So it is Lent, and that is a time of confession, right? Well, I will start with a confession: I am about to plagiarize my dear friend, Pastor Ken Wilson, without shame in this article. Very little of what I am about to write comes from my own brain and heart. Today, I am serving mostly as translator—translating a powerful process for Lent from the Evangelical world into the world of progressive, mainline Christianity.
Here it goes. I am learning a new way to pray from my good friend. It is very foreign to me, and at times, quite uncomfortable, but I am finding many wonderful treasures on this journey. Ken and his colleagues of Blue Ocean Faith (http://blueoceanfaith.org/), a movement of progressive Evangelicals endeavoring to engage the secular world faithfully, have this prayer concept, called The Big Ask. Here is what Ken says (with a few tweaks) about The Big Ask in a sermon he preached last week:
I’m going to suggest we each search our hearts to ask, “What do I really want for myself?” Another way to get at it: If I were my best friend who knew me well, what would I want God to do for me?
You say, that’s not hard. that’s easy! Until you actually try it. Because once you actually try it, you will meet resistance….Our religious self is nothing if not quick to criticize and it will say: sounds so selfish!
Let me remind us of difference between YHWH, God of Israel, and the confederation of local deities served by the Canaanite tribes: These local deities had one thing in common: They didn’t care about their worshipers. It was all about getting worshipers to serve them. “Give me stuff to keep me off your back!” said these gods. But YHWH says, “You know, I’m doing fine. I’m the happy God. What I’d like to do is share my happiness with you. So here’s my question: how can I do you good? Because that’s what I’m about: doing you good.”
Jesus said, “I did not come to be served but to serve.” That was a good sign he was truly YHWH’s boy….
Is this a formula for getting whatever we want from God? Ah, no. We ask and sometimes we don’t get what we want. That has been my experience and I am guessing yours as well.
Now, when we are thinking clearly and non-passionately, we can imagine a good reason this might be so. If a child, in ignorance, asks for something not good for them, will a good parent grant the child’s request? Of course not.
But we also ask for legitimately good things and do not get them. Inexplicably. And there are no good answers why not.
So we put our guard up and stop asking. That is the adult thing to do. But what if we’re not adults in relation to this God? What if in relation to this God, all of us are little children? Have you noticed the optimism and dogged persistence of little children asking for things, starting with the cry of a baby for its mother’s milk?
Can we grow close to a personal God by protecting ourselves from God disappointing us? Does that work in your personal relationships?
No. Faith can be spelled R-I-S-K. Faith is not a move of self-protection, it is a move of vulnerability. Faith is about being vulnerable and growing in faith is about remaining vulnerable despite our instincts otherwise.
So, wanna give something up for Lent? Let’s give up that Kevlar vest we put on to guard against God disappointing us and ask God for what it is we really want. And ask God every day. Take the risk: ask. And see what happens. Maybe just the act of making ourselves vulnerable will have its own reward.
The Big Ask is a stretch for most of us. Our tradition, unlike many Evangelical traditions, emphasizes service to others. It emphasizes working for justice. We pray hard for the powerless and the disenfranchised, the poor and the marginalized. Our tradition hasn’t encouraged us to pray just as hard for ourselves.
In one of our recent conversations about this, Ken challenged me when I told him my Big Ask, which was nice and tidy, and to be frank, practical. He said key to The Big Ask is to ask for something that would be almost impossible without God’s work in our lives. It is not about self-improvement or having God play the role of life coach. It is about opening to God’s willingness to doing us good.
What do you need from God? What do you need that seems impossible without God’s help? Whatever it is, that is your Big Ask. Let’s do this together and see what God can do….