What A Greek God Has to Say About My Work-life Prayers.
In ancient Greek mythology, the god Narcissus was lured to his death in the most startling of ways. Nemesis drew him to a reflecting pool. There the handsome and arrogant Narcissus became fixated on his reflection to such an extent that he was pulled into the water, where he drown. Today we use the term narcissism to refer to an unhealthy obsession with the self. This obsession leaks out in my work-life prayers.
This post is #4 in a series reflecting on Jesus’s instructions about prayer (often called the Lord’s Prayer) and how these instructions apply to our prayers for work. Today we are deeper into the “asking” portion of the prayer and we find a phrase that confronts our narcissism. (At least it confronts mine!)
Whiny, Self-Centered, Praying
There are at least 4 common patterns of prayer.
- The “help me” prayer. A desperate, last ditch, plea for rescue or relief. Often a symptom of a very infrequent conversation with God.
- The liturgical prayer. Something memorized and repeated.
- The “help others” prayer. Socially acceptable prayers for safety and healing.
- The holy whine. A shopping list presented to the almighty, all the things we want or long for, the divine path to a happy, comfortable life. I find the fourth an easy place to start when praying about work.
One cannot hide from his/her work life. The realities of the job confront you every day. The challenges of work, the stakes at play, and the human dynamics of work, create plenty to pray about. Added to the realtime drama is the temptation to obsess about whether we are doing the right work. All of these factors drive a recipe for narcissistic work-life prayers–conversation with God that tis about my rescue, relief, or reputation.
Jesus will take us to our needs eventually. But he counsels that something else must come first, a line of thinking that will check the self-destructive power of utterly self-centered workplace prayers.
The Corrective for Narcissistic Prayers
One of the big ideas in our reflections on Jesus’ model prayer (as recorded in Matthew 6:9-12), is that it provides a framework, a skeleton for our prayers. The flow is important. After we ask for God’s honor, we turn to a second request theme. Jesus says to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Tim Keller sees a double agenda here (See his Prayer, Awe and Intimacy with the Almighty). We are asking for God’s agenda to shape the world around us (Thy kingdom come). And we are asking for God’s agenda to shape us (Thy will be done). Jesus is teaching us to echo his own fateful words in the garden of his suffering—“not my will but yours be done.”
Jesus’ counsel for our workplace praying is straightforward: “before you rush to the reflecting pool and dive into a holy whine about coworkers, career advancement, or questions of what you should be when you grow up, stop. Ask God for his agenda to come into your workplace and industry. Ask God to fill you with his will for you each day.”
Why the Jesus Pattern is Better.
This line of thought may raise a number of questions for those of us who are skeptical, struggling, or seeking. “Why should we repress our feelings and desires?” “Why is God’s agenda better than ours?” “What would this kingdom of God look like? So many do harmful things in the name of religious fiefdoms.” “How in the world can we know what his will really is?”
These are all great questions. And there’s no space to offer answers at this point. But Christ followers operate under the following assumptions for which there are both theological and existential reasons.
- God knows better: He is the beginning and the end, compared to him we are a cloud that dissipates, a flower that fades. His agenda is therefore superior to ours.
- God reveals his agenda both statically through Scripture and dynamically through people, circumstances, and his direct presence.
- God’s agenda for us will bring us our deepest possible joy and meaning in life, though at times that journey will be fraught with loss and difficulty.
Jesus doesn’t want us to ignore the stresses, strains, and fears of our workplaces. The shift in his model prayer protects us from the demise of Narcissus, and connects our work with something bigger—God’s kingdom and will.
How About You?
What is hope-giving in praying for God’s will and kingdom?
Picture: Painting by Carvaggio, 1595, public domain.