Saturday, August 26, 2006

Lessons on Prayer from Jill Carroll

"Through all the weeks and months I hadn't prayed. I thought it would be hypocritical...I hadn't been to church in a long time."

Those are the words of Jill Carroll, kidnapped/released reporter who had spent some time in Iraq.

I have been reading the eleven-part series as it plays out in our local newspaper (The Ann Arbor News). [My twelve-year-old son was telling me that he'd been reading it sentence at a time as he bags his papers for his paper route!)

It got me asking some questions: "What does God think about us praying only when we're in trouble?"

"If I haven't been thanking God for stuff up till now, can I really expect my prayers to be heard when I'm deep crud?!"

Here are some thoughts about that.

1.) The Bible constantly shows this whole God-thing, is not primarily rules, but a RELATIONSHIP. Granted, God is unlike anyone else you know, in MANY ways. But I think that good relationships might give us a little insight in how to approach this (and bad relationships might give us insight into how NOT to approach it.)

2.) As a parent, I expect my kids to come to me when they're in trouble, even if we haven't spoken in awhile. Jesus teaches us to call God "Father" so apparently there is to be a relationship like a parent and a child. (Many of the prophets call God the Shepherd, which makes us sheep. Sheep are dumb, and so am I a lot of times. But even THAT is a relationship, right? One provides sustenance and protection. The other eats, sleeps, and is unaware except for the Voice that calls out occasionally. However, we become aware when we're attacked and wonder, "where'd the protection go?")

3.) A healthy relationship might BEGIN when one person is in need of help and the other provides it. I remember meeting Carl for the first time, on the side of a busy freeway in Indianapolis when our family's mini-van broke down in the middle of rush hour traffic. I wasn't going to tell Carl to get back in his pick-up truck because I hadn't sent a Christmas card last year. My emergency and his generosity were how we met. I think God is a little like Carl, always anticipating the opportunity to begin a relationship when the other person's in need. BUT, and this is a big but, no healthy relationship remains on an emergency-only basis for long (other than the police, the Emergency Medical Service, the fire dept., well, you get the idea).

While I DO think that God is willing to be AAA for roadside towing in our life, and that might be how you meet, and God is probably fine beginning a dialogue that way, I guess my hope for you would be that you'd move onto a deeper, more meaningful relationship.

Which brings me to my final thought (for now) on this subject...

4.) The Bible is full of all sorts of examples of relationships between people and God: healthy/unhealthy, those who call anytime (see Psalms)/those who only call when they need help (see the book of Judges), relationships that are just beginning and those that are more fully developing, people who were willing to begin a relationship with God when they needed help (the Prodigal Son)/people who were stubborn and unwilling to cry out (the Prodigal's older bro.) when they had nowhere else to turn.

Jill Carroll overcame her feelings of hypocrisy and prayed:

"God, thank you for getting me through all these days so far. Please just give me the strength to keep going. Stay with my family right now and sit with them and give them strength. I know I never used to come to You before and it's bad of me to come to You now when I really need it. Please, just stay with me right now. Just stay with me right now and don't leave me."

I think that is EXACTLY the prayer she should have prayed.

What prayer might you pray next?

Grace & peace.

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