Praying & Our Wish List for God
September 25, 2016
In the movie Bruce Almighty, Jim Carey plays Bruce Nolan, a Buffalo, New York television reporter for whom nothing ever seems to go right. After a particularly painful string of bad luck, Bruce lashes out at God while blaming the Almighty for not doing a good job and for singling him out as someone whose life will be miserable.
In response to Bruce’s accusations, God shows up and gives Bruce Nolan the opportunity to see what it is like to be God for a few days. Bruce is given all of God’s powers but he also must shoulder God’s responsibilities and duties. One of those duties is to respond to people’s prayers.
In an entertaining scene from the movie, these prayers all show up on Bruce’s computer In one morning, he receives over 3 million prayers via his email account. What is interesting to me is the way that Hollywood chooses to portray the scene and the prayers. As these prayers arrive, again via email, the screen on Bruce’s computer is that of a typical account including the sender of the email and the subject of the message which in this case are the subject of the people’s prayers or said another way the issue that they are praying about. In turn, the screen on Bruce’s computer contains prayers focused on these subjects: “paying for debt, mom’s health, car repairs, football practice, gym class, a new kitten, bankruptcy, a new job for Dad, good weather for the weekend and an upcoming sports tryout” among countless others. After feeling overwhelmed with all of the requests, Bruce stops reading the prayers individually and simply sets the computer to reply “yes” to all incoming messages. The scene ends with a frustrated Bruce simply saying, “now…everyone will be happy!”
While Bruce Almighty certainly is not classic cinema and it is defiantly not a resource for good theology, I do appreciate the way that Hollywood envisions our prayers. Virtually every prayer that appears on Bruce’s computer screen has the person asking for something that they want or that someone that they love needs. Prayer, at least in this movie, is more about approaching God with our wish list then anything else. And Hollywood, at least at this point, may have us pegged more accurately than they think or than we would like to admit.
When it comes to our wish lists, prayer and the Lord’s Prayer, I think there are two things we must be clear about from the very beginning. First, without question, the Lord’s Prayer does include the idea of our asking for the personal things of every day life that are on our minds in the moment and that we feel that we need for our well being. As we will talk about in the weeks to come, the Lord’s Prayer itself includes conversation with God about our need for “daily bread, forgiveness for our mistakes, a petition for guidance and a request for deliverance from difficult situations and places.” In turn, according to Jesus it is right and appropriate to pray specifically about what we feel that we need.
At the same time, to make this the full focus of our prayers is to miss the boat. After all, in Jesus’ model, long before the prayer moves toward our own wants and needs, it is first a prayer where we invite “God’s Kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth just as it is in heaven.”
And so what does this look like? What does it mean to not only acknowledge but to live out a prayer life, which is to say a daily conversational relationship with God, where we open ourselves up to God’s will and God’s kingdom while at the same time having the space and the courage to be honest with the Holy One of the universe about our own wishes and the longings of our own hearts.
This morning, let me suggest that verse 10 and the phrase “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” invites us to keep in a few ideas in our minds at all time as we develop a life of prayer.
The first idea is balance. As we talk to God, we must be after balance. This means balancing what we feel that we need with open ourselves up fully and completely to praying for God to use us as God seeks to accomplish his mission and his kingdom’s work in the world. Again, as I have already said, praying for things that are important to us is appropriate, but prayer is also about praying for the ability to understand and embrace what God wants to do through us. And, while critical, this is the side of the coin that is easy for us to dismiss, forget or avoid.
As we seek to be as practical as we can here, I think the best thing we can do is to end our daily prayers by asking ourselves a question. How much of my conversation today was about me asking God to do what I want versus me opening myself up to what God’s will and wishes would have me to be about?
Just like walking a tightrope or performing the balance beam in gymnastics this is in no way easy but it is critical to our forming our prayer life around the example here that Jesus offers.
The second idea here I think is listening. If we say that prayer is a conversation then we are agreeing that it must be a two way conversation. We must give God the space to speak to us. In turn, it seems to me if we are going to build a prayer life that invited God’s will to be done and God’s kingdom to come, then we must be silent that we might listen.
I love the story of the couple that was going through marital counseling. One day, in the midst of a rather heated session with their counselor, one spouse said to the other, “why you have not spoken to me in five years!” To which the other spouse responded, “well, I have always been taught not to interrupt!”
That is where our pray lives are much of the time I think. We understand the need for God to speak, we understand that prayer is about seeking God’s will and not simply our own. But, practically speaking, in the day to day real world of our prayers, we don’t stop talking long enough to listen. Confessionally, I want you to know that I struggle with this just as you do. I reach the end of my prayers only to find out that I have not been silent, that I have not stopped talking. I have prayed over and over again, “Lord, help me to do what you want me to do today.” Or, “Lord, help me to please you today” which are versions of “Your kingdom come, your will be done” but I have not stopped talking to allow God through the Holy Spirit to help me to see what that looks like.
Mother Teresa once said it this way, “God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer”. Praying Lord, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is critical but just as critical is our being quite to allow God to give shape to what this will looks like today.
The last idea here I think is our courage to embrace the last phrase of this sentence “on earth as it is in heaven”. Honestly, I had never really thought about the ending of verse 10 as much as the beginning. My thoughts have always been around how this phrase in the Lord’s prayer shifts the focus from our will to God’s will. Yet, just as important is the clarification that seeking God’s will in our prayers is about seeking to understand how we can put live out God’s ways in the flesh and bone of everyday in keeping with how life unfolds in heaven.
If you think about this, it is a very powerful idea and a very challenging idea. This way of praying really posses a daily question. Is the way I treat others, what I do with my resources, how I choose to prioritize life – is it really a foretaste or a glimpse of the way we think life will work one day when we live in God’s presence. Are we seeking to replicate what we think life will be like there in how will live life here? After all, isn’t that what we are being invited to prayer – “your kingdom come, your will be done… on earth, just as it is in heaven”.
It reminds me of a moment from my childhood. I had a friend who along with his family went to our same church. His parents were, how shall I say this, “progressive” or “open minded” which is to say they were fairly lenient. It is interesting to me though that they were very self aware of this and very attentive the fact that their parenting style was not the norm.
I remember one occasion in particular when I was at their house and we were going to watch a movie. I remember that before we started the movie, his mother looked at me and said, “Rickey, it is alright with us if we watch this movie, but I want to ask you something. Are you sure your parents would approve of this film?” I remember my response as if it was yesterday, “absolutely I said. They wouldn’t have any problem with this fine film at all. They would love it.” Now, that moment was not a sign of my vocational future because I knew without a doubt there there was no way on God’s earth that my parents would have approved of that movie. But, I wanted to see it and this was my golden opportunity. What I remember happening next is this. My friend’s mom paused for a second, almost let us go ahead but then she stopped, “Rickey, I need to ask you one more time would this movie be allowed in your house.”
That’s the question that we are opening ourselves up to by framing our prayers around verse ten. We are seeking God’s will, what God’s wants done and we are asking God to help us to see life and to life on God’s earth where we have human freedoms in the way that it is done in God’s heaven where things unfold exactly according to the Divine way.
In a lot of ways, verse 10 my just be the most critical statement in the Lord’s prayer to get our mind around but at the same time the most beneficial. Will we live a balanced conversation with God, where we share but where we also listen and where we constantly allow God to call us to seek the divine way right here on earth just as we one day envision it unfolding in heaven.
O Lord, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.