Friday, November 2, 2018
Prayer: Wrestling with Selfishness (Luke 22:39-46) by Rev. Dr. Steve Locke
Christian inwardness is our chance to throw off the less than spiritual forces in us and put on the power of the spiritual goodness of God.
The world is becoming less compassionate and sensitive to the lives of others says one of our leading sociologists. This insensitivity arises from a kind of moral blindness created by an acquiescence to what we call normal. Instead of reaching beyond the banality of the world to our created purpose we accept the easy way. We were created in the image of God to care for each other and the world; yet we seem to be getting in the way of following that divine purpose. We don’t seem to have time for God, let alone the other people in our lives. The driving force behind this ever increasing loss of the other is our own selfishness. This is not new in the world of relationships, it has haunted us from the very beginning of our consciousness. Adam and Eve, as our historical and abiding parents, reveal to us that our problem is rooted in our own desires. These desires, most of the time, turn to fulfilling the self alone, not the needs of the other. It is difficult for us to get out of the way of our own self to find our true selves in God.
When we enter into prayer we must lose ourselves in this encounter in order to benefit from the relationship. We must be honest, open and authentic in this encounter with God to have any chance of speaking to us in the silence. We must get out of the way in order to come away from our time with God a changed person. The change that God is looking for in us is to become more aware of who God is and what God wants. From Jesus we know that God wants us to embrace the lost, the victims, the suffering of this world. God wants us to become more compassionate by losing our self in the divine wisdom and mercy. Selfishness prevents us from benefiting from our encounters with God. When we continue to allow our mind to control our prayer life with thoughts of what we want alone, then God can only speak to us in yes or no language. This limits God’s ability to speak to us in the silence. We push God into a corner without entrance into our life.
Dietrich Bonheoffer writes in 1942, “A Christian community either lives by the intercessory prayers of its members for one another, or the community will be destroyed. I can no longer condemn or hate other Christians for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble they cause me.” When we forget that our prayers are to reach beyond our inner walls of separation we remain selfish, instead of a selfless expression of what Jesus calls us to be. The prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane continues to teach us the real heart of prayer. In the garden he is wrestling with his destiny, his purpose in life. His suffering was because in following his purpose it meant his death. His struggles culminated in his cry to his Father, “Take this cup from me.” Like all of us who face such things, we would cry out to the one who can change the direction of our history. But Jesus wants something else more than his own life. He wants to do the will of God. So the last word was not “Take this cup from me,” but “Not my will but thy will be done.” This is not just a set of words that show respect to the power of God. This is a change of being in the world with God. His inner life and vision of the world is in step with God. This is the benefit of prayer in a world that is losing its sensitivity.
We are often led astray by the advice of Jesus and the apostles to ask God for what you want and he will be happy to grant it. Those who are true prayer warriors know that it is not all about asking, it is about stepping out of the way so you can hear and see where God is moving. Prayer as only asking becomes one sided because we only hear our own voice. That is why the Psalms must be reevaluated for more than just expressions of wants and gripes with God. They must be seen as the tensions of the self that is in danger of becoming the louder voice in the relationship. These prayers are not prescriptive for our behavior. They are the soundings of both the false self and the real self trying to come to grips with the presence of God. Therefore when the Psalmist demands of God to kill his enemies or to make their enemies suffer, he is acting from that selfish part of his inner world that needs to be heard but then also healed. The worshippers are called on to sing and pray these liturgical writings, not to put them into practice by killing their enemies, but to bring the pain behind these words to God and wait for healing.
Prayer is a wrestling with God, as Jacob did, but it is also a wrestling with ourselves. We are called upon through the process of prayer to get out of the way so God can have his way. Prayer is drawing closer to God and those around us. Compassion and sensitivity are the end result of this wrestling.