Reflection July 28, 2019 by Rev Sunny Kim
Colossians 2:6-15/ Luke 11:1-13
Prayer of Relationship
Today’s theme is prayer. One of my spiritual mentors, who is a Methodist minister, biblical scholar, and a prominent Christian writer in Korea, wrote a book called Prayer as Fellowship with God. This book taught me what prayer is about and how to pray; his perspective on prayer was a huge revelation for me. The thesis of this book is that the sole purpose of prayer is fellowship with God; to maintain an intimate relationship with God. A lot of Christians think prayer is about asking God for what they need and want and so treat God like Genie in a Bottle. But asking for favours is, or should be, a small part of our prayer life. Think of our relationship with God like any other relationships in our lives. When we have a relationship with someone, sometimes we talk, sometimes we listen, sometimes we ask for favours, and sometimes we just sit together and say nothing while enjoying each other’s company. Likewise, when we have a relationship with God, sometimes we talk, sometimes we listen, sometimes we ask for favours, and sometimes we just sit together and chill. There are many different types of prayers that enrich our spirituality such as repentance, praise and thanksgiving (yes, singing hymns is a prayer), intercessory prayer, meditation, chanting, and silent prayer. Learning my mentor’s perspective on prayer and different types of prayer surely improved my relationship with God.
In today’s gospel story, Jesus teaches his followers how to pray. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us the gist of what should be included in a prayer. Let me highlight one point; asking for favours is only a small part and it’s about asking for basic needs, not selfish wishes. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Then we have to forgive each other because God forgives us our sins, and work for God’s kingdom to be realized in our mortal world. The story that Jesus tells after teaching the Lord’s Prayer is commonly misunderstood as, “If we persistently ask for something, God will give it to us,” as in “Our wish is God’s command.” This is us treating God like the Genie in a Bottle. But if you read it closely, it’s not about asking for our hearts’ selfish desires; it’s about asking favours for someone else. Praying for someone else is called intercessory prayer, and as God’s people called to minister to each other, as a part of ministering to each other, we have to pray for each other. We might pray for a friend who is grieving. We might pray for those who suffer from natural disasters or from being marginalized, such as poverty, racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and so on. All we need to ask for ourselves is “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Now you might wonder, “Is it wrong to ask for our hearts’ desires?” Of course, there is nothing wrong about asking for what we want. What do you want for your birthday or Christmas? We have our wish lists. Children ask their parents all the time. However, there is no guarantee that your wish will come true. How can we decide what to ask for? We can find the clue from Colossians chapter 2. We are taught to live in Christ. As people who have been forgiven and been born again in Christ, we should live in Christ and receive nourishments from Christ and grow. As people who now belong to Christ and live in Christ, our wishes should be in line with Christ. One of the outcomes of becoming close with someone, like our close friends, is that we start resembling each other. You share the same hobbies, food, thoughts, and maybe you start talking like one another. As we become closer to God, it is natural for us to start looking like God. It’s like one of the best loved spiritual books of all time The Imitation of Christ written by Thomas a Kempis in the 15th century. We are called to follow Jesus and imitate him in our lives; that is our goal as Christians. Our wishes have to be compatible with the will of God taught to us through the teachings of Jesus. Being humble, treating others with compassion, and working towards a just world are the essence of the gospel of Jesus. We talk about loving God and neighbours; justice is what love looks like in public. That is why we cannot follow the commandment to love without working towards social justice.
The purpose of prayer is to have a close relationship with God and resemble God. If we resemble God as a result of a close relationship, we will live out God’s love and kingdom values; we have to live out our prayers. In the context of being in a relationship, sometimes we get to ask for favours; but the real gift that we receive from being in a close relationship with God is knowing that God’s love for us and our relationship with God is the biggest blessing of them all. God’s blessed people rejoice and give thanks to God no matter what God gives them, or doesn’t give them. Blessed people also know what to ask for because their wishes are in tune with the will of God. For the blessed people, prayer is not used for making a wish, but for the joy of spending time with God as with our best friend. Today I urge you to start an intimate relationship with God. I pray that you will find the joy of spending time with God through diverse prayer practices and as a result, imitate Christ in your life. Let us not only spend time with God through prayer, but also live out our prayers by following Christ.