Last night was the final night of BSF for the year, and we spent the evening sharing what God has done in our lives through this year's study. I shared, but I felt like I did a lousy job of explaining myself. I hate it when I do that.
You see, for some reason, I've struggled this year with the idea of prayer -- of why it's necessary that we ask God for things. I mean, He's going to do what He's going to do, right? He's wiser than we are, much more knowledgeable, and I can trust Him to do the best thing for me and everyone I'm praying for. In fact, some of the stuff I may ask Him to do may be terrible ideas . . . so why should I ask? Those "unanswered" prayers that were probably blessings in disguise also tend to make me feel like He's not there listening sometimes . . . so I'm tempted to not ask at all.
Jesus prayed. A lot.
He would steal away from the crowds and spend all night in prayer sometimes, especially before an important event like the selecting of His disciples. Good heavens, if the man who was God Himself in the flesh needed to communicate with the Father . . . well, I don't quite understand the dynamics of that, but I don't need to understand the dynamics to understand that I surely have more need to pray than He does.
He not only asked God for things, He specifically instructed us to ask God for things -- and to ask with persistence and importunity (a word I've been reading in the works of some older authors and had to look up) and with the expectation of a positive answer.
So, I decided at some point that it doesn't really matter if I understand the mechanics of this praying business. Jesus told me to bring my requests to God, and so there must be a good reason why I need to do that. So I kept praying . . . and I kept asking for the faith to continue to pray and, if He would be gracious enough to give it to me, the understanding of why. And behold, my God is gracious -- I think I have an inkling of why today.
For some reason, God made the decision to do His work on earth through the Church -- not the institution, but the individual believers. We are His body, He taught us. We are His hands and feet in the world. He could very easily feed the poor by zapping food-bearing plants in the ground at their feet, but He usually chooses instead to feed them through our giving of our excess. He could easily touch the cancer cells in a diseased body and make them disappear, but He usually chooses instead to heal them through the hands of a doctor. He could wrap up the lonely in His own spiritual comfort, but He usually chooses instead to send a friend to wrap their arms around them.
It seems an inefficient way to get His work done, relying on unreliable human beings who are prone to selfishness and sin. But only if you think that His ultimate goal is to get His work done. I don't think it is. His ultimate goal is to restore relationship between us and Him -- genuine, reality-based, intimate relationship that lasts for eternity.
When my daughters were tiny ones, I could prepare dinner for my family much more efficiently without their assistance, but I brought them into the kitchen to help sometimes -- partly to teach them the skills to do it themselves someday, but also to spend the time with them. To develop our relationship. Working together in this way tied strings around our hearts that bonded us together.
If God just gave me good things without my ever coming to Him to ask for them, I would probably never really connect those good things with Him (let's be honest, that already happens, doesn't it?). When I come to Him with my requests, I'm reminded that He is the source of all good things . . . I'm reminded of my smallness and His greatness . . . I'm reminded of how much God loves me and stirred to love Him all the more . . . I'm brought back to the relationship between us . . . and that relationship is far more important to God than the giving to me of good things, because earthly good things will pass away, but my relationship with Him is forever.
So, there -- that's what I wanted to say at BSF last night. Thanks for listening. :)