Joy. Prayer. Gratitude.

I don’t know when or how it happened, but somewhere along the way, I managed to hijack and reconstruct the whole give us this day our daily bread part of the prayer the Lord taught us to pray.  I made it about me – my hopes, my dreams, my ambitions.  But really, it’s always been about receiving exactly what God wants to give me, which is exactly what I need.  Along those lines, I’ve recently been challenged by this prayer from Henri Nouwen’s The Only Necessary Thing:

Dear God,

I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!

Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?

Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?

Please help me to gradually open my hands and to discover that I am not what I own, but what you want to give me.

I find it challenging because this sort of prayer requires only that I trust God to give me what he wants to give me.  The Scriptures are clear about God’s desire to give us what is truly good.  Matthew 7:9-11 comes to mind: Which one of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  The sad truth is that I often ask God for snakes and stones.  Sometimes they are well disguised as fish and bread and other times they’re blatantly obvious.  Success, recognition, financial stability, convenient and effortless mending of damaged relationships – these are just some of the things I regularly pray for.  I’m really good at justifying these requests and making them sound holy by wordsmithing the hell out of them.  Except it doesn’t work and the hell stays right there, congealed up with my words into strange, self-centered versions of prayers that sound more like pleading than pleasure.  But prayer ought to be more pleasure then pleading.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul puts prayer right in between joy and gratitude.  He writes, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.”  We rejoice, we pray, we give thanks.  Joy.  Prayer.  Gratitude.  Paul seems to think that the three are somehow connected and I think he’s right.  When we pray, we ought to experience a sense of freedom.  We shouldn’t be shackled by our requests but rather, set free and unleashed into the world in joy and gratitude.  This joy and gratitude in prayer can be elusive.  It requires focused, intentional effort on our parts.  As we pray, we must trust.  We must open our clenched fists, empty our hands, and allow God to give us whatever it is he wants to give us.  But if we would give ourselves to this sort of praying, I believe that we’ll find a fullness we could never experience on our own.  I believe we’ll be satisfied and transformed in ways that our selfish pleading could never achieve.  So this week, pray with your hands open, ready to receive whatever God has for you.  Rejoice as you pray.  Give thanks in the good and the bad.  Joy.  Prayer.  Gratitude.