“What if the main object in God’s idea of prayer be the supplying of our great endless need–the need of Himself? . . . Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other need: prayer is the beginning of that communion, and some need is the motive of that prayer . . . Hunger may drive the runaway child home, and he may or may not be fed at once, but he needs his mother more than his dinner.” George MacDonald
The activity of praying with an under-developed understanding of its purpose usually results in rehearsing a laundry list of our latest or greatest wants. My own prayers have often shown my short-sighted, slippery grasp of the topic. Begging, whining, whimpering and whooping could characterize my various attempts at communicating with the Almighty. God must have a generous sense of humor when He observes our flailing efforts at calling home.
This weekend I visited with a young man who shared some of his story with me. An epiphanal moment for him happened at a retreat in Europe. He had been praying for insight as to how he could love God more. Then it came to him that what God really wanted was to stimulate and grow his understanding of how much God loved him.
The ancient story of a wasteful (the definition of prodigal) son is instructive at this point. He had a problem. After exhausting all visible means of support he woke up to the fact that his menu was reduced to tasteless fiber. His self-sufficient, one-sided efforts at living the good life were his attempts to exercise control and feed his ego. But the business end of pig farming jolted him awake and he suddenly realized his hog wild binge was coming to a squealing stop.
The eye opening that followed was not simply that he felt he deserved at least what the servants at home were allowed. He had gnawing, physical hunger that unless satisfied would result in starvation. It was a hunger so powerful that it drove him to the only sustainable source of life; his father. However, this son needed more than food. He had abdicated his identity as son opting to forge a new identity and history apart from his mentor father. The narrative tells us how that worked out for him. Not well.
A shallow reading might result in the conclusion that this boy was simply hungry and knew he could get a steady meal ticket back home, even if he had to work for it. After all, that’s what he had been doing. But there is more meat in this narraphor.
At home, in the presence of his father, daily provision would be assured. At home he had unlimited access to the wisdom and mentorship of his father. At home security and safety would never have to be his worry. At home the freedom to dance and rejoice in a supportive and loving community was cultivated. But all of these would be secondary to an ultimately vital need: restoring relationship with his Abba.
Prayer for our daily needs is not wrong-headed. Prayer for protection from our enemies is not inappropriate. Jesus modeled a prayer including these requests. But far more emphasis is placed on the relational aspect, “Our Father . . . etc.”
I need Father more than I need food, or a job, or stuff. In my prayers, which are motivated, I must admit, by pressing and immediate needs, I am forced to return to Him. I have “great and precious” promises that assure me I am well cared for. Forgetting that fact providentially drives me to drink. To drink deeply at the source of all that sustains me, Abba.
He can, and does supply all my needs from His rich treasury without my asking for them. He does so just because I am His son. Asking is exercising my faith because the reality is that those needs are already supplied and in transit. So the only purpose I can see in the activity of prayer for our perceived needs, other than soothe our anxiety is that it forces us into communication with Father. Could that be His plan?