God’s To Do List
I’d like to start this blog entry out with a confession.
In our congregation, before each worship service, we have a prayer meeting. I was in attendance ahead of one service recently, and the person ‘directing’ the prayer meeting looked at me and asked if I could pray for a specific area of our ministry.
I nearly said no.
My confession is that I rarely pray.
I do, though, spend time talking to God.
I was reading a great article today with a headline stating: “Prayer isn’t telling God what to do.” I loved it, because it discussed one of the aspects of prayer that I have often felt a little awkward about – God’s To-Do List.
See, I grew up spending enough time learning what a prayer is, it’s talking to God, right?
I took a moment, today, to drift by my old favourite online resource, Merriam Webster for some definitions. This is what I found:
Prayer: An address (as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought.
Just to make things clear, therefore, I also looked up address:
Address: A formal communication, especially a prepared speech…
When I look at these definitions, I actually can look back on the way I was taught what prayer is and see how they match one another. I mean, I remember our class ‘taking’ school assemblies, and what we would do is write down and prepare the prayer for that assembly. I remember doxologies at the back of the hymn books as a child that we would occasionally read together. I remember saying grace at the dinner table as a child, “Thank you, God, for this food. Bless it to our bodies and bless us in your use.”
So I can already see a bunch of people directing me to Matthew chapter 6.
“Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask him. In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
~ Matthew 6:8-13
And yes, I accept that Jesus gave us a formulaic prayer right here. The thing is, though, that Jesus preceded this whole model with a few other comments. If we go back a few verses:
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.”
~ Matthew 6:5-7
Ever stood in a prayer meeting, and listened to someone blasting out this eloquent, passionate, fantastic sounding prayer? I have. In fact, I’ve stood in prayer meetings and blasted out (somewhat) eloquent, passionate prayers (I won’t call them fantastic – others who were there can make that distinction).
The thing is that these days I’m really uncomfortable with this kind of prayer. To me, it doesn’t feel like I’m communicating with God, but talking at him. It’s like I’m standing on a podium delivering a lecture, rather than sitting down at a café talking over coffee.
And what I really want to do is sit down with God over that coffee and just chat. I don’t want to be giving God a to do list, all the while reminding him that he promises to do whatever I ask, as if I’m reciting back a contract of obligations to him. I want to sit down and chat with my Father, explain to him what I’m feeling; the things I’m struggling with; the things that are going awesome – all of it and more.