Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Praying for "Daily Needs"

Here's something from Eugene Peterson, whom I consider one of the wisest men on the planet.
"We have short attention spans. Having been introduced to God, we soon lose interest in God and become preoccupied with ourselves. Self expands and soul atrophies. Psychology trumps theology. ... [And this] usually adds up to a workable life ... But -- it is not the practice of resurrection, it is not growing up in Christ, it is not living in the company of the Trinity, it is not living out of our beginnings, our begettings." [Quote found at Jesus Creed.]
We see a prime example of this in our prayer life. It is a tendency we should resist, for none are immune. "Self expands and the soul atrophies." When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to put God first, to glorify his name and pray for his kingdom. But in our own prayers we typically expand on ourselves, and thereby shrink God and dismiss his kingdom.

We do this to the Bible as well of course. The Bible is put to the service of therapy. Anything that is not immediately recognizable as therapeutic is simply overlooked. This way of dealing with the Word of God is promoted in most daily devotionals. People don't even recognize the possibility of an alternative.

The same is true, as I was saying, of prayer. We put it to the use as a tool of therapy, not as a conversation with the One whose mission includes far more than our need for ease. Self expands, and the soul atrophies. Psychology trumps theology, and we don't even notice.

It's as if "give us this day our daily bread" expanded to take over the whole Jesus prayer, crowding out God and his kingdom. Or, better, as if we simply cut away the rest, ripped "daily bread" from its context, and let it mean whatever we needed it to mean. Kinda like we do with the rest of the Bible.

In my group prayer experience, of which I have had much, this has been a more or less relentless form of prayer. Daily needs above all, and everything else merely paid lip service. And that little phrase, "daily needs," comes to mean anything and everything we happen to desire. Prayer in the service of desire. Prayer as "want list." But how does our understanding of "daily needs" change if we restore that phrase to the whole context of the Jesus prayer? If we see these things, these needs, in the light of the kingdom of God and the desire that it come in fullness right away?

Put it this way: if you first pray for the reality of heaven to be made manifest completely and forever here on the earth, many of the things we think of as our "needs" would then become far less important. How strange to pray "on earth as it is in heaven," and then to pray, "and also, Lord, I really need to get to the gym more often, so will you please help me to make the time for that."

Do you see the disconnect? And yet, that's how we pray. And since we really do want to go to the gym more often, and on the other hand we're not so sure how much we want the world as we know it to vanish in a cataclysmic transition to the New Creation, the thing we desire most naturally takes on the most urgency, while the thing God might desire most fades and is forgotten.

The fundamental truth here is, our desires are not always God's desires. But if we are ambassadors of that New Creation, disciples of Jesus who learn at his feet and have his mind, his way of thinking, wouldn't we think very differently about daily needs? "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven," would form our understanding of "daily needs." Now we would see the self recede, little by little, and the foreground of our thoughts would be occupied by the kingdom of God.

In short, our daily needs would become all the things we need today in order to carry out our part in the great mission of God for his world. What does an ambassador of the kingdom need? What does he/she need daily? I highly recommend that we set our minds and hearts on this question, and seek its answer in the word of God and, yes, in prayer.

[BTW, the whole Jesus Prayer series is here.]

1 comment:

nAncY said...

good to read.