The Gospel of Jesus Christ is both simple and complicated; small and HUGE! And because of this it is sometimes perfectly understood and other times grossly misunderstood.
I snagged this photo not too long ago. The picture is of a little girl kneeling at her bedside, hands folded and praying. The verse is Matthew 7.7, Ask and it will be given to you. It’s a VERY popular verse on placards, posters, and pictures (as you can see). This particular picture is absolutely adorable. As a new father of a baby girl, I hope that one day my daughter will be able to do as this little one is doing. But look at the picture closer. It could be taken by some (especially non-Christians) as our theology on prayer. My concern is that this picture could lead some to see God as a Cosmic Santa Claus who grants requests, rather than a Creating/Redeeming/Loving Father who listens to his children and seeks to be in relationship with them. Hear me out…
As a father, I want my daughter to understand prayer as best as possible. I’m going to TRY to teach Laney that prayer is relational, that she can tell God anything, ask God anything, complain to God about anything, and thank God for everything. The point? I want her to learn how to be with God, not just ask him for things. The Matthew 7.7 verse above needs context. Lots of context.
I love this. Psalm 34.1, I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. This verse doesn’t need as much context. It shows the gratitude of the Psalmist and the commitment to pray and praise God constantly. In other words, the God-thing is working for this guy. The Hebrew word for bless here means “to kneel down; give thanks.” Rather than teach others that God will grant your wish if you rub his Bible-lamp, we might be better off helping them understand that God is here for us, relationally; that we can go to him anytime (all the time), and that continually being with him is the key to actually experiencing God in his greater fullness.
I once had the privilege of taking a class with Eugene Peterson while in seminary. I asked him, “What’s the greatest misconception in the Church today?” He paused, looked at me with a squint and said, “That prayer is a consumer act.” Peterson was afraid that the Church (and probably those looking onto the Church) believes prayer boils down to getting what you ask for from God. If only we could see prayer as special time, intimate time, holy time. Imagine what would happen in our own earthly relationships if we saw each other that way; if we saw each other as something more than someone who can do something for me. Prayer isn’t consumption. Prayer is relationship. It is listening and talking, being and doing.
Will this cute picture above and its verse inspire people to pray or pray more? Of course it will. But guard people (and yourself) from seeing prayer as a quarter in a Divine Vending Machine. Know that to experience God is to kneel at all times (whether on bended-knee or in your heart). Let his praise be in your mouth always. Like Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5, pray without ceasing.
Have a blessed weekend.