Pastoral Series

Church Matters: Deeper Friendship

Church is a school of prayer. Certainly God hears, welcomes and embraces all words directed his way – and even the deep moods, confusions and wounds we carry. At the same time, we recall the disciples (who were praying people!) asking Jesus to teach them to pray; and Paul (a person of profound prayer) confessed “We do not know how to pray as we ought” (Romans 8:26). Learning to pray is a lifelong quest.

Our corporate prayers in worship, hopefully, remind us of how to pray, and for whom to pray – and what kind of prayers are in sync with Jesus’ way in the world (and which prayers aren’t). My friend Lauren Winner recently published a book (The Dangers of Christian Practice) with a terrific chapter on prayer. She begins by assessing the many, superficially devout prayers of the wives of slaveowners. They poured out their hearts to God, asking for wisdom in how to punish their slaves, asking God to send them better slaves, asking which Scriptures to share with slaves so they would know and stay in their place. Jesus, we all understand now, would have had them pray for an end to slavery, and release and then fair pay for their laborers. Just because you close your eyes and mutter words doesn’t mean you are praying in a way that deepens your friendship with God and furthers God’s way in the world.

Lauren also explores why in prayer we offer petitions, informing God of what we need or seek – when God knows long before it occurs to us to pray. I love the eloquence and wisdom of her explanation: “Petition offers the possibility of intimacy: Something close to my real self is now revealed before God. Of course, God already knows my real self, better than I will ever know it. The intimacy that follows my petitions is made possible not by God’s new knowledge of me but by my new availability to God. Consider a mundane analogy: My best friend finally tells me about the infatuation she has been nursing for two months. Of course, I spotted the infatuation myself seven weeks before. Still, our friendship deepens, not because I have learned something new, but because in being willing to tell me about her crush, my friend has become more available to me. The promise of petition is increased closeness, a deeper friendship with God.”

Does prayer work? isn’t the best question. It’s not a machine. Prayer is friendship. Friends share, spend time together, sometimes just sit in the silence; friends listen, support one another, and stick together when the going gets rough. Friends don’t ask for favors so much as they embrace and care. Try all this week to imagine God as a friend. You share what God knows, and find yourself to be then more available to God, closer to God, more in sync with God’s ways. If Church helps us befriend God, then Church really matters.

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