Jesus doesn’t meet our needs; he rearranges them. He cares very little about most things that I assume are my needs, and he gives me needs I would’ve never had if I hadn’t met Jesus. He reorders them.
I used to ask seminarians, “Why are you in seminary?” They’d say, “I like meeting people’s needs.” And I’d say, “Whoa. Really? If you try that with the people I know, they’ll eat you alive.”
Now, if you’re a pastor in Honduras, it might be okay to define your ministry as meeting needs, because more people in Honduras have interesting biblical needs – food, clothing, housing. But most people in the churches I know get those needs met without prayer. So they’ve moved on to “needs” like orgasm, a satisfying career, an enjoyable love life, a positive outlook on life, and stuff the Bible has absolutely no interest in. –WIll Willimon, interview with Leadership, 2006
Willimon can bite hard. This is a stinging critique, but sometimes the sting makes us actually look at our own skin.
What role does prayer have in our churches? Before we give some answers on this, take an honest, solid look at how often we pray for our churches in our personal time, how often we pray with our people, how often we encourage our people to pray, etc.
Maybe prayer is our need.
I don’t know Ryan. He commented on one of my Easter reflections from last year. He sounds dire:
Please let me end my sufferings, and let my loved ones live happily forever.
I emailed Ryan and he hasn’t responded. I hope that you will pray for him as things sound rough for him right now.
Well it feels like I’m repeating the methoblogosphere again, but:
Asbury Theological Seminary’s very own Steve Harper has been interviewed by the United Methodist Portal about his book, Talking in the Dark. I haven’t read it yet, but it is next on my list.
Steve was a professor of mine last term and I still run into from week to week and I must say that he has been very helpful to my seminary experience and on “Candidacy Road.”
Here is an excerpt from the interview that I have been thinking about lately as I’ve been teaching our youth about prayer:
You talked about “magical thinking” that sometimes surrounds prayer. What’s wrong with magical thinking?
Magical thinking makes prayer a simplistic formula: If I say the right words, if I say them in the right way and if I say them long enough, I’ll get what I want. We want to say the kind of prayer that obligates God to answer. That’s what magic is. It’s a hocus pocus, presto chango—you make all the right moves and the rabbit comes out of the hat.
But as someone has said, “The purpose of prayer is not to get an answer. The purpose of prayer is to get into a relationship with the God who answers.” And I really think that’s true. Prayer is not just a transaction. Instead, I’m asking, seeking, knocking—trying to get into a relationship.