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

29 January 2019

Forbidding tongues.

No Christians should. But some Christians do.

When I told a friend my follow-up from my article on loud tongues would be a little something about Christians who forbid praying in tongues, he greatly approved. “Yeah! Let ’em have it. People have no business doing that.”

No they don’t. ’Cause Paul and Sosthenes said not to.

1 Corinthians 14.39 KWL
Therefore, my family, be zealous to prophesy. And as for speaking, don’t stop tongues!

But.

Frequently when a church “forbids tongues,” what they actually forbid is loud tongues. Because whenever they get a tongues-speaker in their congregation, they get yet another immature Christian who can’t keep it down… who insists they have every right to make noise. After all, the Holy Spirit is empowering their ability to pray tongues! And since God’s behind it, how dare anyone tell ’em how and when and where to show off exercise their particular gift of the Spirit? How dare these churches quench the Spirit. Betcha they blaspheme the Spirit too.

So, like these outraged noisy tongues-speakers, my friend “got his angry up,” as they call it in the Bible Belt. Wants me to tear ’em a new one. Nope. I’m with them. Did we forget the verse which immediately follows the “don’t-stop-tongues” one?

1 Corinthians 14.40 KWL
Practice everything appropriately and in order.

Ah there it is.

You know how people are: We never give one another the benefit of the doubt. We just assume they’re sticking it to us. ’Cause human depravity and all that. But let’s not. Let’s practice a little basic discernment and find out why they “forbid tongues,” if that’s really what they’re doing: Have they absolutely forbidden prayer in tongues, both inside and outside the church building, in every single form? Or do they have no problem with tongues; they’re just exercising their prerogative to quiet noisy people? More often you’ll find it’s the second reason.

The first reason is of course contrary to scripture. So now let’s deal with it.

22 January 2019

Praying too loud—in tongues.

It’s all too common among Pentecostals. And ought not be.

Likely you know what Jesus taught about showing off when we pray. If you need a reminder, here ya go.

Matthew 6.5-6 KWL
5 “And when you pray, don’t be like hypocrites who love to pray standing in synagogue,
in the corners of the public square, in order to put on a show for people.
Amen! I promise you it’s the only wages they receive.
6 You, when you pray: Enter your inner room. Having shut your door, pray to your Father in private.
Your Father, who sees what’s private, will repay you.”

Betcha you’ve never heard it applied to praying in tongues.

Yet if you’re in one of those churches which don’t stifle tongues, you’re gonna notice whenever there’s a prayer group, those who pray in tongues tend to do so at a very audible level. Sometimes at the volume of an ordinary speaking voice. Often even louder.

If they were praying in English, would this be considered appropriate behavior? Nope. Jesus’s teaching about hypocrites showing off would immediately come to mind. We’d consider it disruptive. Someone would take that person aside and have a private little corrective chat with ’em. And if they kept it up regardless, they’d be asked to leave the room, if not the group.

So… why do tongues get a free pass to be noisy?

Because, Christians shrug, it’s tongues! It’s a powerful prayer, supernaturally enabled by the Holy Spirit. He’s making us able to pray in the Spirit’s power, for all the stuff the Spirit particularly wants. For that reason, shouldn’t it take priority over everything else in the room?

Maybe so, maybe not. It’s not the issue, actually.

The issue is volume. Are we meant to outshout everyone else when we pray? No. Are we meant to interrupt others when we pray? No. Are we meant to be noisy or disruptive when we pray? No. And if it’s true of prayer, it's just as true of prayer in tongues. We don’t get a free pass to be fleshly just because the Spirit gave us the power to pray tongues. In fact it’s all the more reason to not behave this way: Making noise means we’re kinda nullifying any of the building up 1Co 14.4 which the tongues are meant to do for us.

1 Corinthians 13.1 KWL
When I speak in human and angelic tongues:
When I have no love, I’ve become the sound of a gong, a clanging symbol.

Not a prayer warrior; a noisemaker.

And quit blaming the Holy Spirit for your bad behavior, wouldya?

15 January 2019

Tongues, and how to pray in them.

Yeah, I know not all my readers pray in tongues. Ask God for help.

The most controversial of the Holy Spirit’s supernatural gifts is speaking in tongues.

That’s because some Christians don’t merely think (as cessationists will) that it’s something Christians don‘t do anymore; that the Spirit doesn’t need us to do it anymore. Certain churches straight-up forbid it. Doesn’t matter what the scriptures say—

1 Corinthians 14.5 KWL
I want all of you to speak tongues—so that you can prophesy more!
Prophesying is greater than speaking tongues.
The exception is if one interprets so the church could be built up.
1 Corinthians 14.39-40 KWL
39 Therefore, my family, be zealous to prophesy. And as for speaking, don’t stop tongues!
40 Practice everything appropriately and in order.

—they figure if the Spirit doesn’t do it anymore, every single instance we see of tongues nowadays is devilish. And if they banned tongues, and we dare interrupt their “appropriate order” by speaking in weird sounds, our disruption is a sure sign we’re devilish. So they’ve banned tongues outright.

What about the possibility they’re blaspheming the Holy Spirit? They’re willing to risk it. Problem is, they totally are blaspheming the Spirit, and must answer to him for it.

To be fair, some of their concerns about “appropriate order” are totally valid. Many a tongues-speaker does act inappropriately. Humans are creatures of extremes, and it feels like Christians either take the attitude of “No tongues ever” or “Anything goes.” The whole point of 1 Corinthians 14 was to deal with the fact the Corinthians were speaking in tongues—as every Christian should, and the apostles encouraged them to keep it up!—but were doing ’em wrong.

The reason I bring tongues up in the Prayer & Praise category is because the primary purpose of tongues is prayer. That’s what they are: Prayer. Prayer is talking with God, and when we speak tongues that’s precisely what we’re doing: Talking with God. We’re saying stuff, God understands that stuff, and we’re getting built up as better people, better Christians, by praying in this manner. 1Co 14.4

Well… assuming we’re not praying in tongues willy-nilly, in a childish, undisciplined, fruitless way. 1Co 14.20 If we’re gonna speak tongues, let’s do them right!

18 December 2018

Two types of worship music.

And no, I don’t mean gospel and contemporary Christian music. Yeesh.

There are two types of worship songs we tend to see in churches.

And yeah, some Evangelicals are gonna assume I mean traditional worship (i.e. hymns and old-timey gospel songs) and contemporary worship (i.e. spanning from the worship choruses of the 1970s, to the Christian pop songs of today). I don’t. I consider those styles of songs; the only real difference is in presentation. You could put a backbeat on a hymn and turn it into a pop song; you can put a pop song in a hymnal and sing it with that very same cadence.

Type refers to the purpose and content of the song, and generally there are two of ’em.

INSTRUCTIVE describes the songs written to deliberately teach an idea—to put it to music, and get it into Christians’ heads. They teach us about amazing grace, about what a friend we have in Jesus, about how great God art, and that he’s holy holy holy. They tend to have a lot of verses, various complicated words… and no I’m not only talking about hymns, though a lot of ’em totally fit the description. And a lot fit the other:

MEDITATIVE describes the deliberately simple songs. They have few verses, or lots of repetition; their ideas are basic Christianity, like how there’s wonder-working power in the blood of the Lamb, or on Christ the solid rock we stand, or God’s a good good Father. Their purpose is to give us something we already know by rote, and we can sing ’em and not ponder the words… and instead meditate on God and his greatness, and pray to him while our lips go on autopilot. Yep, exactly like when we pray in tongues.

Humans are creatures of extremes. Christians included. Some of us love one type and hate the other. But we don’t always know why we have this preference, and think it has something to do with the style.

So they claim they “love hymns” because hymns are so detailed and deep. (Yeah, “All Things Bright and Beautiful” isn’t. Plenty of others likewise aren’t.) But you can swap the instruments used to perform it—instead of keyboards, electric guitar and drums—and they’ll still like the song… although that guitar solo was absolutely gratuitous. Pop song or not, they seek depth. They want the content of their songs to make ’em think. They wanna be “spiritually fed”—by which they mean learn something. If there’s nothing to learn in the music, they consider it time wasted.

Others, who “love contemporary worship,” might love hymns too… but y’notice they only sing the first verse, over and over and over, and ignore all the other verses. (Which drives the fans of instructional music bonkers.) Sometimes they only sing the chorus and ignore all the verses. Sometimes they make a pop version of the song which eliminates all but their favorite hooks. Again, they’re not singing to learn. They want something repetitive and familiar, which they can use to help ’em focus their prayers, and solely concentrate on Jesus. That, they consider worship; not so much the music, although they love music. Interrupt that meditative time, and they consider it time wasted.

Some of us do a little of one, and a little of the other. And some of us don’t like music at all. Or don’t get what we’re trying to do with it, and consider it dead religion and time wholly wasted. These would be the people who find various excuses to show up for church services in the middle of the very last song: They’re only here for the good parts. Like the sermon, holy communion, getting prayer, or interacting with fellow Christians after the service. Phooey on music.

Me, I’m one of those little-of-one, little-of-the-other types. But my church? Full-on going for meditative music.

04 December 2018

Praying the psalms.

Psalms is one of the oldest prayer books in the world, y’know.

The psalms—yep, the very same psalms we find in the book of Psalms, as well as various random psalms we find elsewhere in the bible—are sacred songs to and about God, used to worship him. A lot of ’em are addressed directly to God. As such, they’re prayers.

Hence Jews, Christians, and Muslims have used ’em as rote prayers for millennia. In fact, Christians who’d ordinarily never pray a rote prayer (for fear they’re praying something God didn’t inspire) have few qualms about praying the psalms. ’Cause they are inspired by the Holy Spirit, so they’re solid. Memorizing a psalm is as good as memorizing any other passage in the bible. And useful, ’cause now you can recite that psalm to God, praise him with it, and pray it to him.

Likewise, because they’re bible, they’ll help us understand God better, and show us we can pray the very same things we find in the psalms. Including all the stuff Christians balk at: “Are you sure you can pray such things?” Yes you can. If it’s in the psalms, you can pray it. You can ask God anything. You can tell God anything. Seriously, anything.

Really, those people who feel they’re limited in what they can pray, get that idea because they haven’t read the psalms, or don’t think of psalms as praise and prayer. They imagine ’em as nice poetry (or odd poetry, since they don’t rhyme), but don’t realize they have any practical purpose beyond the occasional proof text. If you’re one of those people, and feel you don’t appreciate psalms to that degree, break yourself of that. Read the psalms. Memorize a few. And if you’re gonna pray the scriptures, start with Psalms.

(And once you memorize some of the shorter psalms, you can brag how you’ve “memorized entire chapters of the bible.” ’Cause technically you have.)

27 November 2018

Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Not the chorus; the rote prayer. (And a bit about proper pronunciation of “excelsis.”

Before I discuss the rote prayer itself, lemme rant a bit about how everybody mispronounces excelsis.

When I was a kid, most folks I knew mispronounced it |ɪk'sɛl.sɪs|, ’cause it’s spelled like our English word “excel,” so people assumed of course that’s how you say it. Around high school one of the music pastors decided to correct everyone: “It’s pronounced |ɛks'tʃɛl.sɪs|; the C makes a |tʃ| sound like the word ‘cello,’ not |s| like ‘cellar.’ ” And everyone responded, “Ah of course,” and learned to say it that way.

Both are wrong.

The |tʃ| sound comes from Italian, which worked its way backwards into present-day Latin. (Which you thought was a dead language, didn’tcha? Nope. It’s still the official language of Vatican City, which means people there actually do speak it… when they’re not speaking Italian or English, or the pope’s native Spanish.) As for Roman Empire and early medieval Latin—in other words proper Latin—the C made a |k| sound, like “cardinal.” When an X came before it, that sound turned into an |s|. (Oh, and the vowels in Latin sound like the vowels in Spanish and French.) Hence the proper pronunciation of excelsis is |eɪs'kɛl.sis|.

Gloria in excelsis Deo |'ɡloʊ.ri.ɑ 'in eɪs'kɛl.sis 'deɪ.oʊ|, whether we mean the prayer, or the line we use for various Christmas-song choruses, is Latin for “glory in the highest to God.” It’s what angels said (not sang; read your bible again) when they appeared to the Bethlehem sheep-herders, and comes from the original dóxa en ypsístois Theó. Lk 2.14 But it comes from a more ancient Latin translation, ’cause St. Jerome rendered it gloria in altissimis Deo for the Vulgate.

When we’re speaking of the rote prayer—“the Gloria,” for short—we mean what Orthodox churches call “the Great Doxology.” There are eastern and western versions of it. The eastern version was written first, so let’s go with it first.

PRIEST. “Glory to you who has shown us the light.”
CONGREGATION. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to all people.
We praise you, we bless you, we worship you,
we glorify you, we give thanks to you for your great glory.
Lord, King, heavenly God, Father, almighty;
Lord, the only‑begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit.
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father who take away the sin of the world,
have mercy on us, you who take away the sins of the world.
Receive our prayer, you who sit at the right hand of the Father,
and have mercy on us.
For you only are holy, only you are Lord,
Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Each day we bless you,
and we praise your name forever and to the ages of ages.
Lord, grant that we may be kept this day without sin.
Blessed are you, Lord, God of our fathers.
Your name is praised and glorified throughout all ages. Amen.

20 November 2018

Praying the scriptures.

Why Christians put a lot of bible in their prayers.

It’s a popular Christian practice to drop little bits of bible into our prayers. Kinda like so.

Father, we come to you because you tell us “if my people, who are called by my name, seek my face, I will hear from heaven,” and we recognize “your word won’t return void,” so we call upon you today, Lord. Hear our prayers, meet our needs, heed our cries. “Give us today our daily bread.” Amen.

Yeah, we can pray full passages. We pray the Lord’s Prayer of course; sometimes we pray the psalms. Many of the more famous rote prayers consist of lines lifted straight from the bible and arranged to sound like a prayer.

We do this for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes not-so-legitimate ones: We want our prayers to sound more bible-y. That’s why we’ll trot out the King James Version English with its “thee” and “thou” and old-timey verbs. If it’s old-fashioned we figure it’s more solemn and serious and holy. It’s not really—but people think so, which is why they do it.

Or we covet the bible’s power. We quote bible because the bible is God’s word… and since God’s word is mighty and powerful, maybe quoting it is also mighty and powerful. Maybe those words can make our prayers mighty and powerful… and we can get what we want because we’ve tapped that power.

Or we’re padding the prayers. Short prayers are fine, but too many Christians think long prayers are, again, more solemn and serious and holy. So if our prayers are too short, maybe we can make ’em longer by throwing in a few dozen bible verses. Plus they’ll sound more bible-y, plus tap a little of the bible’s power. Yep, we can do this for all three inappropriate reasons.

But don’t get me wrong; there are appropriate reasons to include bible verses in our prayers. Really good reasons too.

13 November 2018

The “Your will be done” prayer.

Not just praying it for others, but ourselves. And meaning it!

The “Your will be done” prayer is part of the Lord’s Prayer. Obviously it’s the “Thy will be done” bit. Mt 6.10 I’ve already discussed where we’re praying for his will to be done. Today it’s more about how we fulfill that particular prayer of his. Yep, it’s about doing God’s will.

Typically when Christians pray “Your will be done,” we’re not talking about ourselves. We’re talking about everyone. “Thy will be done on earth,” is how the full clause goes, so we’re thinking about how God’s will gets done on earth as a whole, and by all humanity instead of us as individuals. When we pray it, we’re praying humanity collectively does God’s will. We’re not always remembering that we—you and I and everyone else—have to do God’s will too. Usually we’re thinking about how everybody else really oughta follow God’s will, ’cause they don’t, the earth sucks, and it’s their fault.

So when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we’re not always praying that we do God’s will. We make it a prayer for everyone else. Everyone not us.

But we are part of collective humanity, and today let’s get away from how everybody else isn’t pulling their weight. When you pray “Your will be done,” trying praying it this way: “Your will be done by me.”

’Cause we do wanna do God’s will, right?

Well no, we don’t always. Let’s be honest. We wanna do our will. We’re ready and eager to do God’s will when it coincides with our will. God wants us to go to church, and if we like church, this is no problem! And if we hate church, this is a huge problem, and suddenly we’re gonna be very receptive to any Christian who tells us we might not have to go; that “the communion of saints” is an option, that you can forsake gathering together, He 10.25 and that you won’t grow undisciplined, weird, heretic, and less loving because you’ve no one to sharpen your iron. Pr 27.17 Basically we’ll just do our own thing, cling to any excuse for why God might be okay with it, and even imagine it was all his idea, if we can mentally get away with it.

So, sometimes we wanna do God’s will. Which is why we need to keep praying this prayer. We need to learn to always wanna do his will. We need God to not let us get away with weaseling out of it.

06 November 2018

Praying or singing yourself into an “altered state.”

The fear that we’re so excited to worship God, Satan might grab a toehold.

Last month I had a correspondent, whom I called Fenella, object to the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) on the grounds it’s vain repetition.

Fenella’s concern is one I’ve heard dozens of times: When Christians pray something over and over and over, they figure we’re doing it to psyche ourselves into a state of euphoria. Other Christians have the very same complaint about the way certain churches do their music, or pick particularly repetitive songs: All that repetition isn’t done to praise God; it’s to whip ourselves into an altered state of consciousness. The “trance state,” as some of ’em describe it.

Once we’re in this trance, they worry we’re susceptible to hypnotic suggestion. Naughty pastors might try to insert heretic ideas in our minds. Although more of these concerned Christians are more worried about demonic activity. Nevermind the fact these Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit: The critics are entirely sure devils can nonetheless climb into us while we’re praying and worshiping the Almighty. Because we’re praying so wrong.

I recently skimmed an article by a particularly fearful Christian; we’ll call him Otmar. Yeah, I skimmed the piece: I was trying to suss out Otmar’s main points, but these practices enrage him so much, he couldn’t stick to his descriptions and kept interrupting to vent his spleen. Dude’s got issues. (But now I’m digressing.)

Y’notice Evangelical churches tend to start our services with three fast songs, then three slow songs. Or more, or fewer, but it’s typically fast, then slow. “Three fast, three slow” was a joke we regularly made in my Christian college. But Otmar got hold of some charismatic church’s guidelines to their worship pastors about why they go fast, then slow, and the sort of mood they’re trying to set for the worshipers. Or “atmosphere,” as the church called it; same thing.

Most of the churches I visit totally do the same thing. And for the very same reasons. I’ll own up to it.

  • When you walk into the service, the church usually has some music playing to set the mood. Typically songs the people already know. Something what gets people thinking, “We’re gonna do worship songs soon.”
  • Then a “gathering song”—one which invites people to start singing and worshiping and praising God. One of my previous worship pastors really liked to use “Come, Now Is the Time to Worship.” Something fast and exciting. Frequently a song about praise, and why we oughta praise God—and that it’s fun!
  • Then another fast song or two. Or three.
  • Then we slow it down. Partly ’cause we can’t have everybody all amped up during the sitting-down portions of the service. Partly so people shout and jump less, and get more introspective and meditative, and hopefully pay more attention to anything the Holy Spirit might tell them.
  • Then another slow song or two. Or stretch out the one song for a while, depending on how much the worship pastor really loves that song the Spirit’s leading.

My own church tends to do four songs total. And since I get to pick the preservice music, I tend to go with gospel. They listen to enough white music on K-LOVE already.

Back to Otmar. He insisted on reading something insidious into everything this church wrote. They used the word “invocation” for the gathering song. That’s an old-timey Christianese word, found in all sorts of churches, frequently to describe the opening prayer. Otmar couldn’t help but wonder what other things it might invoke. Like devils. Told you dude’s got issues.

And as I’ve stated many times elsewhere, the issue actually has nothing to do with whether these prayer and worship practices open Christians to evil forces. ’Cause they don’t. The issue’s entirely about style. It’s about individual Christians’ individual preferences about how they prefer we pray and sing. It’s equivalent to not liking the carpet in the auditorium. Except the guy who hates the carpet is claiming mauve is the devil’s color, and having it in the auditorium is dooming us to hell.

I admit there are songs I dislike so much, I can easily accuse them of being farted into existence by Satan itself. But I’m kidding. Fools like Fenella and Otmar aren’t kidding at all.

23 October 2018

The sinner’s prayer isn’t proof of your salvation.

Not sure you’re saved? Retreat’s the wrong direction.

Back in grad school I heard this ridiculous story from a preacher. Goes like so.

There was this Christian who was feeling unsure of his salvation. He hoped he was saved, but was just full of doubts. A little voice inside his head kept telling him, “Oh you’re not saved. Not really.” The preacher figured this was Satan. [Considering how such baiting will simply drive Christians to find some way to be certain we’re saved, I’m pretty sure the devil isn’t that stupid. But whatever.]

Anyway, this doubting Christian got an idea. First he said the sinner’s prayer. Yeah he’d probably said it ages ago, but bear with me: Next he made a sign with that day’s date on it, attached it to a stake, and pounded the stake into his backyard. Now every time the voice in his head told him, “You’re not saved,” he could look out the backyard window, point to the sign, and say, “I am so, devil. Get thee behind me.”

Followed by a rash of students placing signs with various dates on ’em in the yard behind the dorms… Nah, just kidding. Nobody did that. Because this story is stupid.

Because saying the sinner’s prayer doesn’t save you. Doesn’t save anyone. And is therefore no proof of anyone’s salvation. It’s like saying, “I don’t know whether my bank account has any money in it, so I’m gonna send the bank a letter, then put the date I sent the letter on a sign. And every time I’m not sure there’s anything in that account, I’m gonna look at that sign and tell myself, ‘No you do have money. ’Cause you sent ’em a letter on this date!’ ” Like I said, stupid.

What’s the proof we’ve been saved? The Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 1.13-14 KWL
13 Because of God, you who heard the truthful message,
the saving gospel in which you believed, were stamped with the promised Holy Spirit—
14 who’s the deposit on our inheritance,
the release of our trust fund—praise his glory!

If God adopted you as his kid, you have his signet ring, i.e. the Spirit. Which means the Spirit lives in you, and you should be seeing the fruit of his living in you. Your attitudes and character should be evolving to look more like God’s. You should be better and better able to hear God when you pray. You should see more miracles and have more God-experiences. You should have fewer and fewer reasons to doubt God’s existence, doubt your relationship with him, and doubt your salvation.

The reason Christians doubt their salvation? They don‘t have any of these things. They’re the same jerks they were back when they were pagan, but they’ve slapped Christian labels on all their bad behaviors. They’ve managed to fool others (though not as well as they think), but know deep down they’re hypocrites. Sometimes they’re also making up stories about the miracles they’ve supposedly seen and done. Plenty of people fake speaking in tongues, y’know. I’ve caught them.

So they can’t point to the Spirit’s activity and say, “God’s involved in my life.” They got nothing. But what they can do is stick signs in the backyard. Or write down the date, if they know it, when they first said the sinner’s prayer, and celebrate that as their “spiritual birthday.” And because they’re still jerks like they were when pagan, they can even celebrate an entire birthday month over it. ’Cause it’s all about them.)

16 October 2018

Vain repetition?

And the ridiculous idea that repetition and prayer in worship might lead to something devilish.

When I wrote on God-mindfulness last week, I mentioned one of the techniques people use to remind themselves God’s always here, is by praying the Jesus Prayer. It’s a really short rote prayer—“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”—which we can use to help focus when we meditate on God, or remind ourselves he’s right here with us.

But of course someone (and we’ll call her Fenella) read the article on God-mindfulness, read the article on the Jesus Prayer, and despite my warnings, immediately leapt in her mind to a dark place. “That,” Fenella insisted, “is not biblical prayer.”

Um… in the Jesus Prayer article I pointed out the three bible passages the Jesus Prayer is based on. One of which was prayed to Jesus, personally and directly, by Bar Timaeus. And Jesus answered it—despite the naysayers who tried to shush Bar Timaeus. You know, like Fenella’s kinda doing. (I really don’t think this ever occurred to her.)

But Fenella’s beef isn’t with asking Jesus for mercy; it’s with what she calls “vain repetition.” Because when Christians say the Jesus Prayer, we tend not to say it just the one time. We say it dozens of times. Over ’n over ’n over ’n over ’n over. And to Fenella’s mind, that’s what pagans do, like the Hindus and Hare Krishnas and Christian cultists. They fervently repeat things over and over again because it’s how people psyche themselves into a euphoric mental state. Various dark Christians claim that once we enter this mental state, it’s like we’ve opened up the door to our spirit. And now devils can step right in.

No, seriously. They believe repetition, because it’s what pagans do, invokes pagan gods. Fenella’s not the first person who’s told me this, either. I’ve heard it too often. And sorry in advance if this sounds unkind, but it’s still how I feel: The Christians who teach this have gotta be the stupidest creatures in God’s universe. Because Satan successfully tricked ’em into believing and teaching, “Oh no, better not talk to God too much or I’m gonna get possessed!

These folks claim devils can go into the place the Holy Spirit occupies as his temple without getting devastated by the light. 1Jn 1.5 But dark Christians regularly make the mistake of vastly overestimating dark powers. I’m not saying there’s no such thing as evil, temptation, and spirits which wanna trip us up; of course there are. I’m saying the idea our prayers to the Almighty—in which we’re asking for grace, in which we’re trying to be mindful of God’s presence, in which we’re trying to meditate on his scriptures—because we say them too often for these people’s comfort, the imagine these prayers let in devils? Even if we’re talking to God earnestly but wrong, does it sound anything at all like our gracious heavenly Father to even let such a thing happen? It isn’t just contradictory; it’s downright dumb. Christians, please don’t follow stupid people.

Rant over. Let’s get into what a “vain repetition” is, and what Jesus meant by it.

09 October 2018

God-mindfulness. ’Cause he’s always here.

’Cause it might help to constantly remind yourself God is here.

SHE. [only just noticing me] “When’d you get back?”
ME. [confused] “I didn’t go anywhere.”
SHE. “I thought you left for work.”
ME. “Nope. It’s my day off.”
SHE. “Well good; I have some chores for you to get done.”

Yep, that’s how my days off tend to go.

And y’know, that’s how our relationships with God tend to go. At some point we learned he’s omnipresent—he’s everywhere at once, in all of space and time—but that’s a bit of data we filed in the back of our minds, and the rest of the time it’s more like “Out of sight, out of mind.” If we don’t see God, or don’t feel God, we presume he’s not around—even though we still have that omnipresence idea rattling around our brains somewhere.

When we talk about God’s “presence,” we usually mean when we notice he’s here. Again, God hasn’t gone anywhere. But something made us aware—more aware than usual—he’s in the room. He did something, like empowered a miracle or gave a prophecy. We felt something, like joy, or like feel peace, and realize God’s behind it. Or the church’s sound guy finally turned on the subwoofers.

More commonly, we pay attention to God’s presence because somebody simply reminded us he’s here. Like me, right now, with this article. Now you’re remembering God’s here, and paying a little more attention to his presence, aren’t ya? We’re imagining his presence—we know he’s here somehow, but we don’t know how, so our brains are filling in the blanks.

I bring this up because typical Christian behavior is to not notice God’s presence till something triggers us. We’re reacting to the knowledge of God’s presence: “Oh yeah, God’s around.” We briefly stop taking his ubiquity for granted.

But it passes, and we go right back to forgetting he’s here.

Well what if we didn’t go back to that?

Seriously. Because a lot of Christians try, and succeed, in constantly reminding themselves God is here. In constantly acting like God is here. In pretty much talking with him all the time, ’cause he is here all the time; it feels kinda rude to ignore him. (No, it’s not how we pray without ceasing, though some Christians done this for this reason.) Historically it’s been called “the practice of the presence of God,” after Brother Lawrence’s book, but I swiped one of my pagan friends’ words and call it God-mindfulness.

02 October 2018

The “Where are you?” prayer.

God’s always there. But when we don’t feel him, it helps to acknowledge this.

Ordinarily, God is invisible. Can’t see him.

So we compensate by trying to feel him. Sometimes by “practicing his presence,” of constantly reminding ourselves he’s here, including him in our actions, talking to him… and discovering he talks back. Other times, and less legitimately, by psyching ourselves into feeling him—and all the problems immediately caused when we confuse happy thoughts with the Holy Spirit.

But sometimes we can’t feel him. Either those feelings are drowned out by our other feelings, ’cause we’re going through a crisis, or mourning, or something else is creating a whole lot of emotional noise, making God (or “God”) harder to detect. Or we’re depressed: We feel nothing, lest of all God.

And sometimes God’s totally behind this. Because we’ve taken to trusting those feelings instead of him, and he wants us to follow him. He tolerates our immature methods of “hearing” him for only so long, and it’s time to grow up.

So the next step for us Christians is to read our bibles—and to start praying what Richard Foster, in his book on prayer, calls “Prayer of the Forsaken.” I’m not fond of that title, ’cause it makes it sound like we somehow are forsaken, and no we’re not. Instead I call it the “Where are you?” prayer. When we can’t detect God anymore, we need him to show us how to hear him. We’re kinda praying the equivalent of a lost cell phone connection: “Hello? Are you still there? I think we were cut off.”

Well, we were cut off from the warm fuzzy feelings. But relax: God figures we’re ready for next-level communication.

30 August 2018

“In Jesus name” and why it doesn’t always work.

We don’t use his name to get whatever we want. We us it to seek what he wants.

Jesus told us we can use his name whenever we ask the Father for things.

John 14.12-15 KWL
12 “Amen amen! I promise you believers in me will do the same works I’ve done.
And they’ll do greater things, because I’m going to the Father.
13 And whatever you might ask in my name,
I’ll do it so it can glorify the Father by the Son.
14 Whatever you might ask me in my name, I’ll do!
15 When you love me, keep my commands!”

He told us as much more than once. Jn 15.16, 16.23-24 And we want stuff from him. So that’s precisely what we do: We pray for stuff in Jesus’s name.

Well, we pray for stuff “in Jesus name.” That’s usually the way Christians phrase it. Often it legitimately does mean “the name of Jesus.” But too often it means the magic name of Jesus. Because just like “please” and “thank you” are “magic words” we use to be polite and get our way, “Jesus name” is considered the magic word to get Jesus to give us what we want.

Hence we don’t just hear “in Jesus name” at the end of Christian prayers: “In Jesus name, amen.” We sometimes hear it repeated time and again in certain prayers: “We ask for these things in Jesus name! In Jesus name! I command these things to take place in Jesus name!” Oh, they’ll get loud about it too. Kinda like they wanna make sure Jesus heard them invoke his name.

Obviously “in Jesus name” is not a magic spell we use to get whatever we want. Certainly it’s not a successful magic spell, anyway. ’Cause if it had any power on its own, it should’ve worked for certain Judean exorcists in Acts.

Acts 19.13-17 KWL
13 Certain traveling Judean exorcists tried to cite Master Jesus’s name
when they dealt with an evil spirit, saying, “I compel you by Jesus!—whom Paul proclaims.”
14 There was a certain Judean head priest, Skeva. His seven children were doing this.
15 In reply the evil spirit told them, “I know Jesus and know of Paul. Who are you?
16 The man in whom the evil spirit was, was strong enough to jump and defeat them all.
They escaped that house naked and wounded.
17 This became known by all the Judean and Grecian inhabitants of Ephesus.
Fear fell upon all of them, and Master Jesus’s name was exalted.

Many Christians’ll claim Jesus’s name unlocks every door, but here it wasn’t. Skeva’s kids didn’t personally know Jesus, and this evil spirit somehow knew it—and beat the clothes off them. They didn’t get what they sought “in Jesus name.”

Because it’s not about the name, and never really was. It’s about the relationship. If you know Jesus, know his character, and want what he does, feel free to invoke his name every time you pray. That’s why he’s cool with us using it.

But if you don’t know Jesus, and your assumptions about what he wants are based on projecting your own bad attitudes or desires upon him, I really don’t expect him to answer your prayers. If he does, it won’t have anything to do with you; you just happened to ask for something he wants to do regardless, for his own motives.

We’re not meant to use Jesus’s name unless we know Jesus and share his motives. If we use his name for any other reason, we’re like a kid who stole Dad’s credit card without permission, and Dad found out and cancelled the card immediately: It ain’t gonna work!

31 May 2018

Gossip, prayer, and trustworthiness.

Sometimes it’s not a prayer request; it’s gossip.

The gossipy prayer request. High school likely wasn’t the first place I encountered it, but certainly the first time I became aware of it. We were in a youth group meeting, the pastor was taking prayer requests, and one kid raised her hand and proceeded to give us way too much detail about a girl most of us knew.

Definitely gossip. But that’s how gossips have discovered a loophole: Gossip may be bad, but praying for one another is good! So now they can gossip freely, on the grounds it’s all stuff we need to know. Right?

Wrong; rubbish. We don’t need to know a thing. All we need to know is someone needs God’s help, and that God can help. If your friend (let’s call him Vasko) needs prayer, all you gotta tell the prayer leader is, “Please pray for my friend Vasko; he’s having a rough time, and that’s all I can tell you.” A gossipy prayer leader will pry, but a wise prayer leader will say “Okay,” and respect it as an unspoken prayer request.

Yeah, you could try to leave Vasko’s name off it, but too many prayer leaders kinda prefer a name. They find it a little awkward to pray for “Jamillah’s friend,” or whatever your name is. But if you wanna conceal the name too, that’s fine; God knows who you’re praying about; tell the prayer leader, “Let’s call him [made-up name],” and that tends to work.

And yeah, if you’re in a roomful of immature Christians (namely kids) you might get someone who blurts out, “I know who you’re talking about.” Shut them up quickly: “Maybe you do, but I didn’t say who it is because I’m trying to respect their privacy.” Most times that’s enough of a rebuke to keep people quiet. Most times.

30 May 2018

Praying for ordinary stuff.

Seriously. You can pray for anything.

There’s this mindset people get into: Spiritual things take up one segment of our lives, and secular things the rest.

  • Going to church and reading bible: Spiritual.
  • Going to the coffehouse and reading the news: Secular.
  • Going to a restaurant: Secular. Except for the bit at the beginning where we say grace. But once that bit of diligence is over, we needn’t think about God any longer.

Problem is, that’s entirely wrong. Everything is spiritual. Not just ’cause we carry the Holy Spirit with us, and we need to stay mindful of his presence and instruction. But because we’re meant to be light in a dark world, and bless everyone around us. (Not just our food!)

And one of the ways we get over that artificial secular/spiritual divide is by praying for ordinary stuff. What do I mean by “ordinary”? Glad you asked: Anything and everything. There’s no subject off-limits to God. Anything you can talk about with your friends, you can talk about with God. Anything you can’t discuss with friends (’cause it’s private, uncomfortable, or they’re gonna make fun), you can still talk about with God.

Seriously, anything. Even taboos, like toilet stuff and sex. If you can discuss it with your doctor (and should!) you can talk about it with God. Now, kids will talk about this stuff for shock and giggles, and parents will try to clamp down on it: My grandparents objected to stuff you don’t discuss “in polite company,” and Mom used to object, “Would you say those things if Pastor were here?” (As if your pastor hasn’t said worse. I went to seminary; I know better.) But again: You can talk about everything with God. And should. Hold nothing back. He’s heard it all; he knows it all; he’s seen worse. You won’t shock him.

Oh, you’ll definitely shock other Christians. I still do. One of ’em still hasn’t gotten over the fact I used the word “horny” in a prayer. She was raised to believe there are unfit subjects for church, prayer, and other Christians. Which, I pointed out, isn’t just false; it’s heresy. If Jesus is Lord over all, that’s part of the “all.” If Christians can’t discuss real problems, and bring ’em to God, it interferes with our relationships with Jesus.

So we have to fight this secular/sacred mindset: There can’t be taboo subjects in God’s kingdom. True, there are subjects we might consider profane, and they’ll have to be handled sensitively for others’ sake. But nothing’s outside of God’s realm. Nothing’s out-of-bounds to share with him. NOTHING.

15 May 2018

Prayer techniques that get God over a barrel?

Such things don’t exist. But Christians are nonetheless looking for ’em, and frequently claim they have one.

Years ago one of our prayer team leaders was talking about how she discovered the power of praying the scriptures.

By which she simply meant she quoted a lot of bible as she prayed. This was nothing new to me; I grew up among people who did this all the time. They liked to pray in King James Version English. So, direct quotes from the KJV came in handy. “Lord, we pray thee for our meat this day, for thou hast told us to pray ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ Mt 6.11 and so we do.” Sometimes they’d even include verse addresses, if they really wanted to show off. But that wasn’t common.

Our prayer leader wanted to emphasize praying the scriptures because there was, she insisted, power in praying the scriptures. If we wanna tap that power, we need to pray the scriptures too.

Um… what power’s she talking about?

Well, whenever Christians talk about powerful prayers, we nearly always mean one thing: We get we ask for. Every time. Every request. God always, always answers our prayers with yes.

Yeah, sometimes we also mean powerful-sounding prayers, which is why we’ll use the KJV language and proof-text everything we declare in our prayers. But if all you want is an impressive-sounding prayer, we wonder if there isn’t a little bit of hypocrisy behind that desire. Nah; what we want is a prayer which gets stuff done, son.

So Christians are always sharing techniques which guarantee God’ll never ever tell us no. We want the magic formula to tap God’s power. Quoting his own bible back at him sounds really good to a lot of Christians, which is why we pray the psalms and the Lord’s Prayer. Once we use his own holy word on him, we’ve got God by his divine short hairs and he simply has to grant us our three wishes answer our prayer requests.

When I phrase it that way, Christians balk: “That is not what I mean.”

Yeah it is. Bad enough you’re fooling yourself; don’t try to fool the rest of us.

Not that they don’t try. “I’m fully aware God has free will; he can say no whenever he wants; he can say no to unworthy, self-centered prayer requests. But what I’m doing is righteous…” and then they try to explain why they’re fully justified in reducing the holy scriptures to a magic incantation which bends God to our will.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t quote bible in our prayers. It’s actually a good idea—provided we’re quoting bible in context, and not trying to bend it till it sounds like God might let us have our way. Jm 4.3 If we accurately quote the scriptures, we’re more likely to pray as God wants us to, and pray for stuff God approves of.

But the attitude behind trying to make God do as we want, instead of praying as Jesus did, “Thy will be done,” Mt 6.10 is just greed disguised as piety. Let’s not.

01 May 2018

Facing Jerusalem.

It’s a really old custom which you might not know about.

Before Solomon ben David, the fourth king of Israel, the LORD’s worship site had consisted of a tent in Jerusalem. Solomon personally supervised the construction of a gold-plated cedar temple, and the day he dedicated it to the LORD, here’s some of what he prayed:

1 Kings 8.28-30 KWL
28 “Turn to your slave’s prayer. To show him grace, my LORD God. To hear his shout of joy.
To the prayer which your slave prays to your face today.
29 May your eyes be open towards this house night and day,
to the place of which you said, ‘My name is there.’
To hear the prayer which your slave prays towards this place.
30 You will hear your slave’s petition, your people Israel, who pray towards this place.
As you sit in the heavens, you’ll hear and forgive.”

More than once in his prayer, Solomon mentions the idea of praying in the direction of the new temple. 1Ki 8.35, 38, 42, 44, 48 And towards Jerusalem, towards Israel, towards the homeland God gave the Hebrews.

Thus it wound up becoming Hebrew practice to pray in the direction of the temple, or of Jerusalem. ’Cause we see Daniel doing it in Babylon.

Daniel 6.10 KWL
Daniel, who knew what was recorded in the writing, entered his house.
The windows in his upper room facing Jerusalem were opened for him.
Three times a day, he knelt on his knees and prayed thanksgiving before God,
just like before, which he used to do previous times.

“Okay,” you might argue, as Christians will: “That’s something Jews practice. They pray to Jerusalem. Gentiles like me don’t have to.”

Nah; Solomon had you covered.

1 Kings 8.41-43 KWL
41 Also to a foreigner, who isn’t of your people Israel, who comes from a faraway land:
Due to your name— 42 when they hear of your great name, strong hand, stretched-out arm—
when a foreigner comes and prays towards this house, 43 you hear in the heavenly place you dwell,
and do everything which was requested of you by the foreigner.
Thus every people on earth can know your name and respect you like your people Israel;
thus they know your name can be called via this house which I built.”

After all, Solomon knew the LORD isn’t only Israel’s God, but everyone’s.

As a result, whenever Pharisees built synagogues in Jerusalem, they made sure their buildings faced temple. And whenever they built synagogues in other parts of Palestine and the world, they made sure their buildings faced Jerusalem. ’Cause while Solomon’s prayer isn’t a biblical command or anything, it was a custom which they sorta saw the value in.

14 March 2018

The “Not what I want” prayer.

Sometimes we don’t pray for what we want.

The “Not what I want” prayer isn’t a popular prayer. Downright rare sometimes. Because when we pray, we’re intentionally asking God for what we want. Why would we tell him to not give us what we want? Did we suddenly forget the point of prayer?

Why pray “Not what I want”? ’Cause we’re mimicking Jesus. When he has us pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done,” Mt 6.10 and when he himself prayed this at Gethsemane:

Mark 14.35-36 KWL
35 Jesus went a little ahead, fell to the ground, and was praying this:
“If it’s possible, have this hour pass by!”
36 He said, Abbá! Father, you can do anything: Take this cup from me.
But not what I want. What you want.”

Y’notice Jesus did tell the Father what he wanted: He didn’t want to suffer. He wanted “the cup” to pass him by. He didn’t wanna be crucified; what kind of madman would wanna be crucified? Yet at the same time he knew his purpose in this world was to do as the Father sent him to do. Jn 5.19, 8.28 At the time his will didn’t match the Father’s, but he determined he would make his will match the Father’s. Even if it meant suffering.

There’s our example.

That’s why it’s not a popular prayer. Few of us Christians are willing to commit ourselves to God so radically. Of the few who do, we’re totally willing to die for God… not realizing when it really does come time to die for him, perfect fear will cast out zeal. Note Simon Peter. At 9 p.m., totally ready to die for Jesus; Lk 22.23 and 3 a.m., totally lying about him to slave girls. Lk 22.56 Who, as slaves and as girls in that culture, couldn’t even testify against him in court! A few hours can change an awful lot.

But this is why our willingness to follow God absolutely anywhere, can’t be based on zeal. It’s gotta be based on our regular surrender and submission to God’s will. We gotta regularly pray, along with Jesus, “Not what I want. What you want.”

07 March 2018

Saying grace… and a little bit more.

When you don’t have time to pray, but do have time to eat, multitask.

Whenever I write about taking time out from every day to pray, I hear the excuse, “But I’m so busy.”

This, from people who always manage to find time to keep up with certain TV shows and movies, to play their favorite video games for hours, to comment on Facebook about an hour wasted in some other recreational activity. Yeah right you’re so busy.

But I accept there are plenty of people out there who are legitimately busy. Every once in a while I have to work a shift, rush home for an eight-hour break (and in that time squeeze out six hours of sleep), then go right back and work another shift. Certainly doesn’t happen often, but I know people whose jobs regularly require that and more. I’ve had such jobs. I get it. Life gets crazy busy, and who has time for “me time”—much less God time?

When my life got busy like that, I discovered the one spot of time I could spare for prayer: Saying grace before meals.

Yep. In grad school I was trying to juggle classes, fieldwork, and two jobs. Not impossible if you’ve got the time-management skills, but not easy either. But prayer time kept getting hijacked. Prayer was after breakfast, but my students might deliberately track me down at the end of breakfast time, and I’d deal with them instead of talk with God. Or I’d have to go someplace early. Or I’d otherwise get the time interrupted—and I’d find myself praying on my commute, which was tricky but not impossible.

I’m not one of those fools who insist on praying first thing in the morning. I learned better the hard way. I’m still sleepy first thing in the morning, and God isn’t gonna get my best, and he should. Besides, as self-disciplined as I can be, that snooze button is a huge temptation. Some mornings I’d pick sleep over breakfast. So picking sleep over prayer?—that’s a no-brainer. I’d make a terrible monk.

One of my college roommates was really big on morning prayer meetings. (Morning people. You know how they can be.) I’d skip his meetings all the time, no matter how much he tried to guilt me about it. The alarm would wake me; I’d reset it for an hour later, tell God, “You can speak in dreams; do that,” and roll over. Yeah, I know; bad Christian.

But long ago I got into the habit of grace before meals. And when my prayer life was getting spotty like this, I realized some of these prayers before meals were starting to get extra long. ’Cause I was playing catch-up: “Hi God. We didn’t speak earlier. I gotta ask you about this…” and suddenly I was praying 5 minutes over lunch, my sandwich was getting cold, and the other people at the table were wondering what’s with me. Nothing; just praying.

Anyway. When I tell this story, people tend to laugh. But some of ’em respond, “What a good idea.”

Um… I don’t actually mean it as a good idea. But y’know, if it helps your prayer life—and you’re eating cold food anyway!—by all means start praying longer before, or during, your meals.