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Showing posts with label #Pray. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Pray. Show all posts

17 September 2019

When God answers our mundane prayers: Thank him!

I’ve written before about how we can pray for ordinary stuff. That it’s okay to pray for ordinary stuff. God wants us to cast all our cares on him, 1Pe 5.7 and not worry about all the silly daily things we ordinarily do, and that pagans fret about. Mt 6.25-33 So go ahead and pray for God to help you find your phone. Or to speed up a traffic light. Or to help your kids do well on that spelling quiz. Or for a generally good day.

And y’know, plenty of Christians already do precisely this. We pray all the time for little trivial things. “God, I’m gonna be late!” “God, take care of this.” “God, help her out.” Some of us make these little prayers all day long. Good!

Thing is, God answers these prayers. All the time. Sometimes with no. Frequently yes.

But because they’re mundane requests, because our prayers are so numerous—and kinda automatic and unthought—we kinda take God’s answers for granted. We have a good day… and forget to credit God with it. We assume circumstances made our day good. Less so God.

We find the misplaced phone, and forget to thank God for jogging our memory: “Maybe you should check yesterday’s pants.” We whip down a street full of green lights, and forget to thank God for smoothing out the traffic. We breeze through the line at Starbucks, and forget to thank God for giving the baristas a good day too.

Is this ungrateful of us? Yeah, just a bit. But that’s not actually the problem. The problem is our little prayers for these mundane things weren’t actually prayers of faith. They were prayers of habit. We did ’em without thinking, because it’s just what we do.

A prayer of habit is a heartless prayer. One which expects nothing, but says the prayer because “Christians gotta pray.” One which doesn’t remember to thank God for his answers, because it’s not actually looking for answers, and credits circumstances or ourselves.

Kinda sad, but kinda common.

10 September 2019

The prayer of faith. Or not.

James 5.13-18.

There’s a blog I follow. A few weeks ago the author wrote about how he no longer believes in prayer: He no longer believes it heals people.

’Cause he’s tried to heal people. He’s a pastor; he’s been in thousands of situations where he’s prayed for the sick and dying, or been asked to pray for them. He’s led prayer vigils and prayer chains, and begged God over and over and over again to cure people or let ’em live. He hasn’t got the results he wanted: Either God didn’t cure them (or didn’t cure them enough), or didn’t let them live.

So he’s figuring prayer must not work that way: It’s not about making our petitions known to God, on the grounds God might intervene in human history and do us a miracle. It’s only about being God-mindful, and letting that personally transform us and our attitudes.

He’s not the first Christian to claim this. I grew up in cessationist churches, and heard it all the time from Christians who don’t believe God intervenes; that praying for the sick to become well is a nice idea, but it’s the act of desperate people who can’t accept reality. You just need to accept reality, accept that God’s allowing this to happen, and just slog it out. Hey, suffering builds character.

I might be inclined to believe this too… if I never read James.

James 5.13-18 KWL
13 Do any of you suffer? Pray!
Is anyone cheerful? Make music!
14 Are any of you unwell? Summon the church’s elders.
Have them pray over you, anointing you with oil in the Master’s name.
15 The believer’s intercession will save the sick person; the Master will lift you up.
And if you committed sins, they’ll be forgiven you.
16 So confess sins to one another, intercede for one another, so you can be cured!
A right-minded person’s request is much more powerful.
17 Elijah was a person like us, prayed a prayer for no rain,
and it didn’t rain on the ground three years and six months!
18 Elijah prayed again, and the skies gave rain,
and the ground sprouted its fruit.

Apparently James bar Joseph believed if mature believing Christians pray, sick people get cured. Based on what? Duh; based on personal experience. Read Acts. In his day, Christians prayed for one another and for strangers, and got straight-up cured. Cured like when Jesus cured the sick, ’cause it’s the same Holy Spirit who’s empowering the curing. This wasn’t for “back in bible times”—this wasn’t stuff which happened in Elijah’s day, but no longer. This was for now. It’s still for now.

I’ve had this same personal experience. I’ve seen sick people get cured, right in front of me. Prayed for them, and the Holy Spirit cured them. They prayed for me, and the Holy Spirit cured me. No I didn’t psyche myself into thinking the Spirit cured me; I was honestly skeptical he’d do anything, but he graciously cured me anyway. Wasn’t my faith that cured me; it was the person praying for me. That’s all the Spirit wants to see.

So why do I have experiences which jibe with the bible, and this blogger doesn’t?

03 September 2019

God’s still small voice?

Y’might’ve heard this story before.

1 Kings 19.11-13 KWL
11 The LORD said, “Go out. Stand on Mt. Sinai before the LORD’s face.”
Look, the LORD passed by.
A great, strong wind tore away the mountain, breaking rocks before the LORD’s face—
but the LORD wasn’t in the wind.
After the wind, an earthquake. The LORD wasn’t in the quake.
12 After the quake, a fire. The LORD wasn’t in the fire.
After the fire, a voice—a thin whisper.
13 When Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his robe and went out to stand in the cave’s opening.
Look, the voice to him said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

This is the only instance in the bible of a ק֖וֹל דְּמָמָ֥ה דַקָּֽה/qol demamá daqqá, “a voice, a thin whisper,” better known by the way the KJV puts it, “a still small voice.”

The only instance. Nowhere else is the LORD described as talking this way. Usually he’s super obvious, and super loud. Frighteningly loud, and even people who knew and loved him would cower in terror, ’cause God’s louder than the loudest thing the authors of the bible could describe. Usually they’d go with thunder, or “many waters”—multiple waterfalls, or ocean waves, which are the darnedest things to talk over. Rv 19.6

Yet for some reason, the still small voice is how everybody seems to think God talks to people: He’s quiet. A tiny whisper. Something you can barely hear.

I would argue they can barely hear him for other reasons. Not because he’s quiet—or worse, because he’s silent.

27 August 2019

Start listening to God.

When we pray, we’re not just meant to talk at God. We’re supposed to listen to him as well.

Which some of us are pretty good at. Others, not so much. We’ll do all the talking, then patiently listen for God to say something… and detect nothing. He mighta said something, but we’re not sure. Can’t tell. Why not? Simple: We got used to not listening to him.

Y’see, when we heard him in the past, it was usually because he was poking us in the conscience. We were sinning. Or about to sin. Or otherwise not resisting temptation. We figured sin would be way more fun, more satisfactory, more appropriate—everybody else is doing it—so we stifled our consciences. In so doing, we stifled the Holy Spirit who speaks to us through our consciences, and tells us, “Hey, quit it!” We blocked him out.

We’re so used to blocking him out, it’s hard to go back to not blocking him out. In fact the behavior you’ll see among many a Christian is to try to hear God when it’s convenient, and try to not hear him when it’s not. We wanna sin, so we basically try to gouge out our spiritual ears… and then wonder why they don’t seem to work anymore!

Well God can cure physical ears, so of course he can also cure spiritual ones. We need to relearn how to listen to him. So how do we start doing that? Duh: Quit ignoring your conscience. Stop sinning. Resist temptation.

20 August 2019

We need more people of prayer.

I read an old essay, written in the late 1800s, probably adapted from a then-recent sermon, entitled “Men of Prayer Needed.” Which is true; men of prayer are needed. Women of prayer too. Hence my title isn’t gender-specific. We need Christians to pray, period.

The point of the essay is God uses people who pray. He doesn’t so much need our skillsets, because God can either develop our skillsets for his purposes, or perform mighty acts of power despite our skillsets. (Never underestimate God’s skillset!) He doesn’t so much need our deep and through bible study, our intellect, our education, our knowledge, our wisdom; not that we shouldn’t pursue wisdom and get knowledge, but God’s knowledge and wisdom is far greater, and he can achieve way more through what he alone knows. He doesn’t need our ability to preach: We could present an extremely simple, even pathetic sort of sermon, and because the Holy Spirit’s already been working on our audience, thousands can come forward to embrace Christ Jesus despite our inability.

We’re not gonna grow God’s kingdom through what our abilities can do anyway. God’s gonna grow his own kingdom. We just need to pray.

What the essayist didn’t get into is why all this stuff is gonna happen because we pray. Maybe it’s because he assumed we’d already know. But when you look at all the Christians who consume prayer books, yet talk so much rubbish about the power we receive through prayer, what they’re sure it does, but what their lives don’t demonstrate at all… I don’t think it’s all that self-evident.

Too many of these petitioners give us the idea that if we pray, and persist in prayer, God’s gonna reward all the Brownie points we’ve been racking up on our knees, on our faces, with our hands lifted high… and give us what he owes us based on how much and how fervently we’ve been begging him for stuff. In so doing, they’re teaching karma. It’s not mere works righteousness; it’s more like prayer-righteousness.

Even this essay gives us the idea talking at God, just because we talk at God, is gonna make us holy. It’s gonna transform us. Make us more saintly. Develop our character. The more time we spend pouring out our hearts to God, the mightier we’re gonna grow.

Okay, true: This sort of growth might happen. And it might not.

Because when we pray, we have to understand what’s going on. We’re not just unidirectionally talking at God. We’re not just telling him what we want him to do, begging for stuff, and spending so much time focusing on our needs and lack and wants, we recognize how pathetic and sad we are, and how great he is. Prayer isn’t an exercise in debasement, crawling and scraping before a God who doesn’t care to answer us, whose answers are shrouded in mystery.

Prayer is talking with God. We ask questions. He gives answers. We act on his answers: We take leaps of faith, accept the Holy Spirit’s encouragement or correction, submit to his wisdom, repent where necessary, and obey our LORD. That’s where the growth comes from.

If we didn’t get any answers, either ’cause we’re not listening, or we don’t know how to listen, or we presume these can’t be God’s answers because we hate those answers: Such prayers are exactly what the antichrists claim prayer is: We’re talking to no one, and psyching ourselves into thinking it’s good for us. We’re not gonna develop wisdom or faith; we’re not gonna practice the humility mandatory of anyone who truly follows Jesus; we’re not gonna grow. At all.

The church needs its Christians to pray. The world needs its Christians to pray. Because when we’re truly talking with God, we’re gonna follow God.

And as things currently stand, we don’t pray. Or we pray, like pagans, to nothing, expecting no answers, and “follow God” without having actually heard from God… and imagine all sorts of things which we expect God wants, but they’re really what we want, and we’ve projected our desires upon him. When Christians don’t pray, Christendom looks like what we’ve currently got. It looks like the world… with a shiny shellac of Christianity coating it, but you don’t have to stand too closely to make out all the termite holes in the wood.

Yep, we definitely need more people of prayer.

13 August 2019

What about those Christians who pray to saints?

When we talk about prayer, we usually mean speaking with God. But technically pray means “to ask.” Still meant that, back in the olden days. In one of Jesus’s stories, one man tells another, “I pray thee have me excused,” Lk 14.19 KJV ’cause people can make requests of one another. We can ask God for things, God can ask things of us, and Christians can ask things of one another.

Now, here’s where it slides away from your average Evangelical’s comfort zone: When Christians ask things of fellow Christians… who are dead.

“Praying to saints,” we call it. It’s found in older churches: Orthodox, Roman Catholics, or Anglicans and Episcopalians. And it’s commonly practiced by Christians whose loved ones have died: To comfort ourselves, figuring our loved ones are in heaven and in God’s presence, sometimes we talk to those loved ones. Some of us hope they heard us… and others are downright certain they heard us, ’cause they can’t see why God can’t empower that kind of thing. Why can’t he pass a message to our dead relatives and friends?

For that matter, why not to anyone? Including people whom we know God saved: Jesus’s parents Joseph and Mary; Jesus’s brothers James and Jude; Jesus’s apostles Peter, John, Mary of Magdala, and the rest. And maybe Christian who aren’t in the bible. Like the founders of great Christian movements, like St. Francis of Assisi, or Martin Luther, or Billy Graham.

Like all humans, Evangelicals are creatures of extremes, and take one of two attitudes about praying to saints:

  1. Won’t do any harm. Maybe God will pass our messages along.
  2. It’s heresy. And praying to anyone but God is idolatry. Plus praying to the dead violates the scriptures:
Deuteronomy 18.10-12 KWL
10 Don’t have among you anyone who passes their son or daughter through fire.
Nor augurs practicing augury, nephelomancy, scrying, incanting, 11 enchanting,
asking a psychic or spiritist, nor questioning the dead.
12 For all these acts offend the LORD.
Because of these offenses, your LORD God takes them out of your presence.

So if praying to saints is the same as questioning the dead, isn’t that a serious no-no?

Well, if it were the same. Those whose churches teach ’em to pray to saints, insist it’s actually not: The saints in heaven aren’t dead.

Seriously. Jesus once said the way the Father perceives Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—saints who are really long-dead, and were long-dead even in Jesus’s day—is that “to him they’re all alive.” Lk 20.38 When a saint dies, we perceive ’em as dead. But they’re alive in heaven. More alive than ever they were here on earth.

Remember in the bible when Moses died? Dt 34.5 Yet when Jesus was transfigured, Moses showed up, and they had a chat. Mk 9.4 Now, was Jesus, of all people, questioning the dead?—and therefore breaking his own Law, and sinning? Or is Moses in fact alive—in heaven?

You can likely guess those who pray to saints claim it’s they’re not really dead. Once they got to heaven, God made them alive again. They got resurrected. So whether we’re talking to a saint on earth, or a saint in heaven, it’s all the same—all part of “the communion of saints,” as the creeds put it. The body of Christ happens to have a few members in a really useful place. Namely heaven.

And if they’re alive in heaven, why can’t we make requests of them, same as we would to any other living Christian? There are certain Christians I know, and if I need prophecy, healing, or any other miracle, I could ask them. As the Holy Spirit permits, they can actually answer those requests and perform such miracles. Well, how much more so might St. Mary, St. Jude, St. Francis, or St. Martin Luther King Jr.?

That’s the general idea: When you pray to saints, you’re requesting help, same as you would from any other Christian… but unlike earthly Christians, who might look like they have a solid relationship with Jesus, but secretly be major screw-ups, the heavenly saints are definitely in God’s presence. Pray to them, and your chances of answered prayer shoot way up.

(Especially, most figure, when you pray to Mary. ’Member how effectively she got her resistant son to take care of the wine situation at Cana? Jn 2.3-11 So if you’re not so sure you can get a yes out of Jesus, talk to his mom. She’ll twist his arm.)

06 August 2019

Pagans and prayer.

Back in my teenage years I attended a government meeting. Which, as is customary in the United States, they opened with prayer. Bible Belt residents presume people only do this in their states, but I live in California; we do it here too.

Thing is, the Constitution’s first amendment forbids our Congress from recognizing an official religion, and the 14th amendment extends this to state and local governments. So any prayers can’t exclusively be Christian prayers, made in Jesus's name. Something I regularly gotta remind my conservative friends about, ’cause they talk about bringing prayer back into public schools, but have never thought about what sort of praying is gonna happen when just anybody gets to lead prayer. I guarantee you they really don’t want pagan schoolteachers demonstrating prayer for their kids! But there’s no way to legally limit school prayers to the sort of Christians they approve of… which sadly means things are best left the way they are.

This prayer I heard before the government meeting, only proves this point. It most certainly wasn’t Christian. It was made by some member of the community, who was either pagan or his “Christianity” was so watered down it doesn’t look like Jesus anymore. Undoubtedly he considered himself “spiritual”; only such people care to pray. But his prayer wasn’t addressed to God. Didn’t even mention God. Didn’t make any requests—which stands to reason; it wasn't made to God! Instead he expressed wishes. “I wish to express my hope that this meeting will be productive. That it's done with no animosity, and good will. That all parties listen to one another. I wish the best for our community.” Stuff like that. All good sentiments; I can't object to any of ’em.

Does it count as a prayer? Nah. Prayer is talking with God. Dude wasn't talking with anyone. He was just wishing aloud, in front of everyone, for nice things. Unfortunately in the meeting which followed, he didn't get any of his wishes.

And maybe that's why he didn't make requests of these wishes. If you don't believe God is listening when we pray (either because he doesn’t intervene, or because his plans are fixed), prayers change nothing. Wishes are about the only thing you can express.

So what good is prayer, then? Well—same as Christians believe about unidirectional prayer—they figure it’s about embracing a positive mental attitude. It’s about spreading this positive mental attitude. It’s about other people hearing our spiritual statements, and maybe these statements will change their minds, change the mood in the room, transform the “spiritual atmosphere.” Which ain’t nothing: People need reminders, and a little encouragement, to be kind, positive, optimistic, selfless, and generous. Especially in a government meeting.

Of course this assumes the people in the meeting are even listening to these prayers. Most pagans blow ’em off as dismissible dead religion. But some of ’em think prayer is a good way to practice the law of attraction, the popular belief that when we want stuff really bad, we gotta declare our desires to the universe, and gradually we’ll get what we want. Pagans aren’t necessarily agreed as to why this works, but most of them are mighty jazzed about the idea. After all, Oprah Winfrey believes in it, and she’s a billionaire, so it worked for her, didn’t it?

So if we declare our desires, our words change the spiritual atmosphere—whether anyone hears these words or not. Because our words continue to exist, floating round the universe, seeding it with all the elements we wished into being. (In the government meeting, that’d be kindness, positivity, optimism, etc.) Spiritual words have spiritual power, right?

Um… no they don’t. Not unless the Holy Spirit empowers them.

30 July 2019

Prayer… and morning people. (Groan.)

Some of us are morning people: We bounce out of bed every morning ready to tackle the coming day. It’s the best time of the day!

Some of us are night owls: We don’t mind staying up late to have fun, to get work done, to do whatever. That’s the best time of the day.

I’m a night owl. And for one semester in seminary, I lived with a morning person. Thank God he wasn’t one of those annoying morning people—the sort who thinks everyone should love mornings just as much as they do, and all it’ll take to convert us is getting a good night’s sleep. I used to work for such a person. She was so chipper every morning, I wanted to stuff her into one. But I digress.

My morning-person roomie believed in starting every morning with God in prayer. Makes sense, right? But he had to take it one step further: Start every morning with sunrise prayer. He and some eager friends would wake at the crack of dawn, head to the chapel, and pray.

They chose to pray in the chapel’s prayer room. It was a little room in the basement of the building, open 24 hours a day for prayer. (Well supposedly for prayer. Various students found it was a great place to make out, unobserved. So I guess it kinda needed the prayer.) The prayer room had no windows… which meant they didn’t see the sunrise, which still makes no sense to me. Isn’t that the whole point of sunrise prayer?

More than once, he invited me to come along. I went once. That was enough. I had no problem going to Epsilon Delta Kappa’s all-night prayer vigils; I had no problem watching the sun rise that way. But rising at dawn? The only reasons I bother is when work requires it, when I go to bed really early, or insomnia. I’d make a lousy monk.

In contrast, King David was clearly a morning person. ’Cause he sang about early-morning prayer. Ps 5.3 And since his psalms are bible, many Christians are convinced everybody oughta practice early-morning prayer. My roommate was one of them. What kind of selfish Christian chooses his comfortable bed over our Lord?

“Look,” I tried to explain, “my prayers are gonna suck when I’m sleep-deprived.”

’Cause back in my Fundamentalist days I was involved in ministries where early-morning prayer wasn’t voluntary: Everybody was expected out of bed bright ’n early, and off we’d go to morning devotions. And my prayers really sucked. First 10 minutes consisted of my complaining to God about being up so God-damned early in the morning. Followed by many apologies for saying “God-damned” to God, of all people. And for my rotten attitude. And for not really being able to focus on anything, much less God.

Really, all this grousing and apologizing was time wasted. I could’ve just prayed when I was awake.

“Besides,” I joked to my roommate, “you don’t need to be awake to talk to God. Ever heard of prophetic dreams?”

23 July 2019

De profundis.

The prayer known as de profundis deɪ proʊ'fun.dis, commonly deɪ prə'fən.dɪs is also known as Psalm 130 in Jewish and Protestant bibles, and 129 in Orthodox and Catholic bibles. The Latin name comes from verse 1 in the Vulgate: De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine, “From the deep I call to you, Lord.”

My translation doesn’t rhyme this time, but it’s still in iambic septemeter.

Psalm 130 KWL
0 Song for the climb.
 
1 I call you from the deep, oh LORD. 2 My Master, hear my voice!
Your ears must pay attention to my supplications’ voice!
3 If you kept track of moral faults, my Master, who could stand?
4 But with you there’s forgiveness. For this reason, you’re revered.
5 I wait—my life waits—for the LORD; my hope is in his word.
6 My life awaits my Master like a night guard waits for dawn.
Like night guards wait for dawn… 7 so Israel: Wait for the LORD!
For with the LORD is love, and much redemption comes with him.
8 He will redeem you, Israel, from all your moral faults.

Connected to the Hebrew idea of waiting is the idea of hope. You’re waiting for God ’cause you expect him to do something. Like answer your prayer in some way.

In Christian tradition, De profundis is a common rote prayer. A lot of Christians pray the psalms, but this one’s frequently found in the prayer books of many denominations. Mainly because it shows a certain amount of repentance, and its hope in God’s grace and dependable love.

16 July 2019

The person who just bursts into prayer.

You might’ve been in this scenario: You’re talking with a fellow Christian about something. Could be any subject; doesn’t entirely matter. But at some point, something you mention gets ’em riled up. They wanna stop your conversation, and pray about that. Immediately. This instant. Before any more time elapses.

…Okay. Nothing wrong with prayer, so you do.

But it’s not a simple, “Lord Jesus, you know best; sort this out; amen.” Nor one of its 30-second, slightly longer relatives. It’s a full-on loud, vigorous prayer. Goes on for a while; almost as if the petitioner is trying to filibuster God.

Then they finally stop, and you can go back to your conversation. Except you’re sorta thinking, “What was that all about?”

I mean, if it were anybody but God we’re talking about—if they suddenly interrupted your conversation because they needed to talk to their spouse, then spent ten minutes shouting into their phone—you’d think something was wrong with their relationship, right? Something unhealthy’s going on.

Same deal here. We’re talking about a variant of the street-corner show-off: Somebody who wants to show off what a good prayer intercessor they are, and doing so by breaking out in intercession at the drop of a hat. Maybe they don’t think it’s showing off ’cause they’ve been doing it for years, and it’s just what they do now. But I guarantee you it began with showing off.

If a person has so little patience (a fruit of the Spirit, you recall) they simply can’t wait to pray, as if their prayers are the only thing keeping God from springing into action… yep, we’re dealing with ego. Immaturity. Showing off. Hypocrisy.

So what do we do when people interrupt a conversation with, “I wanna pray about this right now?”

Well first of all, read the situation. If you don’t know that this person wants to play “prayer warrior” on you—if they’re an immature Christian who’s not a show-off, and legitimately wants prayer because they’re really emotional right now—you don’t have to worry about discouraging bad behavior. You really oughta pray for them. So do.

Otherwise simply say, “We can pray about it later.”

Because you can. God’s not limited by time. If you pray for something after it happens, your prayers can actually still influence what happens. It’s never too late to pray for things. The only time you ever need to pray right this moment, is when the Holy Spirit orders you to pray right this moment. The rest of the time, relax.

09 July 2019

The “prayer warrior.”

PRAYER WARRIOR 'prɛr wɔr.i.ər noun. A prayer intercessor who believes this form of prayer is spiritual warfare.
[Prayer warfare 'prɛr wɔr.fɛr noun.]

As I’ve written before, spiritual warfare is resisting temptation. It’s not just that our own urges and habits get in the way of a growing relationship with God: Devils use these things to trip us up. So we resist temptation, resist our selfish nature, and in so doing, resist the devil. Jm 4.7 It’s not a complicated idea. It’s just not easy to do. We enjoy the things which tempt us; they wouldn’t tempt us otherwise! But we gotta resist.

But because actual spiritual warfare isn’t easy, it’s way easier to pick something else—something we like to do, something way easier to do—and claim that’s spiritual warfare. And one of the more common claims you’ll find among Christians across the board—it’s not just a Evangelical thing—is prayer is spiritual warfare. Prayer, intercession in particular, is how we resist the devil. Not obedience, not self-control, not repentance, not submission to God’s will. Just praying for others—really hard.

Christians who pray a lot, love to imagine they’re engaging in “warfare.” After all, they’re asking God for stuff, and surely Satan doesn’t want this stuff done, right? Surely the devil’s fighting this stuff, trying its damnedest to repel God’s kingdom and Christianity’s growth and the salvation of more people.

Hence “prayer warriors” claim whenever they pray for other people, or for God to do things, it’s doing battle with the devil. ’Cause the devil doesn’t want them to pray. ’Cause then God’ll do things, and as far as Satan’s concerned, God intervenes far too much for its comfort.

I grew up in a church which was big on prayer-warrior teachings and beliefs. Very few of them were informed by the bible. In fact a lot of ’em were heavily influenced by a popular book, This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti. Published in 1986, it’s a horror novel about a New Age cult taking over a small college town, and the invisible demons that were really behind the cult. (In many ways it feels like Peretti read C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength and decided to give his own spin on it.) The good guys are of course praying Christians, and the angels whom their prayers empower.

Peretti didn’t invent these ideas. They’re found all over Christian mythology. The battle of Satan’s fall really fascinated them, and they imagined battles like that are still going on in the heavens: Demons and evil spirits which wanna destroy humanity, angels which wanna defend us, going at it with swords and shields like the ancients. Or, depending on the whims of the artist, with medieval armor, Elvish armor, or even buck naked. (Some of those artists, you gotta wonder about.) These battles have been non-stop ever since Satan was toppled. And every time they pray, it provides support to the angels on God’s side.

Problem is, there are a lot of dark Christian teachings about how “prayer warriors” affect that battle. They imagine every time they pray, God grants his warrior angels some extra energy or support, enabling them to beat back the devils. Thing is, this also implies when we don’t pray, God doesn’t grant his angels any support, and the result is the devils get to defeat them. And y’know, there are some prayer warriors who teach precisely this: When Christians don’t pray, God lets his loyal angelic followers get defeated. And God’ll even let his loyal human followers get defeated the very same way—so don’t forget to pray for one another!

In this way, prayer warriors imagine themselves the most important Christians in the church. It’s because of them Christianity advances. The rest of Christendom? Meh; they do some stuff; it’s not nothing. But the prayer warriors really contribute. They’re on the front lines of the spiritual war. (Well, the supply lines; the angels are more like the front lines. But they’re mighty close.) They’re keeping the front from receding, giving the rest of us a safe space to do our thing. Don’t forget to appreciate and thank them, same as you would for any soldier or veteran.

Okay. Any of these ideas based on bible? Loosely. Really loosely.

02 July 2019

Get in the closet.

Matthew 6.5-6.

The proper way to pray is aloud.

You’re talking to God, right? Which means you’re talking to God. Not praying silently—in other words thinking at God. You’re speaking to him out loud.

I know; a lot of Christians pray silently, and it’s the only way they pray, ’cause most of the time it’s not appropriate to pray aloud. If everybody in church simultaneously prayed aloud, it’d get loud. If you prayed aloud at work, people’d think you’re weird. If you prayed in public school, some idiot would complain about it. In general, we’re encouraged to pray silently, and that’s understandable in a lot of places. But Christians get the wrong idea and think we’re always to pray silently. No we’re not.

Lookit how Jesus demonstrates prayer in the scriptures. When he went off to pray, even by himself, privately between him and the Father, other people could overhear him. Like in Gethsemane. Mt 26.39, Lk 22.41-42 The reason we even have records in the bible of people’s prayers, is ’cause these folks weren’t silent. They spoke.

I should add: Praying in your mind is much harder than praying aloud. Because the mind wanders. (As it’s supposed to. That’s how the creative process works.) In the middle of our mental conversations with God, stray thoughts pop into our heads. In a verbal conversation, we can choose whether we’ll say such things aloud, but in a mental conversation, we can’t do that: There they are. We just thought ’em. They interrupted our prayers, like a rude friend who thinks he’s being funny, but isn’t. Ordinarily we ignore those thoughts. Now we can’t.

Even the most well-trained minds struggle with that. And a lot of Christians get frustrated with it, so they give up and pray seldom, if at all. Don’t do that. If you lose your train of thought all the time during prayer, stop praying silently. Pray aloud. It helps a lot.

“But what,” Christians object, “about privacy?” Discussions between us and God are often sensitive. We don’t want people listening in on our conversations, like they do when we answer our mobile phones at the coffeehouse. We want privacy. That’s why we go with mental prayers in the first place.

Well, that’s where the prayer closet comes in. Do you have one? If not, get one.

25 June 2019

The street-corner show-off.

Matthew 6.5-6.

Throughout history people have prayed publicly for various reasons. Some noble, some not.

And a regular problem throughout history has been the person who gets up and prays publicly, not because they legitimately wanna talk with God, or call to him for help. It’s because they wanna be seen praying. They wanna look religious. Usually so they can look more religious than they actually are. In other words hypocrisy.

Nothing annoys Jesus like hypocrisy, which is why he tries to discourage his followers from doing this. Although you know some of us do this anyway.

Matthew 6.5-6 KWL
5 “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites who enjoy standing in synagogues and major intersections,
praying so they might be seen by the people. Amen! I promise you all, they got their satisfaction.
6 When you pray, go into your most private room with the door closed.
Pray to your Father in private. Your Father, who sees what’s private, will satisfy you.”

Standing was how the ancients prayed. They didn’t kneel, bow their heads, and fold their hands; that practice arose in the middle ages ’cause it’s how European kings wanted to be approached, and since Jesus is a king it seems appropriate. They stood, looked to the sky (where they imagined God is) raised their hands to get his attention, and spoke with him. This posture made it really obvious someone was praying. Don’t need to get loud; just assume the position.

And Jesus notes the folks who prayed in really public places. Like synagogue. Which is not a Jewish church; it was a Pharisee school, where you went to ask rabbis questions. Prayer times, before and after and during the lesson, would be short. But people would stand right outside the building and make a public display of prayer, “getting right with God” before going in. Or similarly praying this way after the lesson, ostensibly to thank God for the wisdom they just got… or maybe to ask him to straighten out some wayward rabbi. Whatever; the point was they were making it nice ’n obvious they talked with God a lot.

“Major intersections” is how I translate ταῖς γωνίαις τῶν πλατειῶν/tes goníes ton plateión, “the corners of the wide streets,” namely the avenues where there was lots of room between buildings for people to shop, interact, people-watch, and otherwise hang out. Street corners were obviously where people were coming in from other streets—so the busy parts, busier than our own major intersections.

In both cases people were on their way someplace, and wouldn’t have had the time, nor spent the time, listening to this petitioner with his hands in the air. That wasn’t the point anyway. They didn’t care about being heard. Not even by God. They wanted to be seen.

The way we pray nowadays, doesn’t assume the ancient posture. Usually it’s heads bowed, eyes closed. Sometimes hands get raised, if the folks in the group have any Pentecostal influences in their background. But generally we’re not as noticeable when we pray. Unless we get loud… or unless there are a lot of us, like when a bunch of people pray in front of public buildings or around a flagpole.

But in those places, same as with the people Jesus critiqued, the point was to be seen and noticed by other people. Not so much God. And that’s what Jesus objects to.

18 June 2019

The storehouse of merit?

“Treasure in heaven” does not mean your accumulated good karma.

Jesus tells us to stash our wealth in heaven. Actually he said it this way:

Matthew 6.19-21 KWL
19 “Don’t hoard wealth for yourselves on earth,
where moths and corrosion ruin it, where thieves dig it up and steal it.
20 Hoard wealth for yourselves in heaven,
where neither moth nor corrosion ruins, where thieves don’t dig, nor steal:
21 Where’s your wealth? Your mind will be there too.”

If our wealth consists of material possessions—like homes, cars, electronics, jewelry, cash—we waste way too much time stressing about its upkeep and safety. We hoard more, “just in case.” We encourage laws and business practices which let us keep our wealth… and, all too frequently, aren’t charitable with others. The love of money becomes the underlying cause of all sorts of evil. 1Ti 6.10

Thing is, people skip this whole idea of de-prioritizing material wealth, and focus on the idea of treasures in heaven. Which, because humanity believes in karma, isn’t necessarily a cache of wealth waiting for us in New Jerusalem; mansions and streets of gold and a diamond-encrusted Bentley. Instead it’s a giant stash of karmic wealth: All our good deeds mean God owes us a few favors. A few thousand favors. And someday we’ll cash in on them.

Which is why I actually know certain Christians who don’t request things of God. Not because they think he can’t or won’t come through for them: They’re saving up their favors. At some point, they figure, they’re really gonna need something from God, and that’s when they’re gonna call in their chips. “Santa… I mean God, I’ve been such a good little boy. Can I have what’s on the top of my wishlist?”

God’s kingdom doesn’t work like that. Never did. It runs on grace and nothing else. But karma is a very old, very well-ingrained idea in humanity, and sometimes it’s just gonna leak into our dealings with God. It shouldn’t; it paints a very messed-up picture of him. It makes him sound like he runs on merit—like a congressman.

The point of treasure in heaven is not so we have something with which to purchase prayer requests. Your heavenly wealth is meant for you to enjoy—in kingdom come, sure, and to some degree now. But the idea we’re racking up favors for God is ridiculous. What can we give God that he doesn’t already have, that he can’t already create from nothing with a minor thought? What can we dangle in front of him that a billion other Christians won’t already freely give him?

But of course the folks who think of their treasure in heaven as a storehouse of merit, don’t realize how foolish they’re being. Sometimes it’s ’cause they haven’t experienced enough grace in their lives, so they just assume God thinks like they do—and like everyone else. Sometimes they grew up with a lot of bad preaching—the kind which tells them God loves them so much, values them so much, doesn’t wanna live without them, which is why he sent his Son to die for them—they get the warped idea they can hold God hostage by threatening to deprive him of them. Which ain’t love, you know.

Yep, there are many ways human pettiness and selfishness tends to distort our relationship with God. Turning our treasures in heaven into a karmic bank is one of them.

04 June 2019

Pilgrimage: Off to meditate.

PILGRIM 'pɪl.ɡrəm noun. One who goes to a sacred place for religious reasons.
[Pilgrimage 'pɪl.ɡrəm.ɪdʒ noun.]

Lots of Christians go on pilgrimage.

Might be a trip to Israel, to see where Jesus was born and buried. Might be a famous cathedral, an important monastery, a house of prayer, a room where a miracle happened, a place where revivals have been known to break out. Might even be the campground, chapel, or church building where you first gave your life to Christ Jesus—which is partly nostalgia, partly pilgrimage. Pilgrimage takes all shapes.

Various Christians might go on pilgrimage because they think the holy places might make ’em holier (and certainly make ’em feel holier) but the places aren’t gonna do anything; they can’t. Only the Holy Spirit makes someone holier. And since we Christians carry him wherever we go—collectively we’re his templewe bring the holiness into these places. If we have any profound experiences in them, it’s not because of the places themselves; it’s because the Spirit within us uses the situation to work on us.

Because Christians recognize the Spirit’s in us, so the places don’t convey any special holiness, a lot of us tend to dismiss pilgrimage as unnecessary, wasteful, or even superstitious. (I mean, lookit all the people who think holy places make ’em holier!) So they don’t see the point, and don’t go anywhere. Some of ’em hate to travel anyway… and isn’t it convenient how their beliefs match their comfort level?

But there is some value to pilgrimage, which is why I recommend it. And the most important reason is meditation.

We don’t go to, say, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, because it makes us holier. It doesn’t. We go there because it makes us think. We step in the building, ignore the crowds and the gaudy decorations, and think, “This is the exact location on this planet where Jesus rose from the dead.” We contemplate what he did there… and what he might yet do there. It’s one thing to imagine these places. It’s another to physically immerse yourself in them, see the three-dimensionality of it, touch the walls, breathe the air, be there.

Humans sometimes need tangible things to really grasp an idea. It’s why Jesus has us do holy communion. And it’s why pilgrimage puts some depth into your relationship with God which, frankly, is absent when we don’t go to holy places… and bring the Holy Spirit along for the adventure, and see what he shows you.

14 May 2019

Unidirectional prayer: We talk. God doesn’t. No point.

Too many people firmly believe God doesn’t talk back when we pray. We talk to the sky, we form sentences in our head… and God doesn’t respond. At all. Not a word. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. May as well have spoken to a brick wall. Heck, a brick wall’d be more responsive, ’cause people have graffito’d on it.

Now I can totally understand when pagans adopt this mindset: They don’t talk to God. Or they talk to fake gods, which of course don’t speak back, ’cause they’re imaginary. So what would they know about what prayer is and how it works? Stands to reason they’d think prayer is nothing more than putting “good energy” out into the universe, and expecting to get some of it back, ’cause karma.

But a disturbing number of Christians think this way. Seriously.

Often ’cause they’re cessationist and think God switched off the miracles inbetween bible times and the End Times. This’d include prayer. So they’re entirely sure he listens. But in this present era, he never, ever talks.

Yeah it’s crap, but they firmly believe it: That whole “I’ll never leave nor forsake you” bit in the bible? He 13.5 Technically he didn’t leave… but in order to emphasize how he’s not gonna intervene in human history anymore, the only way he cares to reveal his will anymore is through the scriptures. If God communicates at all, it’ll only be through feelings—when we read the bible, it’ll bring out the feels, and that’ll tell us we’re on the right track. You’ll feel this powerful sense of self-righteous conviction. Your mind’ll snap shut like a bear trap. Or you’ll have understood it wrong, so you’ll feel anxious and unsatisfied, like an ex-smoker whose nicotine patch isn’t strong enough. And if you feel nothing… well, which one do you think you oughta feel? Concentrate really hard. Maybe you’ll start feeling it!

If you can’t detect the mockery in this description: Hi there. Welcome to TXAB, my blog where I talk about following Jesus. Sometimes I use sarcasm. Read enough and you’ll get the hang of it.

Anyway, the reason these Christians believe as they do is ’cause their fellow Christians taught ’em wrong. Not intentionally; it’s the garbage they were taught, in an unbroken line back to various faithless individuals who weren’t listening to God, didn’t try, guessed at how he works without looking to the scriptures for evidence, guessed horribly, woefully wrong, and now God’s a deadbeat Dad.

The Orthodox, Catholics, and early Protestants correctly taught God talks back, and suppressed those who taught otherwise. When the suppression ended, the idea God doesn’t talk spread. (Hey, sometimes freedom of religion is a double-edged sword.) So over the past five centuries there’s been a lot of teachings, theology, and practices centered on the idea God doesn’t talk. Instead—like a deafmute who thinks he’ll be cured soon, so he stubbornly never learns sign language—for TWENTY CENTURIES God’s supposedly been manipulating us through warm fuzzy feelings. Is it any wonder Christians come in a thousand denominations?

Obviously these folks never learned to listen to God. Or think he would only speak in an audible voice—and if he does, it’d be rarely, to only a very small number of prophets. That is, unless prophecy’s done till the End Times; till then we gotta make do with bible-based warm feelings.

I grew up cessationist, and man alive is it difficult to read anything they’ve written on prayer. It’s faithless, godless, and largely useless. Because if prayer isn’t two-way communication, that’s what it is: Useless.

08 May 2019

Praying for shrubbery.

In Job, right after the LORD commended Job for being such a good and faithful servant, the devil countered with this.

Job 1.9-11 KWL
9 Satan told the LORD in reply, “Job fears God for no reason.
10 Don’t you wall around him, his house, all he has, round about?
You bless his handiwork, and his possessions fill the land. 11 Now please:
Stretch out your hand and touch all he has. He won’t publicly bless you then.”

Y’know, 99 times out of 100, here in the United States, I’d say the devil hit the nail right on the head. Mess with our stuff and we’ll think God either abandoned us, or was never really here. Job was as good as the LORD said—and really, why would the LORD’ve thought incorrectly about Job? ’Cause omniscience. But I digress.

In the King James Version שַׂ֣כְתָּ/sakhtá is translated “made an hedge.” In 1611 this meant a wall of any sort; could be stones, could be thornbushes. In present-day English we only use “hedge” to describe shrubbery. One that looks nice, and not too expensive.

Well, we also use “hedge” in our prayers. Go to enough prayer meetings and one of these days you’ll hear someone use this particular Christianese saying: “And Lord, we just wanna ask for a hedge of protection around our team as they minister…” Sometimes they make it “a hedge of thorns,” just to make it extra hard to get through.

They don’t always know where they got the saying from, but it’s from that Job passage. (And if you wanna freak people out, point out it’s a direct quote from Satan, of all people. That’ll get ’em to read their bibles.)

There’s nothing wrong with asking for such hedges round yourself. Part of the Lord’s Prayer is, “Deliver us from evil”—or from the Evil One, as some translations have it. Mt 6.13 Whenever possible we’d like God’s hedge round us. But note, as we see in Job’s case, God can put it up or take it down as he wishes.

30 April 2019

Formal prayer: How to get distant with God.

Let’s get right to it: The purpose of formality is distance. It’s to measure off a “proper,” unapproachable space between you and the person you’re being solemn with. Because decorum considers closeness and informality to be inappropriate.

I know; a lot of people insist that’s not at all why they’re formal with God. They do it out of respect. Like the way you respect your boss, a judge, an important official, royalty, or even your parents: You show your respect by treating ’em formally.

Well that’s rubbish. And parents are a perfect example of why it’s rubbish. I respect my mom—and I don’t treat her formally at all. If I did, she’d think I was angry with her for some reason. Because again: Formality is about distance. People who treat their parents formally are not close with them. And parents who raise their kids to treat them formally, who demand decorum from them because they feel it means respect, always wind up with emotionally distant kids. Sometimes they wonder why they aren’t close, and can’t figure out why their relationship is so dysfunctional. Well duh.

So if you’re formal with God, but you can’t fathom why you’re not as close with God as other Christians: Well duh.

I respect God. Of course. But we’re not formal. We were never meant to be. God went out of his way to deliberately bridge every gap which might exist between himself and humanity. Sin?—defeated and forgiven. Death?—getting undone. Distance?—he’s everywhere! Karmic debt?—he doesn’t even do karma.

So why do Christians treat God formally? Either because, like kids whose parents foolishly raised them to be distant, it’s what we were taught. Our churches are led by dysfunctional Christians who are distant from God, and they’re getting us to repeat their behavior, and likewise be distant from God.

Or worse: They like being distant from God. A present God is uncomfortable. They feel unworthy, or convicted of sin, or judged. (Whether these feelings are legitimate is another discussion.) They prefer there be some space between them and the Almighty. Formality is the perfect way to maintain the illusion: He’s a holy, holy God, far removed from his sinful creatures… and so he leaves ’em alone.

So if you wanna be distant from God, formality’s the way to go. And I would hope you’re as repulsed by the very idea as I am.

23 April 2019

Quit praying to Satan!

There’s an traditional African folk song called “What a Mighty God We Serve.” If you grew up Christian, maybe you heard it in Sunday school. Sometimes adults sing it too. Goes like so.

What a mighty God we serve
What a mighty God we serve
Angels bow before him
Heaven and earth adore him
What a mighty God we serve

Years later I found out it had some more lyrics—words my children’s and youth pastors never bothered to have us sing. Maybe you can guess why.

I command you Satan in the name of the Lord
To take up your weapons and flee
For the Lord has given me authority
To walk all over thee

There are variations. There’s “put down your weapons” in the second line (which makes way more sense); there’s “stomp all over thee” in the fourth, along with stomping movements.

Anyway. Lots of churches tend to give these lines a miss, so lots of Christians aren’t aware of ’em. I particularly remember one summer youth camp: The pastor got all the kids to sing along with the first part, but when she broke into the second part, the kids sat there confused—why’s she singing to the devil? Anyway, because they didn’t sing along, she concluded, “I guess you don’t know that part,” and went right back to the “What a mighty God we serve” bit they did know.

As to why churches don’t teach it: Well you are singing to the devil. And shouldn’t. Don’t do that.

Likewise there are a number of Christians who pray to the devil. You may have seen it happen. Someone gets up to pray, and in the middle of all their other praises and petitions to God, they put him on pause, and get Satan in on this conference call.

“And Satan, we rebuke you. We bind you. We cast you out. You have no authority here. You have no business in this place. You get out of here, Satan. You’re under our feet.”

And so on. You get the idea.

Again: Don’t do that.

I know. Your pastors do it. Your prayer leaders do it. Christians you greatly respect do it. Loads of people do it. And they shouldn’t do it either.

02 April 2019

Power through prayer.

Humans covet power. So I fully expect by titling this article “Power through prayer,” I’m gonna get a few readers who think, “I’d like some power, and this fella claims I can get it through prayer; let’s see whether there’s anything I can use.” (More accurately, “Let’s see whether he tells me something I care to do.” If it takes too much effort, or takes us too far out of our comfort zones, people prefer alternative routes. True of medicine, politics, Christianity, and of course our prayers.)

Generally there are three types of Christians who wanna know about gaining power through prayer.

  1. “PRAYER WARRIORS.” These’d be the folks who think prayer is how we do spiritual warfare. Not resisting temptation, like the scriptures describe; they believe spiritual warfare consists of praying against all the evil in the world. They want everything they pray against to be vanquished.
  2. SIGN-SEEKERS. These Christians wanna see miracles. They wanna do miracles. They want the Holy Spirit to empower them to do every mighty act they can think of: Sick people get instantly cured, axheads float, sundials go backwards, fillings turn to gold, fire falls from the sky. Anything which demonstrates God’s really among us and endorses them.
  3. POWER SEEKERS. These people want temporal power. They wanna be in charge of a church, ministry, or nonprofit. Or they want to be financially successful—have a nice house, own a nice car, pay off their mortgage, take all the vacations missions trips they always wanted to…. Or they want political power. Whatever gives them the ability to direct their lives the way they wish.

So all these folks wanna be “strong in the Lord, and the power of his might,” Ep 6.10 KJV whether they’re thinking of God’s armor or not. They want their prayers regularly answered with yes. Their wishes are… well, not God’s commands, for they’d never put it that way. But essentially yeah: They want God to do as they ask.

The problem? These people covet power. Not God. God’s a means to an end, not the Beginning and the End. Learning how to have power through prayer, basically means learning to manipulate God, and have our way with the Almighty. It’s the exact opposite of how our relationship with God is meant to work.

And those who seek powerful prayers, have to watch out lest we share this motivation. Because it’s absolutely the wrong motivation. We follow him. Never the other way round.