Nancy and I are at our secret hideout for a couple of days. (We rent a room at a state park. They give us a free night when we buy one night. Of course, they would do that for you, too). I said, “what should I write about for 300? The floor is open for nominations.”
She suggested that I talk about something in the book she’s reading: The Insanity of Obedience. We talked a bit, and then I decided to talk about something from the book I’m reading: Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: 3:1-14:28.
It wasn’t because I don’t like her book or suggestion. In fact, it is a powerful examination of what following Jesus looks like. It’s because I had just been reading about requesting favors from deities. And something clicked as Nancy and I talked.
Keener was discussing a story in Acts three where Peter and John go to the temple and a beggar asks them for money. After a bit of conversation, Peter grasps the man’s hand, telling him to stand up, “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene.”
Keener talks about how cultures at that time interceded with their gods. “Gentiles,” he says, “reminded a deity of favors owned, seeking an answer on contractual grounds” (Keener, 1069). Romans worried about getting the formula exactly right. Pharisees and Sadducees argued, among other things, about the correct way to perform rituals. And then Keener writes, “the goal of most popular religion then (as, in practice, in most cultures) was not assimilation of one’s will to the deity’s, but obtaining what one needed from the deity” (Keener, 1071).
Often, we approach prayer as formula. And if we get it wrong, or we do something other than what we think God may be suggesting, we will be in trouble.
But if my desire is to get as relationally close to God as I am to Nancy, praying may be a conversation, not a contract. I ask questions awkwardly and she say, “did you mean?” I ask for ideas and then pick a different idea, conversing with her about the choice and as I develop my own idea into a post. I write while she embroiders pillowcases.
But we are together. We are in each other’s presence. And that’s a good afternoon.
But I should finish a bit of the story above. Peter tells the man to stand without first saying, “dear God, if it is your will, Lord, could you heal him, Lord, but if you don’t I understand.” But sometimes Peter didn’t have to “pray.” Because Peter had heard Jesus assure the disciples that they had his power and his presence. That assurance would give great confidence and comfort.