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30 May 2018

Praying for ordinary stuff.

Seriously. You can pray for anything.

There’s this mindset people get into: Spiritual things take up one segment of our lives, and secular things the rest.

  • Going to church and reading bible: Spiritual.
  • Going to the coffehouse and reading the news: Secular.
  • Going to a restaurant: Secular. Except for the bit at the beginning where we say grace. But once that bit of diligence is over, we needn’t think about God any longer.

Problem is, that’s entirely wrong. Everything is spiritual. Not just ’cause we carry the Holy Spirit with us, and we need to stay mindful of his presence and instruction. But because we’re meant to be light in a dark world, and bless everyone around us. (Not just our food!)

And one of the ways we get over that artificial secular/spiritual divide is by praying for ordinary stuff. What do I mean by “ordinary”? Glad you asked: Anything and everything. There’s no subject off-limits to God. Anything you can talk about with your friends, you can talk about with God. Anything you can’t discuss with friends (’cause it’s private, uncomfortable, or they’re gonna make fun), you can still talk about with God.

Seriously, anything. Even taboos, like toilet stuff and sex. If you can discuss it with your doctor (and should!) you can talk about it with God. Now, kids will talk about this stuff for shock and giggles, and parents will try to clamp down on it: My grandparents objected to stuff you don’t discuss “in polite company,” and Mom used to object, “Would you say those things if Pastor were here?” (As if your pastor hasn’t said worse. I went to seminary; I know better.) But again: You can talk about everything with God. And should. Hold nothing back. He’s heard it all; he knows it all; he’s seen worse. You won’t shock him.

Oh, you’ll definitely shock other Christians. I still do. One of ’em still hasn’t gotten over the fact I used the word “horny” in a prayer. She was raised to believe there are unfit subjects for church, prayer, and other Christians. Which, I pointed out, isn’t just false; it’s heresy. If Jesus is Lord over all, that’s part of the “all.” If Christians can’t discuss real problems, and bring ’em to God, it interferes with our relationships with Jesus.

So we have to fight this secular/sacred mindset: There can’t be taboo subjects in God’s kingdom. True, there are subjects we might consider profane, and they’ll have to be handled sensitively for others’ sake. But nothing’s outside of God’s realm. Nothing’s out-of-bounds to share with him. NOTHING.

Praying for mundane things.

Nor is anything too ordinary to share with God. If we wanna talk with God about our daily chores, our shopping lists, how long it’s taking that traffic light to turn green, how hot the coffee is, why there have to be so many previews for bad movies in the theater: That’s not out-of-bounds either.

And a lot of Christians don’t appear to have much of a problem with this one. You know who really get bugged about praying for mundane things? Pagans. For some reason they think this is simply nuts of us. We don’t have to share every little thing with God, do we? Like he has time for all that stuff.

I’m reminded of this 1993 Saturday Night Live sketch, in which Jesus (Phil Hartman) corrects a woman (Sally Field) for overdoing it with all the prayer.

JESUS. “Tina…”
TINA. “Yes?”
JESUS. “I listen to everyone’s prayers, and each prayer is answered in its own way…”
TINA. “Yes?”
JESUS. “And I was wondering… if you would try… to not pray so much?”
TINA. “Well… well now, I… I… I thought you liked me to pray? As much as possible?”
JESUS. “How shall I put this? If you could concentrate your prayers on just the most important things. You know, life and death, temptation… and save the prayers like ‘Dear Jesus, be with me as I vacuum the stairs,’ or ‘Dear Jesus, fill me with your Spirit as I sponge off the slipcovers.’ Things like that. It would just make things a lot simpler, Tina.”
TINA. “You… you mean that I… I shouldn’t have asked you to help Blair with her algebra test?”
JESUS. “Uh no; actually algebra’s going to be very important to Blair later on. That’s actually okay.”
TINA. “Then… what? I’m confused. I’m confused now, I am!” [Starts crying.]
JESUS. “Tina, Tina, all I’m saying is prayers like, ‘Please don’t let the rice get sticky.’ You know.”
TINA. “Yeah, yeah.”
JESUS. “I mean, do you really need my help with stuff like that? See?”
TINA. [Sobbing.] “I’m very, very sorry… I guess I was just wasting your time. I certainly wish you had told me about this sooner.”
JESUS. “Well I thought about it, and I decided to finally say something.”
TINA. “Oh God, I’m so embarrassed.”
JESUS. “Well believe me, there are a billion people with the same problem.” [Chuckling.]
TINA. [Covering her face with her apron.] “Just… don’t look at me now. Just don’t look at me.”
JESUS. [Realizing.] “You know what? This was a mistake. Can’t we just forget this ever happened?”
TINA. “Can I forget? Can I forget the day that Jesus walked right into my kitchen?
JESUS. “Here, Tina… we’re just going to go back in time a few minutes. You stand over here… I’m going to leave you where you were before I appeared.”
TINA. “Well… well… what are you gonna do?”
JESUS. “I’m going back to heaven.”
TINA. “And I’m going with you?”
JESUS. [Chuckles.] “No, you’re not.”
TINA. [Abruptly stops crying.] “Oh. Well, I’m not going to heaven, then?”
JESUS. “Yes! But not with me, not just now.”
TINA. “But Jesus…”
JESUS. [Disappears.]

See, we’d be annoyed with constant petitioning and requesting. Mostly because we don’t wanna help. And don’t have Jesus-level patience with all the people who are praying things they don’t really mean. But God doesn’t think like we do. He can meet every need, and wants to. He has no trouble with people who constantly, regularly, non-stop call upon him. He wants to be our first resort.

So Tina, in this sketch, is doing right to bring up every little thing with Jesus. It’s only the sketch-writer who imagined he’d be really irritated if he were Jesus, and y’notice where “Jesus” realizes this was a mistake? This’d be the point where the writer realized the very same thing.

Bringing every little thing to God is a sign, both to him and ourselves, of our utter dependence on him. As Epimenides of Crete put it (and Paul quoted), “We live, move, and exist in him.” Ac 17.28 If God didn’t hold the atoms together we’d fly apart. We can do nothing without him. We can do everything better with him. So why not include him—even in the little, insignificant, “secular” things which he could improve, if we invited him?

Because we don’t wanna invite him? Ah, now we’re getting closer to the truth.

Not keeping God at a distance.

See, the real reason we invent a sacred/secular division is because there are certain subjects, certain areas of our lives, where we really don’t want God involved. We don’t want him there. Those are our things. Jesus can be Lord over everything else; we don’t want him touching our idols.

Well, the idols have to go. Otherwise Jesus isn’t actually Lord, and we aren’t truly Christian. Each of these things need to be surrendered to Jesus, and either incorporated into the Christian lifestyle, or given up. Each of them. No exceptions. And the first step is to pray for and about them.

Everything we do should be done for God’s glory. 1Co 10.31 Whether eating, drinking, partying with friends, watching TV, washing dishes, crossing the street, buying a beer, tying shoes, cleaning ears, kissing one’s spouse, waiting for pedestrians, making the bed, wiping your bum, everything. God is present in all those places. There’s no reason to exclude him, nor acknowledge him where appropriate, and let him lead us to improve upon all these things. Pr 3.6