I recently saw a rerun of the film “Bruce Almighty.” I enjoyed it. The premise of this Jim Carrey comedy is theologically interesting: What would you do if you had God’s powers?
One of the first things that the main character, Bruce, does — after God gives him dominion over a small part of western New York State — is to fix the wrongs that have been plaguing his life. Bruce gets a new car. He house trains his dog. He takes revenge on an archrival at work.
Soon, however, Bruce discovers that his vast powers come with added responsibility. He is now expected to answer people’s prayers. Every morning, Bruce awakes to a computer inbox overflowing with prayers, and those are just the ones from the Buffalo area.
These prayers follow a fairly typical pattern: a child at school asks for help passing a math test; a hockey fan prays that the Sabres will win the Stanley Cup; a bunch of people pray that God will help them win the lottery. Shrugging, Bruce decides to say “yes” to all of these petitions.
The next morning he awakes to a sad realization. His unlimited “yes” has not created widespread happiness, but chaos. Hockey fans riot. Thousands of lottery winners complain because their share of the jackpot is painfully small. People are angrier and more frustrated than ever.
Maybe, the movie suggests, answering prayers is more complicated than it may seem.
The movie also prods us to think about something else. When we talk with God, do we usually fire off a laundry list of things we would like the Almighty to do?
Now, to be sure, asking God for things — like daily bread and healing for a loved one — is a faithful way to pray. But is it the only way?
C.S. Lewis once observed, ”I don’t pray to change God’s mind. I pray for God to change my mind!”
What does that sort of prayer look like — sound like? One example is a practice started by Ignatius of Loyola called the examen. Ignatius encouraged his students to pray by lifting up to God a moment from the past day when they felt surrounded by grace — a moment that was life-giving to them.
The idea is to start a conversation with God. I compare it to that moment when I walk in the door and Amy asks me, “How was your day?” Ignatius believed that if we begin our prayers as if they were an answer to that question, we will move to a deeper relationship with God.
In recent weeks, I have asked you to lift up to God those events, occasions and encounters at this church when you have felt surrounded by grace and uplifted in your faith. I know some of you have been participating in this discipline.
So now I am curious: what have you been praying about?
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