It’s one of my most common conversations.
I walk up to the counter at a fast food restaurant, smile at the person standing at the register and say, “Hi. Can I have a #1?”
Or, I’m in the grocery store, unable to find the item I’m looking for (as usual), and I find a stockperson. I walk up and say, “Hi. Can I have your help?”
Or, I walk into a bank, step up to the teller and say, “Hi. Can I have a bag full of money?” Actually, I haven’t tried this one, and I wouldn’t recommend you trying it either. 🙂
Many of our interactions with others can hardly be considered relationships. They’re really just requests for service. I want something. You’re in the position to help make it happen. I don’t know you, I only know a bit about your role, but that’s enough for me. I present my request. I don’t know you. You don’t know me. And neither of us expects it to be any different.
I have a number of books on my shelf about prayer. I still haven’t read several of them. I thought about pulling one of them off the shelf today: it’s entitled Intercessory Prayer. I’ve read selected chapters before, and thought it would be good to read and digest the whole book. Intercession. Asking for things, often on behalf of others. That sounds like a good skill to develop, a good way to grow in my prayer life.
It occurs to me that first focusing on intercessory prayer might be like trying to perfect the art of asking the “Hi. Can I have…?” question in an effort to make more friends. I don’t think it’s going to help, or at least, it’s not the right place to start. Figuring out how to get stuff from people is not the best way to learn how to initiate relationships.
But somehow, we can pretty easily equate spiritual growth with gaining more skill in intercession. We’ve told ourselves that we can know God better by getting a handle on how to ask Him for things: the theology of asking, the right things to ask for, being disciplined about spending enough time asking…. Is intercession part of our relationship with God? You bet! But is it the best starting place for a journey of deepening intimacy? Probably not.
In the case of some interactions, we’re okay if they never develop into real relationships. If I kept up with all the clerks at McDonald’s and Taco Bell that I’ve ever spoken to, I’d be a very popular guy indeed! But I’m not looking for that kind of connection from them, and they’re not looking for it from me, either. But in some cases, the depth of relationship is really significant, and it’s important to us to connect well with someone. To relate is to be more than an appetite demanding to be fulfilled. It’s to be a partner.
Should I read the book on intercessory prayer? Surely I should. But maybe I should focus on some other relational skills. Rather than perfecting the art of asking Him for things, I should first grow in my capacity to express honor and adoration, to be able to listen well to Him. Then, when He finally opens up a drive-thru, I’ll be well-prepared to say: “Good to see you again! Can I have…?”