Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Who You Are (No, not you)

“Lord Jesus, thank you for who you are.” If you have even heard me give the children’s message at church you have heard me pray these words with our kids. You may have even wondered if you’ve heard me lead our children to pray like this week after week, “why can’t he think of anything new to start that prayer with?” Since I’m realistic enough to realize that it is unlikely that any child that comes up on a Sunday morning will remember the specific substance of a children’s message into adulthood I am intentional about teaching them to pray in this way. Maybe, just maybe, after starting prayer with their pastor each week in this way (I pray a short phrase and the kids repeat after me), that this will be ingrained in their prayer life for all their days.
So with all the ways that one might attempt to teach children to pray, why “Lord Jesus, thank you for who you are?” Acknowledging who God is and our gratitude for that is to recognize what prayer is really about. Jesus promised as he left his disciples that the Holy Spirit would be with us always. So let us not think that in prayer we are summoning a far off God who comes close at our beckoning, or getting the attention of a God who is distracted by many chores and voices, and needs us to say, “Hey, God listen up, I need your attention right now!” Author Henri Nouwen has reminded us that all prayer is answering prayer. Meaning that God is already active and present in our lives (weather we recognize it or not) and in prayer we are answering what God is already doing. God starts the conversation, and when we slow down enough to pray we are simply joining in that conversation with the One that longs to share time with us.
Starting prayer with thanking God for who God is also reminds us that our relationship with God is not that of an ungrateful child that always has a hand out looking for more from God. When we understand that the God of the universe wants to have relationship with us, that he loves us with more care, tenderness, and intimacy, than even the most perfect human parent ever could, we should not be able to contain our gratitude. Particularly as we realize that this relationship isn’t based on who we are or what we do, our good deeds or our eloquently crafted prayers, but simply on the fact that God loves us and has done everything possible to make sure there are as few barriers between us and him as possible. So to remember with gratitude who God is as we begin to pray is to acknowledge all God has done, will do, and is doing, and how that affects all we have done, will do, and are doing. Prayer is not about having the words exactly right, or saying them with a certain inflection, but the words should reflect the attitude of our hearts as we join in conversation with God. Perhaps if we start our prayer with gratitude for who God is that we will connect with what the deepest part of our souls already knows, that God is completely different from us and yet desires to be with us more than we could desire anything in our hearts. May we be filled with gratitude at such a God and never stop thanking Jesus for simply being who he is.