Riches and Fame and Prayer Requests
My BlackBerry Playbook is one of my best friends. Our bonding was slow and tedious, until two years ago when I worked with a publishing firm, very briefly I might add. My colleague Clement was a strong member of the choir at his church, and I quickly discovered that we shared the same musical interests. A month after I joined the company, Clement resigned, but not before he loaded my Playbook with over 500 Christian songs. Another month after, I left the company. By that time, Playbook and had seen me through the daily tedium of 3 hours in traffic, and had become the companion without which I didn’t think I could survive the day. It introduced me to Nigerian gospel singers and their music, and gradually too, because falling in love with 500 songs is no mean feat. I had favourites that I would put on repeat from time to time, and there were several songs that I ignored for months, thinking they were boring, until they’d appeal to me one random day.
One afternoon with Playbook, I met Sharon, last name unknown. Her song “Neligwe” was one of the songs I got from Clement, but I always skipped either because her name was unfamiliar or because the title was Igbo and I thought the song was one of those your typical Igbo tunes. But this is not about Nigerian gospel music, or any gospel music for that matter. I’m talking about Sharon’s single because when I eventually listened to it I loved it. But there was one line, “riches and fame, You changed my name”. Second line, second verse. Those words swam around in my head for a while. And those words have informed this piece today.
To say that Jesus is a miracle worker is stating the obvious, yes? I mean, this is one aspect of his person that everyone has heard or read about, from his turning water to wine at the wedding at Cana, to his bringing the dead Lazarus out of his tomb alive, to the feeding of the five thousand. I’m sorry, this isn’t a CRK revision exercise. But yes, I think we all agree that Jesus worked miracles, and still does.
I worry though, because most of the people who associate with him only do it because of what they think he can do for them. A new job, healing for a sick loved one, provision of food, shelter and money, a designer bag, a Bugatti or a Maybach, or like Sharon sang, riches, fame, and a new name. You name it, Jesus has been asked for it, especially since he more or less issued a blank cheque and told us to ask for anything.
And this is why I worry, because sometimes our expectations are not met, and if we’re honest, we’ll admit that when that happens we not only feel disappointed, but we also feel some angst for this Superman who already told us to name it, whatever it is. We feel some resentment for him, because like someone said to me once in the heat of her venting, “why did he say I should ask if he knew he wouldn’t give it to me?” If you think about it, she’s right too. Personally, this is a bone I will always pick with people: don’t make a promise unless you intend to cross the seven seas to fulfill it. So we go to church and listen to sermons about this super God that can give us anything as long as it’s something we can imagine. Or we meet a roadside evangelist who does well to paint the same picture of a wonder working God who will give us riches and fame and solve all our life problems, and so we rush to church to meet this God. Sunday cannot come quickly enough. When it does, we dress to the nines and arrive at the parish, wearing not just our Sunday best, but wearing our hope as well.
I’m not going to explain to you why we don’t have all our requests met. It’s not my place. Neither am I here to talk about the dynamics of heavenly requests. I’m not sure I know more than the next person. But here’s what I do know: the best type of Christian to be is the type of Christian that actually relates with God. That would mean not being with him for what he can give, but being with him because you have first hand experience of who he really is, and not who the pastors say that he is. It would mean spending time in his presence and enjoying it, as one would enjoy family time or quality time with the lover. It would mean knowing him and being so at peace with him that when your request seems delayed, it’s okay. You’re not alarmed, because you know exactly who it is that you trust. It would mean knowing him so well that you don’t make requests for things like riches and fame. Or Hermes bags and Range Rover SUVs. No. Your requests are more along the lines of asking for supplies for the elderly man who sits at the gate of your estate every day. Or financial aid for the young girl in your office who wants to be more than a cleaner.
I’m sure that if Bruce Jenner had this understanding or cultivated this relationship, he wouldn’t need trans surgery. Just like I’m sure that if Nigerian politicians had this understanding, they would do their best for their country. I worry. I worry that too few people think along these lines. I worry that too many pastors teach us to pray for riches and fame and not the really important things. They paint the picture of a God who is only a miracle worker and a provider. I fear that people will not stop church hopping, like prostitutes in bed with the highest bidder, night after night. Sunday after Sunday. I worry that when they don’t get what it is they asked for, they will drop God like hot yam, and go in search of the next house of solution.
It is my worry that has me putting pen to paper tonight, in the hope that I get through to someone who will deem this worthy enough to share with others, and hopefully change a few hearts. If that happens, I’ll feel better the next time I put Sharon’s “Neligwe” on repeat.
P.S. God gave Solomon riches and fame, but he didn’t have to ask for it. He asked for wisdom instead. Wisdom to rule God’s people.