Why Pray? It’s a Relationship, not a Transaction

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.

Matthew 6, The Message

Those are the words Jesus uses to begin what we know as “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Of course, the version you might know sounds more like:

Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. (Matthew 6.8)

“Hallowed” means a few things. In the NLT, it’s translated as “may your name be kept holy.” Basically, it means something that is set apart. If something is hallowed, we acknowledge it as greater than anything else and different from anything else. Saying God’s name is hallowed is saying that we understand nothing compares to the Almighty God. We set God apart as completely other. Yet, in the same teaching in Matthew, Jesus also says we approach him as we would a good dad. It’s an interesting paradox and also a beautiful one.

Sit with Your Father

“Father” in the prayer adds a connotation of authority—a parent who deserves our obedience and trust. It’s more formal than the “abba” Jesus and Paul use elsewhere. In the following chapter, Jesus’ use of the word parent is more intimate. He speaks of an involved dad who wants to hear the words of his children and supply their needs. 

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” (7:9-11).

In neither case does he mean an austere distant capital “F” father who doesn’t have time for his offspring. His words imply that we are to approach God aware of how deeply he loves us and how much he wants us to come to him. 

If we didn’t or don’t have a good earthly father, this may be difficult. We might have to imagine another caring, listening ear.

If a good dad wasn’t your experience, imagine is the ultimate parent who did want to listen to your every question, hear your every thought, and view every picture you ever drew. Imagine what that would have been like, and come near to God knowing that’s what he’s offering.

So one purpose of prayer is to be with our loved one and share our hearts. That’s it. It’s not a big complex thing. It’s something we can do all the time every day on the regular. We share our hearts, our thoughts, our emotions, our hurts, everything. Just as the psalmists did, we let them out to our perfect parent. Some of the prayers in the Psalms are pretty rough! Yet God as parent heard them and recognized the pain they came out of.

Talk Less, Listen More

Of course, children usually also listen to a parent for advice and comfort. We wait to hear, not just speak, because our relationship is a two-way thing. Prayer is not a time for us to do all the talking and God to do all the listening.

In fact, that leads right into the second line from the Message translation. “God, Reveal who you are.” How can God do that if I’m not listening? Prayer is a time for us to come to God and ask that we understand more about our relationship.

Again, it helps me to think about it as I would an earthly relationship with a parent. When we’re children, we really don’t know much about our dads. We might know what they do all day, and we have an idea of their character by how they treat us and others. But we actually know very little about them as people. We are content to think of them only in relationship to us. It’s not until later as we grow up that we realize they are their own separate entity and they have their own complex humanity. The older we get, if we’re fortunate, we know more and more about our dads. We come to know their hearts. We understand what gets them up in the morning and makes them passionate. We learn not just that they love us but why. We see more of how they treat others and more of who they are as a result. 

I never got that chance with my own dad. But when I think about it, I can see the parallels with my heavenly parent and how that relationship should go. As a young Christian, I only knew God in terms of what he’d done for me. I didn’t understand God at all except as it related to me. As I matured, I saw more of who God is. I saw how Jesus behaved and what he said. I saw how he treated other people.

The longer I am in relationship with God, the more I hear his heartbeat and know what he is passionate about. The more I come to him in prayer, the more I understand about who he is and who I am as a result. 

It’s a Reciprocal Relationship

One first purpose of prayer is to create that maturity in my heart so that I come to a full understanding of who God really is and who I really am. 

God, reveal who you are. May your name be kept holy. 

That’s the first and most important reason we pray. We have to establish that relationship before anything else can fall into place. Next time, we’ll talk about the next line.

What Do You Want?

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“What do you want?”

It can be a loaded question. Depending on the day and the questioner, we can answer it in a number of ways.

On an average day, my answer would be something like, “a fireplace, lasik surgery, and a trip to the Galápagos Islands.” Minimal needs, really.

What about you?

“What do you want?“ happens to be the first question Jesus asks. What would you say if Jesus asked you that question?

 The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus. Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” he asked them.

They replied, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” “Come and see,” he said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place where he was staying, and they remained with him the rest of the day. (John 1.36-39)

 

What do you want? It’s such a wide open question for these guys. Literally, he asks, “What are you seeking?” He has good reason to ask. People sought out Jesus for a lot of reasons. Some reasons were better than others. If these two were going to present themselves as disciples (which was essentially what their actions said to Jesus), he wants to know from the outset what motivates them.

Imagine if he asked all of us that before we could follow him.

  • The rich young man’s reasons were all about how he could manipulate the system to be accepted. Jesus tried to get him to reconsider.
  • Simon wanted Israel’s kingdom to come by force. Jesus confronts that interest as limited at best.
  • Nicodemus comes in fear and fascination. Jesus prods him to consider carefully exactly why he’s there.
  • Zaccheus needed salvation—and he got it.
  • Many longed for healing—and they got it, too.
  • Others craved signs and wonders, miracles and circuses. He told them to go look for someone else. He didn’t come to be their sideshow.

All the time his question lingers in the air for all of them—what do you want?

What do we want?

If we’re honest, sometimes our motivations for following Jesus are more about us than about him.

What would you say if he turned around to you and asked—What do you want? What are you looking for?

Andrew and, we guess John, answered with another question. (They caught on quickly.)

“Where are you staying?”

The question was their way of saying, “Where you are, we want to be there also.”

Good answer, gentlemen.

Jesus gives us all the verbs we need when confronted with his question—what do you want?

We want to come, see, and follow.

Come

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“Come” is an invitation to His life. Join me. Walk beside me. Journey with me through this thing called the kingdom of God. Let’s be companions and ultimately friends and brothers and sisters on this trip. Come.

See

When I was eight, the school told my parents I needed glasses. I didn’t think so. I could see just fine. Until the doctor put that first pair of blue cat eye glasses on my face. Then, I could SEE. There were so many beautiful things that had been so hazy for so long I didn’t even realize it.

Come and SEE, for the first time. Look around you and find out what it’s like to have a ringside seat to God’s victory over sin and remaking of the world. It’s way better than the miracle sideshows you want to be content with. CS Lewis said,

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (The Weight of Glory)

Jesus’ invitation is to see what he’s up to—and come along with.

Follow

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I love that just before this in John 1 we hear that Jesus is the word of God in human form. We can study God’s word in his book. And we should. But not to exclusion of studying the Word of God. To follow Jesus is to study God’s word in the flesh.

What are you looking for? Sometimes, honestly, we’re more often looking for rules to follow and laws to memorize than the living Word. We want the newest version of how to live and be good, Phariseeism 2.0, rather than to face the persistent questions of a visible God.

Jesus says, “I’m not your guy for that. I am The Word. Study me.”

Dig in deep. Get your hands dirty. Live with me and live like me. Gospel with me. You’ll see that it’s a verb the more you do it. Jesus didn’t spread good news, he was good news. Following him means we are, too.

Nichole Nordeman sings (in a song that could be my autobiography):

“And you cannot imagine all the places you’ll see Jesus–You’ll find Him everywhere you thought He wasn’t supposed to go. So go!” (Dear Me)

Go. Be the follower ofd the wild, untamed, unreligious, homeless, challenging, demanding, healing, reconciling capital W word of God.

WHAT DO YOU want? If he asked that, what would you say?

It’s the most important answer you might ever make.

With-ness

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I’m sitting here, hands cupped around a hot mug, savoring a moment I never take the time to savor when I’m at home and all the world hedges in around me.

A hot cup of tea. Sunshine. And the presence of God.

Not the insistent, task-driving presence of God I don’t realize I too often imagine. Just presence. With-ness. Nothing else.

Why is this so elusive?

I realized something this morning that scared me. For the first time, the past few months, I have not loved what I do. I am so blessed to love pastoring, writing, everything God has given me.

The land you have given me is a pleasant land. What a wonderful inheritance! (Psalm 16.6)

I assumed it would always be like this. The problem is, making that assumption, I naturally assume that more is better. If work is a good thing, why isn’t more work better? Why isn’t adding a dozen more things to my to do list way more fun? Why don’t I want to tackle them with the same excitement?

So I’ve been adding. And adding.

We’ve reached the tipping point. The other side is darkness and burnout, and I am so close to that edge that I can see the jaws of the kraken. It is not a pretty sight.

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I’ve been imagining all the things God will need to take away from me to bring me back from the edge. What has to drop off the list? What must I lose to find joy again, to love the written and spoken word for themselves rather than for what they can do for me and the places they might take me? To love pastoring for the call and not the applause?

To love God for moments like these rather than what he can do for me, too.

We have got this so wrong.

I don’t expect time with my husband or kids to “work” for me in some way. I only want to be in their presence. I don’t plan to leave their presence suddenly energized or enabled to carry out some new task in my day.

But we expect that of God. We don’t simply be with him. Maybe this isn’t a revelation. It is to me.

I neglect prayer because it doesn’t “work.” I don’t feel different. Life doesn’t go better. So why spend those precious minutes I could be working in a pursuit that seems to be staring into space, waiting for lightning that doesn’t strike? Oh, I do pray, because I do believe in it.

But I’ve got it so, so wrong if I’m waiting for time with God to “work.”

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Why does it have to “work”? Why does God have to “work” for me? Why do there have to be results? Why can’t we just be? We’re cultivating a relationship, not a business partnership. Relationships take time. They take stillness together. The best relationships happen when we do nothing together but sit and stare and feel one another’s existence. We know that, if we’re blessed to have those relationships. We never ask those people to do anything more than they do by being.

I don’t have to ask God to be for me. He already is. I don’t have to ask him to be with me. He’s never anywhere else. I just have to stop long enough to stand in the sunbeam rather than run through it, hoping for something to stick.

It is time to scale back. Back to the basics of just sitting with God. Asking him to rule the to do list. Giving him veto power over my hours and days and minutes. Listening. Sitting. Sipping. Tasting and seeing that he is good.

This isn’t the blog post I planned to write. But it’s the blog post I needed.

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