God’s Gift of Self

Tonight’s Bible study discussion was on Luke 11:1-13.

Somebody made a good point tonight that this parable of Jesus casts the listener in the ‘receiving’ role instead of the ‘doing’ role.  This text is all about how we receive from God.  More specifically, it’s about God the giver.

I used to read this parable as a lesson in persistent prayer.  If we pray hard enough and long enough, we get what we want.  However, walking away from tonight’s discussion, I think this parable is a statement about God as the generous and liberal giver.

When we come to God in prayer, we don’t always get what we ask for.  Someone else in the group pointed out that a person might ask God for more money when God would rather make that person more content with what he or she has.  More importantly, I would add, when we come to God in prayer, we receive that which we need most: God’s own self.

Like the friend in the story who asked for bread, we come in search of Christ, the Bread of Life.  One newcomer pointed out a possible Trinitarian allusion in the friend’s request for “three loaves”.   More than the reluctant friend in the story, God is eager to get involved out of love for the world.  This gift of self is what God liberally pours out in the person of Christ.  Likewise, Christ promises in this passage, not that God will grant our every request, but that God will “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.”

Whatever my situation, I find that I am best able to deal with it when I am most attuned to God’s presence with me in that moment (contemplative exercises such as centering prayer help me most in this regard).  Sometimes, the act of prayer leads to a change in my circumstances.  Other times, the act of prayer leads to a change in me.

As Bishop Gene Robinson put it, “Sometimes God calms the storm and sometimes God calms the child.”

For those who are interested, here is a brief introduction to centering prayer from my wife’s Davidson College classmate, Fr. Matthew Moretz:

4 thoughts on “God’s Gift of Self

  1. dust castle builder

    I have a plaque with your final quotation on it beside my bed.

    Yes, God gives us his own self and he is the greatest gift of all–but sometimes I want more than company. 🙂 Imagine if you needed help and asked your wife to help you, and in her infinite wisdom she smiled at you and did nothing. Or she offered you a cuddle, but no help. That is the picture of God that I get all the time. He’ll listen to you, he’ll smile on you, he’ll love you, he’ll cuddle you, but he won’t change anything ever. He’ll help you endure, but you’ll suffer the entire way. If you want something changed, it is something you’ll have to do it or work for it or invest in it or whatever (or a friend will have to come through, because God won’t change anything himself). I am very tired of that picture of God.

  2. dust castle builder

    Please pardon the above grammatical errors. There is no “edit” button.

    Poor you, I seem to heckle you every time I comment. Well, as the saying goes, “Ideas do not reach maturity until they come into contact with other, conflicting ideas.”

  3. Once again, you make a good point.

    However, I am not trying to advocate the “lame-duck” image of God. These thoughts of mine come as I try to hold two realities in tension with one another. Both of them are born out of pastoral engagement with people who are truly suffering (like yourself).

    On the one hand, I cannot bring myself to believe in a God who makes no real difference. When I pray for those I love, I do so because something needs to change and I believe God can do it.

    On the other hand, I cannot escape the reality that things don’t always turn out the way I’d hoped. Last spring, after weeks of intense prayers for healing, I buried a newborn for a family that had already endured more suffering than most people face in a lifetime. If I can’t find a way to deal theologically with that pain, then my faith is mere delusion.

    I agree with what you say about needing more than God’s company, but I don’t think I, as an honest Christian, can embrace either one of these realities to the exclusion of the other.

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