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

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.

29 January 2019

Forbidding tongues.

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.

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 “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.”

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.

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!

08 January 2019

Pray!

Prayer is talking with God. No more; no less; that’s all.

Yeah, you’d be surprised how many people, including us Christians, think I’m oversimplifying and it’s way more complicated than that. Prayer, they claim, is a profound mystical and spiritual undertaking which must only be done thoughtfully, seriously, soberly, and ritually. Only then will it work.

Their claim is all crap. It’s awfully popular crap, and some people are so used to the idea you’re never gonna change their minds about it. So long that they’re legitimately talking with God, I figure it won’t hurt ’em to believe it. But their ideas might get in your way of talking with him, and let’s not have that.

Anyway here’s the ritual they like to go with. If you’re doing it too, you can cut it out.

1. “THE RIGHT SPIRIT.” By which they don’t mean a literal spirit, but a mindset. A mood. It’s what I call the “prayer mood.” It’s an attitude of “Have mercy on me, oh Lord; I suffer.” But mix a few more sanctimonious things in there:

  • GRATITUDE: God’s about to grant our wishes!
  • EXPECTATION: We’re s’posed to have faith God’ll actually answer our requests.
  • AWE: God is awesome.
  • REMORSE: We’re dirty sinners.
  • CONFIDENCE: Yes, at the same time as remorse; we’re still daughters and sons of God, and oughta come boldly before his throne. He 4.16

There’s all sorts of contradictory information about how to feel when we approach God, and good luck regurgitating all of it at once. It’ll get messy. So try to psyche yourself into it.

2. POSTURE. Christians tend to have three approved yoga poses positions to get your body into when you pray.

  • HEAD BOWED, EYES CLOSED. The most common—especially in church services, mostly so you can’t see who’s raising their hands for prayer.
  • FACEDOWN ON THE GROUND. Or “lying prostrate.” Very appropriate for praying in private. Not so much before lunch in the middle of Taco Bell. (Dare you to try it though.)
  • HANDS OUTSTRETCHED, FACING THE SKY. Sorta like we’re welcoming God. But for some reason certain Christians like to do it with their eyes still closed—even with our heads still bowed! Which is probably a good idea if the sun’s really bright, but makes us a little less welcoming.

3. INCANTATIONS. No seriously. An incantation is a series of words one has to say as part of a religious ritual. So when Christians teach us we gotta say certain words, they’re teaching us incantations. (And here you thought incantations were just for witches.) There’s “Dear LORD” or “Precious Heavenly Father” or “Father God” or whatever initial words we use to “dial” God. And there’s nearly always “Amen” we use to “hang up.” Plus don’t forget to pray for all this stuff “in Jesus name,” which means whatever we think “in Jesus name” means. (Usually it means “I said ‘in Jesus name,’ so now I get what I asked for. Right?”)

Okay, are we done? No?—apparently there are beads and prayer cloths and prayer mats and prayer closets and other tchotchkes? Well, I’m done, ’cause I wanna get back to what prayer really is: Talking with God.

02 January 2019

The Daniel fast.

Every January, the people in my church go on a diet. Most years for three weeks; this year we’re formally doing it for one, but some folks may choose to go longer. We cut back on the carbohydrates, sugar, meat, and oils; lots of fruits and vegetables. Considering all the binging we did between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it makes sense to practice a little more moderation, doesn’t it?

What on earth does this practice have to do with prayer? Well y’see, the people don’t call it a diet. They call it a “Daniel fast.”

It’s an Evangelical practice which has taken off in the past 20 years. It’s loosely based on a few lines from Daniel 10. At the beginning of the year, Daniel went three weeks—that’d be 21 days—depriving himself.

Daniel 10.2-3 KWL
2 In those days I, Daniel, went into mourning three weeks. 3 I ate none of the bread I coveted.
Meat and wine didn’t enter my mouth. I didn’t oil my hair for all of three weeks.

So that’s how the Daniel fast works. At the beginning of the year, we likewise go three weeks depriving ourselves. He went without bread, meat, wine, and oil; so do we. True, by ‏ס֣וֹךְ ‏לֹא־‏סָ֑כְתִּי {sokh lo-sakhtí}, “I oiled myself no oil,” Daniel was referring to how the ancients cleaned their hair. (Perfumed oil conditions it, and keeps bugs away.) But look at your average Daniel fast diet, and you’ll notice Evangelicals are taking no chances. Nothing fried, no oils, no butter, nothing tasty.

Though the lists aren’t consistent across Christendom. The list below permits quality oils. Including grapeseed… even though Daniel went without wine during his three weeks. Not entirely sure how they came up with their list.


This list permits oils… but no solid fats. ’Cause Daniel denied himself Crisco, y’know. The Daniel Fast

In fact you look at these menus, and you’ve gotta wonder how any of it was extrapolated from Daniel’s experience. I mean, it generally sounds like Daniel was denying himself nice food. And yet there are such things as cookbooks for how to make “Daniel fast” desserts. No I’m not kidding. Cookbooks which say, right on the cover, they’re full of delicious recipes—so even though Daniel kept away from enjoyable food, who says you have to do without?

This is a fast, 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.