
After you answer that question, then think about what it would give you if you received what you’re hoping for. Next, ask yourself if you were ever supposed to get those things from another person (who is also looking for the same thing from another person). Maybe everyone is just looking for love in all the wrong places.
The excuses I typically use for not loving someone include: Because it means they get away with it or because they’re a pain in my backside. But mostly it’s simply because I don’t know the love and grace of God for me greater than the other person’s decisions or behavior.
Who have I judged will bear the cost?
I’ll bet you’ve never asked yourself this question before. At least not out loud. But I am certain you have thought about it. And I’m also certain your conclusion was that YOU would have to bear the cost. Where did that conclusion come from? Have you thought about that? Answering this question helps reveal our unbelief in the cost Jesus paid to restore us to God (and all his benefits). Think about like this… If we could bear all the cost, why do we need the Cross?
Am I trying to get a handle on knowing the future or a handle on knowing God as my future?
This question will help reveal what is controlling the motives of our heart. It will also expose what we put our trust in. For example, if we judge (although subconsciously) that having a better handle on the future will give us peace, then what we would actually experience is never having peace. If we are constantly in need of something we don’t have, then our soul will never find rest? The future is always in the future. Think about it.
Am I seeking fairness from the world or favor from God?
Contemplating this question helps reveal where we believe blessing and restoration come from. It is also a reflection of what we truly value and what we put our hope in. Fairness isn’t favor. And favor isn’t fair. But if we don’t have a frame of reference for favor, if we’ve never been favor’s recipient, then fairness is all we can hope for. It’s our only consolation prize. The truth is, fairness is a Unicorn. It doesn’t exist. How much frustration do you think people experience when they place their desires in a myth?
What can I be grateful for in the midst of this challenge?
Being thankful allows us to elevate the goodness and blessing of God above the circumstance. Even as I write this blog, I am in the midst of a difficult personal challenge. But, in spite of circumstances I can’t change, people I can’t change, and events I have no control over, I am thankful. Right now I’m sitting in a nice little café eating lunch, listening to vintage rock and roll, and putting the finishing touches on this blog post.
Though I have no clear solution to my situation, I’m thankful that I get to share my thoughts and ideas with you. I’m thankful that God allowed our paths to cross, that we have connected, that this blog might possibly help someone through a difficult place. I’m thankful for my health, for my job, and loving relationships.
I’m also thankful for God’s word and the power of prayer. I’m thankful that my steps are ordered of the Lord – that in all things he is at work for my good – that no weapon formed against me shall prosper. And I’m thankful that, no matter what happens on this earth, I have a perpetual bright future because of the love and mercies of God.
As you contemplate the coming year, as you think on what you hope to accomplish, achieve, add, subtract or improve, why not consider how to elevate your prayer life with Divine Questions? Why not launch out in to the deep in search of root causes.
Purpose in your heart to use Divine Questions in order to know God more, to know yourself more, to experience the gift of salvation and the power of the Cross. Spend this year asking Divine Questions? Then sit back, relax in God, and watch the symptoms take care of themselves.
If you’re not sure how to ask a Divine Question, then start with this simply little prayer:
“Heavenly Father, I don’t know how to ask a Divine Question. All I have are problem solving prayers and I’m clueless how to pray any different. But I commit my clueless understanding to you and ask that you would replace it with inspiration from your heart to mine. I want to know you more. I want to experience the gift of salvation and the power of the Cross. I want to launch out in to the deep and discover root causes with the help of your grace. I commit this coming year to you in faith. Amen.”