Petitionary Prayer in Light of God’s Unconventional Love

By Mark Gregory Karris

If God is not “in control” of all things in the sense of dictating every action, reaction, or happening on this planet, how should that affect how we pray?

In this short essay, I explore the unconventional love of God—God’s perfect, moment-to-moment, uncontrolling, and cooperative love. Then, in light of God’s unconventional love, I describe a proposed model of petitionary prayer that I call “conspiring prayer.” This subversive sacred practice calls forth thankful, open-hearted listeners who humbly petition and partner with God to become God’s embodied hands and feet, committed to bringing forth shalom in the world.

God’s Perfect, Moment-to-Moment Love

In the book of Matthew, Jesus says to his disciples, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).

Okay. If we are to be “perfect” like God, we must ask ourselves in what way is God perfect?

Some think that perfection is all about not sinning. “Stop being so worldly, Christian! Be perfect as God is perfect!” shouts the angry preacher. However, the context of the verse reveals that perfection has nothing to do with sin management. Rather, it has everything to do with how we are called to love others. The invitation is to love as God perfectly loves.

So, how does God perfectly love? Let’s look at the immediate context. God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45b). Did you catch that? We are called to emulate God’s perfect, unconditional, all-inclusive love—even with people on our naughty list! This is why Jesus says in the previous verse, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:44–45). In telling his listeners to love their enemies, Jesus is asking them to love like God does. How does one do that? By recognizing that God demonstrates perfect, prodigal love by loving those who do not love God back: prayer-less, disobedient, and God-ignoring “enemies.”

We do not wish, pray, or beg God’s nature into existence. God is perfect love. God loves. That is who God is and what God does. God’s perfect love extends to all. The birds do not pray, but a loving God takes care of them (Matt 6:26). The lilies do not intercede, yet God is mindful of them (Matt 6:28). Enemies and persecutors of God’s children do not pray, but God loves them (Matt 5:43–48; Luke 6:27). The ungrateful and wicked do not pray, yet God is kind to them (Luke 6:35). God “so loved the world” without the prompting of prayer (John 3:16). God exists as who God is: A God of love. God’s attributes—God’s holiness, justice, mercy, and power—are funneled through that love.

God’s Uncontrolling and Cooperative Love

Due to the nature of God’s uncontrolling love, it is not that God cancontrol creatures and chooses not to do so. Rather, God cannotcontrol creatures due to God’s very loving nature. Simply put, love does not control. Therefore, God does not singlehandedly control others. That’s why we call it uncontrolling love.

God is doing all God can do to maximize good and to minimize evil, but God is constrained by God’s love. Love must preserve the sanctity of free will even at the cost of what people with free will choose to do. To disregard and usurp free will is to cease being loving. I suggest God effectively and lovingly influences us by inviting, empowering, inspiring, filling, convicting, leading, comforting, healing, and challenging us toward ever-increasing experiences of shalom. And God does this without coercion or force.

It is not enough to say that God’s love is uncontrolling. That’s a negative statement about what God can’t do (God can’t control others). We need also to talk positively about what God’s love can do. God’s love is cooperative, meaning God requires mutual assistance and collaboration to accomplish God’s goals. God never intervenes in the world in a unilaterally authoritarian and controlling manner. God never acts alone—of God’s own accord—disregarding lawlike regularities (a.k.a. the laws of nature) and the free will of people. On the contrary, God always works through willing cooperation.

Let’s explore what the unconventional love of God—God’s perfect, moment-to-moment, uncontrolling, and cooperative love—looks like when it comes to petitionary prayer.

Conspiring Prayer

Petitionary prayers are requests to God for answers to life’s questions and concerns. They are also pleas for God to be the sole responsible agent to act on behalf of the one who is praying. I define the traditional understanding of the typical petitionary prayer as talking to God and asking God to love in a specific manner in which God was not doing so beforehand. Here is the bottom line: The perfect, moment-to-moment, uncontrolling, and cooperative love of God drastically changes the ballgame when it comes to petitionary prayer. Let me explain.

While keeping in mind God’s perfect, moment-to-moment, uncontrolling, and cooperative love, let’s explore “conspiring prayer.” In today’s world, the word “conspire” has a negative connotation: to plot with someone to do something wrong or evil. However, the English word conspire comes from the Latin word conspirare, which literally means “to breathe together” and “to act in harmony toward a common end.” I combine both definitions to express what I mean by conspiring prayer.

Conspiring prayer is performed with God rather than to God. Conspiring prayer is a form of prayer where we create space in our busy lives to align our hearts with God’s heart, where our spirit and God’s Spirit breathe harmoniously together, and where we plot together, as it were, to overcome evil subversively with acts of love and goodness (Rom 12:21).

God always seeks to lovingly decrease the injustice in the world and meet the basic needs of humankind and the rest of God’s creation. Basic needs are needs for God to love, heal, save, and deliver from the most fundamental obstacles in the way human flourishing. For example, a basic need is to be free from poverty. God never desires that people, deprived of sustenance, starve to death. Another basic need is to be free from racism and oppression. It is never God’s will for people to suffer discrimination because of the way they look, their gender, or because of their race (and so on). Other basic needs include a world without violence and genocide, and a world in which healing from devastating injuries and accidents can occur. A basic spiritual need is one of salvation. God always desires people to be saved and to know the divine love intimately.

God’s primary medium for providing basic needs is through people. God has an open-door policy. God continually looks for open-hearted faith on the earth and seeks the cooperation of human beings to co-steward creation toward shalom. While the motivation to pray common petitionary prayers for the basic needs of others are derived from a pure inner spirit, we nevertheless need to recognize that God is already actively seeking to meet those needs. God isn’t keeping us from shalom, but we are.

God doesn’t need to be reminded of the people and places still devoid of the liberation of the kingdom of God, but we do. The same yearning for love, healing, and justice we feel is felt by God, only exponentially more so. We seek to trust that God is good all the time and all the time God is good. When we do so, we realize that our desires, if they are under the umbrella of love, are God’s desires, too. Prayers for basic needs such as more love, more peace, less violence, healing from injury or illness, salvation, the eradication of hunger and poverty, and the healing of our planet are already a “Yes, and Amen” to God.

Churches all over the world are praying, “God, we have had enough. No more violence. No more injustice. No more oppression. We want to see you bring healing and restoration to our communities. We want to see your people set free, no longer suffering under the dual oppressions of being a victim or being a perpetrator.” I can imagine God saying to us, “As do I, my children, as do I. I grieve with you. Our hearts are broken together. I hate violence. I hate oppression. I despise injustice. I am in agreement with you. I, too, want to bring healing and set people free. I am already working to change things. Let’s continue to commune with each other. Let’s imagine how we can conspire creatively together to bring forth the vision of love we all want.”

Conspiring Prayer in Action

1. Sit in silence and consent to the presence of God.

2. In a spirit of thankfulness, keep a few things about God in mind:

A. God’s love is uncontrolling and is not forcefully coercive.

B. God is with you, within you, and already present in and with the person and situation you are praying for.

C. God desires healing, wholeness, fairness, justice, and equality, more than you do and is moment to moment working toward those aims.

3. Keep it real, share your heart, and pray with God for the specific love, healing, guidance, etc., you are longing to see come to pass in the person’s life or situation.

4. Ask God, “How can I be your hands and feet in this person’s life or situation?”

5. Listen for your creative mission and conspire with God.

Question: How might these ideas change how you pray?

Mark Gregory Karris is a licensed marriage and family therapist, theologian, adjunct professor, ordained pastor, husband, father, and author of Divine Echoes: Reconciling Prayer with the Uncontrolling Love of God (Quoir, 2018). You can find out more about him at


1. Divine Echoes: Reconciling Prayer with the Uncontrolling Love of God



To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Partnering with God: Exploring Collaboration in Open and Relational Theology.

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