To make up for the year and half of lost in-person worship time (thanks to our friend Gavin and Pritzker), I've been attending two (sometimes three) services every Sunday since I've been back home. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that a big part of why I'm doing this is to play catch up on community building - which in reflection has been rather "meaningless" given that I'll be moving to NYC in about a month. Regardless, the hyper-frequency of attending service translates to an enhanced exposure to sermons. More out of convenience (and partly to keep up my bilingual abilities), I've been attending one English service and another in Korean, the former being at a Southern Baptist church and the latter at a Presbyterian. Other than being dunked in water for the first, I'm not entire sure of the theological differences in the two - what I do know is that they are some of the last standing in the "conservative" side of Christianity, which I can say I "identify with." Nevertheless, something I've been keen on and what both pastors seem to be focused on lately is the idea of prayer and why (1) it matters so much and (2) often times we're doing it wrong.
Last week the Korean pastor (they're actually both Korean, but I'm denoting the language they speak during the sermon for ease) talked about why Jesus would pray. As an over-thinker, this is the kind of question I would typically ask during Bible study and to my surprise it's something I've never questioned. By every logical standard based on why we typically pray - where we need something or going through something or unsure of what's coming - Jesus had no need to pray. He is God and therefore could do whatever He wanted and make it happen, never was going through something that He could not endure by Himself and by definition could not be unsure of what was to come. It seems that this is a crucial "clue" as to what prayer is really about - fellowship with God and getting to learn about Him more. In fact, whether we like it or not, every aspect of Christianity centers around two things - (1) Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead so that we could be saved through faith (2) the deepening of our relationship with God which can only be fulfilled by us learning more about Him through fellowship (prayer & worship in simplified terms) and increasing knowledge (reading the Word). Reading the Bible is much more tangible, although technically more difficult without a theological background or guidance from someone more knowledgable, as anyone living in a developed country in the 2021 should be accustomed to the idea of studying. However, the idea that we are establishing a social connection with a being we cannot see, rarely if ever receive any feedback from, through the action of putting our hands together and closing our eyes, seems hard to grasp.
I think this difficultly largely stems from our approach to prayer. If we relate it to any human relationship we have, it brings a bit more clarity. If we only reached out to someone whenever we were going through something, forgot that person the moment something was solved or blamed that person for when things didn't go right, I don't think that individual would go out of their way to further strengthen that relationship. Of course, God is a divine being and our actions do not dictate our salvation (in either direction) nor does our efforts make us more favorable in His eyes. However, given that we were made with purposeful design and in His image and throughout the various analogies and parables He gives in the Bible, all things seem to point to the fact that this being wants a genuine relationship with us instead of us following a rule book and hitting Him up whenever we're stressing over something. We're far more likely to do a favor for someone who's our friend all the time as opposed to someone who clearly only communicates us in times of need, and even for those that only asks us for help, we're far more appreciative of those that appreciates us and remembers us after something is accomplished. Furthermore, when we mentor others or raise our kids (not that I'm a parent lol) we're much more likely to provide further guidance for people that listen and value what we have to say. There's an unspeakable level of fulfillment that comes when mentees begin to act before you even have to direct and they seem to know what you want before you even want it. This is only possible as they get to know how you think and learn about you more, which is built over time as you converse in how you think about things and your approach to whatever problems they may have. I'd like to think our relationship, and specifically prayer, with God is the same.
There's two things that I consider rather crucial at my age in life that I know for fact I have not prayed appropriately about - my career and a future significant other. For my career, like many others in my age group, I've constantly prayed about "passing this interview" or "a sign that this is the right job," but I've never really asked what He wants for me. If we truly believe in an omniscient and omnipotent God who has our lives in His hands and a full plan that will carry out in accordance to His will, it's almost illogical to not seek what He desires. We're also so accustomed to quick results that patience is rarely associated with our prayers. It's almost as if we view the Lord as a genie, ready to grant wishes and quick to dispose once the wishes are carried out or rejected. There needs to be a build up of understand what He wants for our lives and how we fit into that picture. I still struggle with this as someone highly impatient and regretful, with much of my thoughts invested in "why didn't I just do this in the past" which then leads to "why did you take me in this path Lord (it's your fault" instead of recognizing that by definition the path that I have taken is the only path. The only difference is that if I prayed appropriately along the way with the desire to seek what he wants for me, then I would have recognize the purpose in every step and not be filled with regret or remorse. I'll try my best to be better about this moving forward as well as be more consistent in asking Him where He wants me to go.
As for my significant other, there's not much to say as I've never really prayed on this topic. It's never been a priority and as with many things in life, I think I've placed it in a separate box, almost displacing it to exist outside of my faith and something "in my control." This is both an overly arrogant and illogical thought - and in some ways even atheists would agree that this being one of the most important and influential aspects of one's life and should be very much within the influence of your world view. In a similar angle with my career, I'm trying to be active in praying about what kind of woman God wants me to date / marry and for my goals and actions to align properly.
There's a lot of work to be done on my end but also a weird sense of comfort that rushes in as soon as you accept that prayer is a direct connection to the being that has you in His control. I hope that I can look back at this article in a year or so with a much more refined practice of prayer and slightly better understanding of where I'm headed.