In my last post, Prayer: What if We’re Doing it Wrong?, I outlined why its possible that we’ve been wrong about prayer if we primarily view it as an opportunity to get God to do the things we think God should do. I ended by asking the question: If God knows what we want before we even ask for it, then why should we bother praying in the first place?! Unless prayer is about something else.
Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount says that if we do it we’ll receive a reward from our Father in heaven. What is that reward, if its not about getting everything we asked for?
To understand what the reward is we’ll have to back up to the beginning of Jesus’ teaching in this section of the Sermon on the Mount, and then back to the beginning of the whole sermon. This might feel a little technical but stick with me.
The section where Jesus is teaching on prayer is actually the middle of a three part teaching on what Jesus calls practiced righteousness. Practicing righteousness is really Jesus way of talking about living the way you ought to live. The way things are supposed to be in your life. His idea of practiced righteousness falls into three different categories: charity, prayer and fasting. Charity is about giving to the poor and generosity. Fasting is about withholding food from yourself to remind you of God’s provision and grow self discipline. And in between those two teachings, the middle section, is prayer - communication with God. Communicating with God is practiced righteousness. If that doesn’t clear things up, hold on we’re almost there.
Pull back with me, just a minute, to the very beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus begins this whole sermon in Matthew 5 -7 with an introduction that many have referred to as The Beatitudes. Another way to title it would be The Blessed Life. In the middle of Jesus’ teaching on the blessed life, he says that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be - and here is the reward, drumroll please!… filled.
Perhaps the word filled doesn’t mean that much for you. Jesus is creating a word picture here. Those who hunger for righteousness - who hunger for things to be the way they’re supposed to be - will be filled. The picture is of a person who pushes back from the table after eating a good meal.
Not over eating.
Not still hungry.
Filled. Another translation of the word filled is to be satisfied. Those who hunger for righteousness will be satisfied. It should be no surprise that later in this message Jesus says, here’s how you practice that righteousness that leads to satisfaction.
Don’t pray to look spiritual - that won’t bring satisfaction to your life.
Don’t worry about what to say - the right words are not what is going to bring satisfaction to your life.
Don’t spend all your time trying to get God to do the things that you think God should do - that won’t satisfy you. The reward for prayer is not that you’ll get everything you asked for. The reward for prayer is that you will be satisfied.
Those aren’t the same.
But you already knew that. You know that being satisfied and getting everything you want are not the same thing. Think of it terms of food. In this moment, I may want to scoot out of EB Coffee & Pub, where our church meets every Sunday morning and head down the street to the McDonald’s for breakfast. I might want that in this moment - but if I do, I can almost guarantee it won’t satisfy me, at least not long term. Needs and wants aren’t the same.
Think of it terms of relationships. The most satisfying relationships are not the ones in which you get everything you want - but in which you get what you need, along with the other person in the relationship. And the best relationships are cultivated not in public for all to see, but in private behind closed doors. The most satisfying relationships are the ones where you aren’t worried about what you’ll say, you aren’t concerned about saying things just right, or feeling like you have to fill the space with words. And the most satisfying relationships are definitely not the ones in which the conversation constantly revolves around the needs and requests of one person.
Believe it or not, and if you’ve ever tried it you probably know this: prayer that is all about getting God to do things for you, is not satisfying.
The Communication of an Intimate Relationship
Prayer is not about getting God to do the things we think God should do - its not just about asking God for stuff. In fact “help me, bless me, give me” is almost unnecessary. Instead, prayer is the communication of an intimate relationship that brings satisfaction to your life. Let me say that again. Prayer is the communication of an intimate relationship that brings satisfaction to your life. If you want to pray satisfying prayers, you need to close the door, don’t worry about what you’ll say or spend all you time on your own needs. Pray to your Father in heaven who will reward you. Not with a prize for prayer, or by giving you everything you asked for like some cosmic genie; but with the natural outcome of investing time into an intimate relationship: satisfaction.
That’s what Jesus had. It’s what his disciples saw, and wanted. They wanted the kind of satisfying relationship with God that Jesus seemed to have. So they asked him to teach them (Luke 11:1). Which, if you think about it, is really why Jesus came in the first place.
Jesus came to reconnect people with God. To reconnect you. To restore the relationship between you and your Father in heaven. That’s what he’s inviting you into.
Now, how do we make the move from our prayers being about getting God to do stuff for us, to the communication that brings satisfaction?
Great question. We’ll go there next time!