Sunday, February 7, 2016

Finding a new position in prayer

I'm sure you've had it happen--everyone has. You get a phone call, a text, an email, and you know. You. just .know. Inwardly you cringe, because the only times this person contacts you is to request something of you.  Be it family member or friend, they aren't there to ask how you are, they aren't there to invite you to hang out; they are making a connection with you because they need something of you. You feel manipulated and worn out, like an overused tissue...
 and you want to scream, "Just leave me alone." 

Because if someone doesn't want to be close to you just for you, you feel more worthless than if they didn't need you at all. You never wanted to be anyone's networking genie in a bottle. 

I've been thinking a lot about prayer lately. In the past six months, I've picked up three books on prayer, but Larry Crabb's The Papa Prayer has to be the best one I've read so far. His words reduce the guilt and pressure of seeing prayer as treating God like a vending machine--which is often what prayer has become in the church, a spiritual arm-twisting.  And on goes the skewed belief: if you don't get what you need (or demand) it's because you haven't prayed just right. But the end goal of prayer always seems to be the answer to your question, not the time conversing with Him.

 As Crabb illustrates, most Christians view God as the ice-cream man. We, as his children, run with eager anticipation when the ice cream truck circles around our neighborhood. We may know the man's name and even smile and make small talk, but the ultimate goal in our "relationship" is the ice cream, not the deliverer. We aren't concerned about sitting down with the ice cream man, we aren't there to enjoy him or get to know him better. Here's my two dollars, now give me what I want. 

Our Christian prayers are often so self-focused and demanding. We thank God when He is "useful" and ask Him for insight to make our lives here better. 

"'God, give me the life I want" has been the theme of your prayers. But now you can hear the muffled cry coming from the center of your heart: 'God, let me know you better.' I want to know Him, trust Him, hear His voice and experience His power to live the way He tells me to, whether things go my way or not. That, I'm discovering, gives me a kind of solid joy nothing else provides." (Crabb, The Papa Prayer)

The goal of prayer is relating, connecting, drawing close--not receiving something (no matter how good it may be). Crabb goes on to say that sometimes even the things God promises can become idols to our prayer (peace, joy, wisdom, etc.).  

Prayer should not be a vending machine.No matter how much I put in the slot,God doesn't owe me.
Prayer should not be a way to manipulate God. He is God and I have nothing to demand of Him.
Prayer should not be about an "end result" but about being with God Himself. His heart, not His hands.

Satisfaction in this life is not the end goal.

Many of us, myself included, don't know--never learned--how to pray just for the sheer enjoyment of God's presence. I've worshiped with that idea in mind, but ultimately, I think I was worshiping an experience or an emotional high than God himself. Does that make sense?

And then Crabb says these words and I feel alarmed too:

"The problem, of course, is that our relationship with God is so shallow that the pleasure it brings really is less than the pleasure we feel when life goes well. Living for God, sincerely and sacrificially, does not always generate the pleasurable experience of meaning and joy. God lets us experience seasons of emptiness and futility that simply cannot be endured if our real aim is satisfaction in this life." (Crabb 54) Um, yes, here I am.

What do I find the most pleasure in? Whatever it is will allure me to its side and possess the ultimate hold over me. 

How do I relate to God as Father, friend, confidante, savior, and not Santa Claus or a Genie? 

>In simplistic terms, it's about giving God your thoughts of your self (no pretending here): this is what I think of myself right now. This is where I am.

>Then I let God know what I think of Him: am I viewing Him as too chummy? Is He there to do my bidding? Does he even care or is he the apathetic watchmaker who has better things to do than attend to my thoughts? Is He a Be honest. He already knows. 

>What's blocking me from the truth of who God is and who I am supposed to be in Him? Does my idea of God conflict with Scripture. Does God really look like I envision Him? 

>And then ask God to help you put God back on the throne. It's all about Him, not about what He does, how He blesses or changes my circumstances. He is God; He doesn't need me, He doesn't owe me, and He shouldn't be in a box I open and close. He is GOD. Seeing Him--and treating Him--as such will keep me in His place and me in humble awe. 

That, essentially, is the Papa prayer. I'd highly recommend the book; it's turned my thoughts upside-down and I'm not exactly sure how to proceed, but I know God can take my feeble wanderings right now. And I have hope He's going to eventually pull me out of this pit of doubt and fear. I want the ultimately goal to be Him and I have confidence He'll eventually teach me what relating to Him like that looks like. 

I came across a diagram by Alan Kraft, a pastor in Colorado. 
The Lord's prayer is about the Lord. The only times we mention ourselves is to acknowledge our position before the LORD. He is the one who provides (give us our daily bread), He is the one who pardons (forgives us our debts), and He is the one who protects us (lead us not into temptation). We are seeking His will and we are powerless to fulfill it without Him. May we ever come to see Him more as He truly is and we as we are. God help us see. Help us understand. And help us draw near to you for You...just You and your plan. 

The Lord's Prayer

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