Moltmann Monday: On Prayer as Friendship

Happy Moltmann Monday! Today’s excerpt comes from The Source of Life, which is a small little easy read book that is a great starting point for anyone who’s just getting to know Moltmann. I’m going to share the beginning of his chapter on prayer. (italics are his, bold is mine)

God is our Father because he is the intimate Abba mystery of Jesus, who became our brother. Children talk trustfully and confidently to their mothers and fathers about the things that are on their minds. As we do in a family, we tell God about our joys and our lives; for God is a lover of life. Only servants come to their masters solely with their requests and demands, otherwise preferring to keep well away from them

We pour out our hearts to God as we do to an understanding friend. And when we pray for other people, or tell God our wants and desires, we are advising him in his government of the world. But we don’t coerce our ‘heavenly friend’ with our plans and intentions; we respect his freedom. Talking to God and listening to him in this freedom, which is the expression of great love, is ‘prayer in the Holy Spirit.’ This is the way God’s friends pray. It is true that in the Old Testament only people who had seen God ‘face to face’ are called ‘friends of God’; but the mystics who found their own selves in ‘the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’ called themselves God’s friends because they were able to talk, and did talk, to God as a friend does. The servant begs- the child trusts- the friend consults. These are not necessarily stages in our self-confidence which we discern in prayer; but they are certainly strata of self-experience which discloses themselves to the person who prays.

I remember as a child being told to “take it to God.” Take it to God. And by “it” they meant our worries and problems and concerns and needs. I wasn’t that great at doing this, because I had a happy childhood and I could hardly think of anything all that bad that needed to be brought to God’s attention. Surely God should spend more time with people who have deeper needs than mine, I thought. Later as a teenager, I remember learning to pray for God with a formula you could remember on your hand (though I could never remember it and still can’t). It was something like giving thanks to God, followed by praying for friends, asking forgiveness, etc. Praying for yourself came last. What was missing, though, was the simple calling to be with God. To be with God, as with a friend. It strikes me that the majority of ways we talk about prayer (and apparently teach it to children) is needs-based. But as Moltmann points out, only servants come to their masters in this kind of way. It’s a shallow relationship, and a bit of a self-serving one, too. Boss, I need next Monday off for vacation. That’s not prayer- that’s management.

So I love how Moltmann is bold enough to say we can advise God in the government of the world (seriously God, please send us a candidate for President) but at the same time reminds us that it is not our job in prayer to coerce God- not to meet our needs or even our expectations. We come to God respecting God’s freedom.

This might seem difficult at first, but if you think about it this is exactly how we (hopefully) operate with everyone else. When even our closest beloveds come to us for advice, we offer it fully knowing it is still their decision whether they are going to take the advice or not. We share in joys and concerns freely, but steeped in love.

Perhaps we all begin as servants, coming to God only with requests and demands. Hopefully we move to being like children, who come and even willingly ask questions, because we trust God and just like to be with God. Eventually, though, I believe the goal of prayer is to bring us into the reality that is friendship with God. We know God, and God knows us, and we can talk freely. That friendship changes us, which is why prayer is good and necessary. The asking doesn’t change us, and I wouldn’t even say the “results” of prayer are primarily meant to change us. The conversation itself is that place of transformation, where we enter into the “intimate Abba mystery.”

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