“Do you want the Giver or the gifts?” asked my teacher. She was responding to another student’s question about not feeling anything when she prayed.
Do you want the Giver or the gifts?
Suddenly I saw my own self-centeredness. I want what God gives, not God. But I wondered, What would it be like to desire God more than health, success, comfort, security, esteem, and the like?
Maybe asking for health, success, and so on (for yourself or others) is the only way you’ve ever known pray. After all, Jesus did say, “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (John 14) and “Ask, and it will be given you” (Luke 11).
These are prayers of the first half of life: the upward journey. There is another journey, downward. Which is good news, because when you discover that you can only go so high by climbing, you will need to know there’s another way. Go down to go up.
With this second journey, there is a second way to pray. That’s what my teacher was pointing to: prayer of surrender, silence, stillness, and simple presence. These prayers reflect what the psalmist wrote—“Be still and know that I am God.” They’re like the prayer Jesus prayed in Gethsemane—“Not my will, but yours be done.” Prayers of essence. Prayers of being with Christ in God.
Anyone who has lost a loved one to death knows what it means to want the giver and not the gifts. And whoever has experienced a “visitation” (the palpable presence of a beloved after their death in a dream, in the dark, with a chill) knows how good and healing it is. All the more with God.
The Holy Spirit teaches us how to pray and sends us other teachers. When the student is ready, the teacher emerges.
Thanks be to God.
Pastor Clark Olson-Smith
Saint Paul Lutheran Church
715 South Third Street
Clinton, IA 52732
(at the foot of the south bridge)