Thursday, October 27, 2011

The "Gimme" (give me) Part of Prayer

"Give us this day our daily bread," Matt. 6:11

Finally! We get to the "gimme" part of the prayer. It's our favorite part, right? Isn't this the aspect of prayer we spend the most time on?

"Oh, God, please give me what I want!"

"Oohh Lord, please make this happen for me!"

And sometimes we are not totally selfish. We pray a good "gimme" prayer for those we care about:

"Lord, my friend has this problem and this is what you should do about it."

"Father, make this and that happen for my family."

I can only speak for myself, but I must admit that for most of my prayer life, my communications with the Father have resembled these templates and as I look at the Lord's prayer, I realize I have badly missed the mark. Even here, the section of the prayer reserved for request, my perspective has been all wrong.

The line starts with "Give us ..." Why does it not say, "Give me ..." Even in these few words, I have to make a bit of paradigm shift. There is a fundamental realization in the use of "us" over "me" that I am not the center of the universe. True, God loves me intimately and individually, but that does not mean he revolves his universe around "me". I need to pray with the "us" in mind. I need to pray with an understanding that other people have needs too and are affected by the events that occur on this earth -- both in the physical and the spiritual realm. I need to have a heart for them.

This is not to say that I should never pray for myself specifically. After all God is all about relationship. Relationship is at the core of His very nature, as the existence of the Trinity testifies. God is in relationship with Himself; that is His essence. And through Christ, He has invited us into relationship with Him.

Relationship is rooted in communication. So talking to God about "me" is a healthy part of that relationship. The point is not to loose sight of the "us" as we talk about the "me."

The next couple of words "this day" also give me pause. Why are we praying simply about "this day"? Why don't we just cover the whole week or the whole year? Why not our entire lifetime?

Maybe it's because we are talking about prayer and not an insurance policy.

Prayer, again, is about relationship. It's not a Harry Potter-styled incantation designed to bring about positive results if I assemble the right combination of words. It's not an insurance contract where we have to make sure everything is covered.

The Lord's prayer seems to assume that this conversation with God will happen at least daily.

This week I put in a wood laminate floor. As I put in the planks one after another, I would at times stop when I was a few rows away from a difficult area. I would just stand there and think about how I was going to cut a plank to fit perfectly at that difficult angle/corner. I was still several rows away from having to deal with it, but I wasted so much time just standing there thinking -- when it wasn't my problem, yet.

I tend to approach life the same way. I have to figure out the solutions to problems BEFORE they happen. And I waste a lot of time trying to sort out problems that are never as bad I think they will be.

God urges us in this prayer to "take one day at a time" to use an old cliche. Further on in this chapter Christ summed up the concept when he said, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matt 6:34)

Finally, the last words in this phrase, "our daily bread":

What is daily bread? Is it just our basic food? I would argue that it is all our basic needs. But how often do I really pray about my needs? I pray a lot about my wants and maybe a little about my needs, but only when I feel those needs are in jeopardy.

I don't pray so much about my basic needs because I think I've got them covered. I have food to eat and a nice place to live. I have heat, running water, and even a nice kitchen to cook in. It really never occurs to me to pray about these things. I don't even really pray about my basic spiritual needs. I take all this for granted.

But Christ is directing us through this prayer to pray for our daily needs. What's the point?

Perhaps, it's because by praying for these things we acknowledge that our Lord is giver of all good things. It is He, and not we ourselves, who provides for us. And in the face of managing our personal budgets, we tend to forget that. By praying for our needs, we recognize our dependence upon Him.

So there is good reason to pray for our daily needs.

Does that mean we should never bother God with our simple wants and desires? After all, He is God, isn't He too busy to bother with such frivolities?

Again, God is all about relationship. Just as I want my children to communicate with me about everything going on in their lives, so does God. When we open up the desires of our hearts to Him, we deepen our relationship with Him. Moreover, we open ourselves up to allowing him to refine those desires and sometimes He will even change them to the deeper desires we never knew we had.

There is a call to Christians woven into "Give us this day our daily bread."  Through these few words, we are challenged to realize we are not center of God's universe. But rather, we are called to allow Him to be the center of ours.

Proverbs captures the paradigm with this prayer:

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, "Who is the LORD?"
Or I may become poor and steal,
And so dishonor the name of my God. Prov. 30:8-9

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