We’re still asking the same wrong question that James and John asked Jesus so many years ago. We pray with the idea that we want God to do “whatever we ask.” God entertains the questions we pose, the wants we raise, and then moves on to what is needed just as Jesus did with his disciples. Prayer is not a way to get what we want. God is not a spiritual ATM that will give us what we ask when we put in our code. Prayer can open us to the Spirit. Prayer can center us by allowing our deepest needs and desires to come to the surface. However, as Job learned, we don’t always get the response we want. Why? Because God is God and we are not. And, God seldom defies the laws of nature to give us what we’ve asked for. Sometimes, I think if we pray for possibilities to be revealed to us, more than asking God to fix what we’ve broken, we’d be in better shape. We might better understand Jesus’ statement about the last being first and the need to be in service to all.
Most of us are like James and John; we want to be certain of our place next to Jesus. We want to be certain that we are the “right” kind of Christian. As a result of this need for certainty, we’ve created rules and practices to ensure that we get up close with Jesus. Yet, like those first disciples, we can get so focused on jockeying for position that we forget what our purpose is, what Jesus has truly asked of us. We are called to be servants above all else. This doesn’t mean that we deny our own needs or forego joy and pleasure. It means that we take into consideration the needs of those around us and the needs of Creation, before serving ourselves. We are meant to be in relationship with our neighbors and with Creation. Always putting ourselves first perpetuates inequity and injustice in society, especially for White folx.
These days I find myself wondering how church can focus more on relationships. We tend to be overly focused on individual relationships with God in ways that might not be so healthy or helpful. What if we were able to back up a bit and look at what is needed rather than insist on keeping things the way they have been? What if we stopped ignoring the pandemic of hopelessness and despair as is evidenced in climbing suicide and addiction rates? What if we were able to address the pervasive sense of isolation, loneliness, and disconnection that often leads to depression? What would it mean for churches of all kinds to concentrate their missions of relationships – relationships with self, neighbor, God, Creation – in ways that mattered, without focusing on spiritual salvation? What if we really did focus our energy and efforts on saving lives? We could be in service to one another, and particularly those most vulnerable.
This might mean letting go of many boards, committees, teams and other archaic forms of congregational governance to make way for relationship tending, since most church-goers have limited time and energy. Maybe worship isn’t what draws people in so much as it reflects our need to come together, give thanks, and celebrate the Spirit that connects us one to another. Maybe people start seeking out congregations because there’s a small group that focuses on something they are interested in – feeding those who are food insecure, housing those who are housing insecure, supporting those who struggle with symptoms of mental illness, supporting those who are caregivers, etc. Maybe there are other groups that share a common interest – books, needlework, art, cooking, baking, walking, etc. – and these groups focus on kinship. Yes, there could be groups for Bible study and other learning-based activities. Whatever it might look like, the church of the future is a church that honors and celebrates our interdependence by fostering relationships that bring hope and save lives. This is a dream worth pursuing, don’t you think?
Isn’t it time we grow up a bit and stop fighting and arguing about who’s closest to God and who’s allowed to be next to us and start focusing on the lifesaving work of bringing Divine Love into the world one relationship at a time? There is hope enough to share. There is Love enough to share. Isn’t it time we get to it? Maybe if we pray for God to reveal what is possible rather than what we think we want, a new vitality will flow into our congregations…