How friendship with God ….

How friendship with God can be developed through purposeful praying (in its various forms)

Lauren Winner majors on petition in the chapter on prayer in her book ‘The Dangers of Christian Practice’. She also mentions three other aspects of praying in a footnote on page 191, namely: lament, confession, and thanksgiving, all of which ‘are intimate offerings that might deepen friendship between the giver and the recipient’. On seeing this short list I decided to revisit thoughtfully these various facets of praying – in order to freshen up my own prayer life, which at times can be somewhat routine and even mundane.
1. Petition
Since petition expresses one’s longing for help, whether for oneself or for others, I must admit I had hardly even thought of it as a means of developing friendship with God. As Winner says, quoting The Book of Common Prayer’: because God is the one ‘unto whom all desires [are] known and from whom no secrets are hid,’ therefore he knows that I wanted whatever it is that I’m now requesting. But, she points out on page 82, ‘I become more available to God when I offer what I understand of myself before (him).’ ‘Indeed’, she concludes, ‘friendship is petition’s deepest good.’ What could be thought of somewhat like going round in circles should be a means of ‘a deep friendship with God.’ In other words, God chooses to keep some things from me and grants them only when I ask ‘because [he] created me to be his friend.’
My mind went from Winner to the classic example that occurs early in Scripture when Abraham in prayer moved systematically down a stairway of shrinking numbers of the potentially very few godly inhabitants of Sodom, Gomorrah and other nearby cities as he pleaded with God to spare them from imminent judgement in Genesis 18:16-33. The outcome was the rescue of only his nephew Lot with Lot’s wife and two daughters – none of whom ever became friends of God themselves.
However, because of Abraham’s persistence in prayer God referred to him as his friend – a fact that is mentioned later in both Testaments of Scripture. In Isaiah 41:8, while ‘Israel’ is simply called ‘my servant’, and ‘Jacob’ is referred to as ‘my chosen one’, it is only the intercessor who is ever called ‘Abraham my friend’ (see Isaiah 41:8 and James 2:23 – all quotations are from the New Living Translation in this article).
Winner goes on to explain: ‘Friendship can come from petition, precisely because God has drawn us into conversation with [himself] about our desires, and when we state our desires we are offering [him] intimacy with our desiring and fragile selves.’ In other words I am involving my self with God himself’
2. Laments
A naming of one’s desires is not the only kind of praying that can carry with it an intimate offering of oneself. A lament conveys a disclosure of what I am mourning about. The Old Testament book of Lamentations is teeming with the characteristics of lamentable situations and the prophet’s reaction- even in its first few verses. Some of those causes of his mourning include:
[] abject loneliness: ‘Jerusalem, once so full of people . . . now sits alone like a widow’ (Lamentations 1:1);
[] loss of usefulness, freedom and authority: ‘Once the queen of all the earth, she is now a slave’ (1:1);
[] many tears: ‘She sobs through the night, tears stream down her cheeks’ (1:2);
[] depleted of possessions: ‘plundered so completely’ (1:10);
[] starvation: ‘they search for bread’ (1:11).
Admittedly, most of the 154 verses of the book are in this mournful tone. But, about two-thirds of the way through, we learn: ‘My enemies . . . threw me into a pit. . . . Water rose over my head, and I cried out “This is the end!” But I called on your name, Lord, from deep within the pit. You heard me . . . you came . . . you told me, “Do not fear” (3:52-57).
Traditionally, the writer of Lamentations is reckoned to be Jeremiah, although no author is actually named. And without question, in the book of Jeremiah, the prophet utters many laments and has to be rescued from an actual pit. Here are a few of those many possible examples in Lamentations:
[] 8:19, ‘my heart, my heart – I writhe in pain,’ because (verse 23) ‘I looked at the earth [or ‘the land’] and it was empty’ [because God’s rebellious people had gone into exile in Babylon].
[] 9:17-21, ‘The Lord . . . says: “. . . Send for the women who mourn at funerals. Quick! Begin your weeping! Let the tears flow from your eyes.’
Not only did Jeremiah mourn for the nation of Judah, he also lamented his personal circumstances.
[] 11:18-23, when ‘the Lord told me about the plots my enemies were making against me,’ he pleaded: ‘O Lord . . . let me see your vengeance against them, for I have committed my cause to you.’ The Lord reassured him that he would punish them in the upcoming war.
[] 15:10-21, on hearing his servant’s lament (‘what sorrow is mine,’ verse 10), ‘The Lord replied, “I will take care of you, Jeremiah. Your enemies will ask you to plead on their behalf in times of trouble and distress’ (verse 11).
Over four long decades Jeremiah mourned, and the Lord comforted him continually.
3. Confession
King David was challenged about his adulterous liaison with Bathsheba, the wife of his neighbour Uriah, while her husband was away from home at the war front. ‘David confessed to Nathan’ (the prophet who had confronted him over his immoral behaviour): ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan replied: “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you will not die in your sin”’ (2 Samuel 12:13). In response, David sang a new song (see the title of Psalm 51), in which he admitted: ‘I recognise my rebellion . . . Against you, and you alone, I have sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. . . . Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean . . . Oh give me back my joy again . . .”’ His friendship with his Creator was about to be restored.
In the New Testament we are told that ‘if we confess our sins to . . . God [who] is in the light . . . He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse u s from all wickedness,’ because ‘the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sins’ (1 John 1:7 and 9).
4. Thanksgiving
Paul exhorts the believers in Philippi: ‘Always be full of joy in the Lord.’ In fact, he repeats himself: ‘I say it again – rejoice,’ adding: ‘Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. . . . thank [God] for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceed anything we can understand’ (Philippians 4:4-7). After all, thanksgiving surely conveys one’s gratitude for matters of God’s delight.
5. Community fellowship
Prayer should be both personal and communal. It was our Lord’s own example while he lived on earth; he often went away alone to pray. But even in the garden of Gethsemane he expressed his disappointment to Peter, James and John for sleeping instead of praying together. And the pattern prayer that Jesus taught his followers begins: ‘Our Father’ and includes nineteen plural forms such as ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘our’.
Enough said!

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