This month’s Real Simple Magazine caught me a bit off guard. I have never regarded the magazine as a source for articles on the nebulous entity, “spirituality,” so it was a shock to see the four page spread called “Inside the God Box.” Granted, I tend to keep skepticism a close companion with respect to all things published under the guise of Christian literature. Most of the time, Dr. so-and-so, gleeming, white-toothed smile included, spouts on about the importance of understanding that ‘God just wants us to be happy’ (*Cough Hosea?! OT Prophets?! Matthew 23:30; 1 Kings 18:13; 19:10; Nehemiah 9:26; Jeremiah 26:23 *Cough). Or, even better, they merely make generic statements, blurring all distinctions between nuanced truth and bare-faced lies. This makes me angry–very, very angry. Probably too angry, so for that, I thank God for his grace to me and my sinful, prideful heart.
Ok., back to the point…
So as I read the article I was already fighting the feelings of frustration that always come up when pop-culture and Christianity flirt. Since the article recounts a woman’s relationship with her deceased mother, there’s understandably a large amount of pandering to readers’ sympathy. Though this might not be “wrong,” it does make me instantly uneasy. The best way to slip in a good dose of “untruth” is by instigating an initial emotional response. With all of those feelings jostling around, tipping glasses and mulling over the sweet, heart-warming fuzziness of it all, it’s heard to stay rational.
For your sake, I’ll skip most of the intro and just give the meat of the thing:
[My mother] was my one-stop problem-solver with her own secret weapon: the God Box, her simple way of coping with the stresses of life. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a series of trinket boxes filled with her typed or handwritten requests on behalf of me; my younger brother, Jack; and the love of her life, our father, Ray. Mom would scrounge up any old piece of paper—the back of a receipt, a torn paper towel, or a while-you-were-out slip sufficed—date it, and write, “Dear God,” followed by her concern of the moment, which ran the gamut from big (“Please let our house sell today”) to small (“Please let Mary Lou’s Pergo floor be the right choice”). She would sign many of the scraps “Thank you, God. Sincerely, Mary,” gently fold them into tiny origami, and tuck them into the box. Then, she believed, God would take over.
O.k., so obviously I don’t have a problem with asking God for things (help, maturity, wisdom, direction, clarity, peace, etc). We’re commanded to do as much (See: Proverbs 15:8 , Isaiah 65:24, Isaiah 62:6-7 ), but something about the way the article portrayed prayer rubs me the wrong way. It almost seemed like the writer believed that God was some kind of mystical coke machine: prayer-coin goes in “God box,” house-sold (or any other requested, positive outcome) comes out.
Prayer should be so much more than that. Jesus only spends one line of his prayer to physical needs,( two lines, if you count “deliver us from evil” as a physical, rather than spiritual, evil):
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Even that one line (“Give us our daily bread”) seems to imply not only a request for physical needs met but also a desire for contentment. Jesus did not say ‘Give us more food than we can ever eat, and please make it delicious and gourmet, and can it also be prepared by someone else and delivered to our homes?’ Rather, ‘this day’ coupled with ‘bread’ suggests just enough food to survive. Hence, an underlying request, or at least an underlying state of, contentment.
As John Piper observes:
[Prayer] is about as central to the meaning of the created universe as you can get. God created us, according to Isaiah 43:7, for his glory. Which we now see means that he created the universe so that persons created in his image would look to him to satisfy all their wants and needs so that they would get the joy and God would get the glory. When we express this looking to God, we call it prayer.
In stark contrast to this, the author seems to glorify the “God box” rather than the God for whom it was named:
In the beginning, I regarded the God Box as just another spiritual tool in Mom’s arsenal [. . .] But as the years went on and our lives grew more complicated, the box became our family’s go-to aid for life’s bigger bumps and bruises.
I don’t doubt the author’s good intentions. I definitely don’t begin to guess at her heart; that’s not my expertise at all. I just want to make note of the importance of not only asking God, but of praising him, thanking him, and reveling in his supremacy and goodness as God through prayer. Otherwise, we reduce the creator to no more than a janitor, cleaning up our messes silently, thanklessly, while we go on ignoring him until the next crisis.
I’ll end with this:
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.