Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Urgent Candy Delivery

Matt. 6:11 "Give us this day, our daily bread."

Out on the road the other day I passed a truck for a local candy company. Written across the back was "Urgent Candy Delivery." I laughed and then began to think.

Candy deliveries are hardly urgent in the way that, oh, organs to be transplanted are. And yet, most of us know the feeling the truck slogan represents. I did once perform an actual urgent candy delivery for a diabetic English teacher who took me aside in class and sent me on an emergency run to a school vending machine. But by and large, candy deliveries are urgent only in response to a craving, not an actual need.

As I thought about the phrase "urgent candy delivery," it reminded me of what we often do in prayer. In the model prayer Jesus gave us, which we now call "The Lord's Prayer," Jesus tells us to pray each day for what we need: Daily bread, forgiveness, release from temptation, delivery from evil. But many times our prayers completely ignore the daily bread and instead pray for the fulfillment of whatever craving is tempting us at the moment. We want the candy, and we want it now!

Sometimes that prayer is relatively benign: "Please, God, let the Red Sox win!" "Make her/him notice me." "Don't let it rain on Monday's barbeque." Or my father's favorite: "Find me a parking space."

But once we begin to see God as the source for our urgent candy deliveries, we are primed to pray for fulfillment of some of our baser cravings. We pray not only that we will pass the test but that others we dislike will fail. We pray that someone's spouse will not be home so we can make an illicit advance. We pray that public figures we disagree with or personal acquaintances that make our lives difficult will die. And Jesus is uncomfortably clear in the Sermon on the Mount (especially Matt. 5:21-48) that such thoughts are tantamount to the actual deeds they represent.

Perhaps the most dangerous thing of all in an "urgent candy" prayer, however, is the way that it changes our perception of God from the Lord who supplies our daily bread and delivers us from evil to the slave who does our bidding and carries out our basest desires. Praying an "urgent candy" prayer is dangerous to body and soul. But there is another way to handle those thoughts in prayer.

Remember that the Lord's Prayer is a model for prayer. Jesus didn't say, "Use these words and only these words when you pray." In Matt. 6:9, Jesus says "This is how you should pray." It's an example of the elements in a respectful and effective prayer. Praise and acknowledgement of God. A wish on the front end that it be God's will and God's kingdom that is effective on earth. Petition for what we need in the moment: Daily bread (not daily candy), forgiveness (which is tied to our willingness to forgive others), avoidance of temptation, delivery from evil, and then closing with a final acknowledgement of God's authority.

In that template for prayer, there is plenty of room to express our "urgent candy" prayers. They are properly done in the context of acknowledging that they represent a temptation we need help to avoid, an evil from which we need delivery, or a little request for something that would please us with the acknowledgment that God has no duty to provide.

God does not insist that we clean up our prayers to get rid of our honest feelings or desires. The Psalms would be gone if that were the case. But in the Lord's Prayer, Jesus teaches us how to frame the desires of our hearts--both the light and the dark--in a way that will still honor the God we love. Maybe we should recite it less often and explore it as a template more frequently.

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