Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Prayer - Transaction or Relationship?

I was listening to Philip Yancy's "Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?" in the car today and was struck by his comments on viewing prayer as a transaction with God. You often hear people talk about the problem of unanswered prayers. Why does God seem to ignore us when we ask him for something? Doesn't the Bible say that if we want something we should simply ask God for it? The truth is, God's response to our prayers seems almost random at times. Sometimes he does a miracle, sometimes there's no response at all.

People will answer these concerns with assurances that God does hear our prayer and answer, and sometimes the answer is "No" or "Wait." Others will tell you that God knows better than we do what we need and gives us what's best for us rather than what we ask for in our prayers. Both of these answers seem to have have a nugget of truth in them but I think they miss the mark. I don't actually think either of them is a true picture of what's going on.

The fundamental problem is this view of prayer as a transaction... I give something to God (faith, service, belief, etc.) and he is thereby obligated to give me something back (what I ask for). If I don't get what I asked for then either there's a problem with my prayer technique, or God is somehow cheating me out of what I deserve. The first conclusion spawns how-to-pray books and sermons, the second brings my whole belief in a good and perfect God into question.

A better view of prayer is that it's part of the relationship between me and God. I don't want a "networking" relationship with God, the kind where I get his email address and keep in touch because he might be useful to me some day. I want the close, personal friendship kind of relationship. In this kind of relationship, sharing the details of my life, whether struggles or triumphs, gives God pleasure. He really wants to hear all about what's going on with me, not because he's trying to find out what to do for me, but simply because he's interested in me.

It's what good friends do. We talk. About anything and everything. Not to fix each other, but just to talk. Friends read each other's blogs too. I bet God reads our blogs. I wonder what he thinks!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Failure to Communicate

I've been out of the country for the last week or so. During the meetings I attended I was watching how people interact in a presenter-attender situation. I'm sure you've all been part of a situation like this. One person is presenting information as the rest of the group listens, asks questions, and discusses the topic.

The thing I noticed was how often the communication between two people simply didn't work. These were all highly-educated professionals who were trying hard to both transmit their information and understand what was being transmitted to them. About half the time when one person would ask a question the other person would misunderstand the question completely and answer some other question (at least that's what I inferred from the disconnect between question and answer). Sometimes the questioner would accept the answer and things would move on, and sometimes they would ask another question that was related to the first. Only rarely did the two of them figure out on their own that a communication failure had occurred. Most of the time someone else would point out the disconnect.

I wonder how often this happens when we try to communicate the gospel message to others. It's perfectly clear to us what we're saying, but half the time the other person simply misses the message completely. They shake their heads and figure we're ignorant fanatics, we walk away concluding their hearts are hardened to the gospel. In fact they didn't hear what we said and we didn't notice.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Spiritual Gifts

So, here's a small break from heavy philosophical ponderings...maybe.

The Bible says we all have at least one spiritual gift. It gives a long list of gifts in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and a few other places. Most people have taken one of more "tests" to tell them what their spiritual gift is.

So here's the puzzle...is my spiritual gift something I'm naturally good at? Should I be able to exercise it easily? I'm guessing no to both questions based on my own experience. Also, God seems to want us to struggle with most things, so it can't come all that easily. On the other hand, if it's too hard I'll never figure it out.

So, dear reader (assuming you're there), what is your spiritual gift? How do you know what it is? What effect does having that particular gift have on your life?