This morning as I read Allender's chapter on prayer the words humbled me and surrounded me with grace.
The humility came when in these words:
"...seldom do we permit any blessing to remain as an undeserving gift from God. Instead, we assume that we did something to earn it, and we hold on to it as if we deserve it...God's people presume upon the blessing of God, which leads to the temptation to possess his gift as a deserved necessity." (p. 169)I appreciate Allender's insight. How often do I see the blessings in my life as some deserved gift because of my piety or my service or my calling or my [insert work here] rather than the unmerited blessing of God. When I do that it cheapens God's mercy and grace, and I attempt to put myself in a position of merit or goodness that I neither am nor could be.
The grace came in these words:
"Entering the narrative before God means, first, we must enter prayer as a struggle. We do not merely utter a string of words according to a prescribed sequence such as adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. Of course prayer can be orderly and organized. But the prayer that pleads for exposure and engagement throws our desperation at God's feet and wrestles naked with him for a new name. This is prayer that heals." (p. 170)I find myself from time to time trying to engage God in prayer as if prayer were like eating dinner in a super-fancy restaurant; the words are like the forks, and you have to use the right ones for the right request, or course. And that if one has poor table manners then somehow it doesn't take. I appreciate the earthiness of the image of prayer as being like Jacob's wrestling match. Prayer is an engagement, it is give and take, move and counter-move, it is relationship. Yet I am tempted to boil this rich experience down to a simple acronym or a formula. Yes those things are helpful as guides, so long as they aid the relationship that is the end of all prayer - the relationship between Creator and created.
So this day whether we find ourselves tempted to thing that we somehow deserve or merit God's blessings; or whether we are desperate before God and formulaic prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling - may we be awakened in, and to the great awe of God, the author of grace and of our lives, the one who has written our stories and who invites us to be the coauthor of the story of our lives.
p.s. I highly recommend To Be Told, it is a wonderful book that engages our lives and spiritual journeys as a story authored by God and which we are invited to be co-authors with God.