“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
What is prayer? For me, prayer is my relationship with God. My relationship with God started a long time ago (that’s for another story). As with any relationship, it has changed significantly over time. I like to think it has matured during that time but the jury is still out on that one.
My experience with prayer has moved through three phases:
- Asking God for what I want
- Asking God for what I need so I can do what God wants
- Becoming a “moving prayer”
I remember in college when I was in a tight spot I turned to God and said, “God, if you get me out of this I promise to never, ever do this again.” As you probably expected, I ended up doing it again. Some of us are slower learners.
Meister Eckhart (1260-1328), my favorite Christian mystic along with Teresa of Avila, had some tough love for this kind of prayer: “Some people, I swear, want to love God in the same way as they love a cow. They love it for its milk and cheese and the profit that they will derive from it.”
I found out soon enough that God doesn’t have a magic wand. Instead, God has love, which is way more powerful and wonderful and challenging. Stepping into God’s love meant I had to shift my focus away from asking God for what I want to asking God for help so I could do what God wanted.
Eight-year-old Gilbert understood this at a tender age. His mother Peggy Porte tells the story about when Gilbert came home one day from Cub Scouts with a block of wood, four tires, and instructions for building his racer for the Pinewood Derby. Dad showed no interest, so Mom, with no carpentry skills, stepped in. She read the instructions and Gilbert did the work. The result was a slightly lopsided, wobbly car dubbed “Blue Lightning.”
Made with his own hands, Gilbert was pretty proud of his car. Gilbert’s car might have been the ugly duckling among the sleek cars of his competition, but it was fast. One by one his competitors fell until Gilbert made it to the finals.
Before the race started, Gilbert asked if he could have a minute to say a prayer. Gilbert got to his knees, furrowed his brows, held tight to “Blue Lightning” and prayed. After a minute and a half, he announced he was ready. Everyone in the room was treated to a great race with a photo-finish win going to Gilbert.
The Cub Master came up to Gilbert with a microphone and asked, “So you prayed to win, huh, Gilbert?”
Gilbert answered, “Oh, no sir. That wouldn’t be fair to ask God to help you beat someone else. I just asked Him to make it so I don’t cry when I lose.”
When I read this story for the first time, the words of Jesus echoed in my ears, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
To be continued…
Eternal God, guide my steps along the way and help me to stay true to your purposes.