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Showing posts with the label #Pray

Christians who don’t want you to fast.

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As I elsewhere said, if fasting weren’t in the bible, it’d nonetheless be a fad. One Christians still frequently use as a spiritual exercise, because it does strengthen our self-control. When seeking God in prayer takes priority over sustaining our very lives, it’s this kind of hardcore behavior which makes us less likely to give in to the many temptations which comfort offers us. So what keeps Christians from fasting? Usually it’s those very same comforts. Years ago I was in a prayer meeting where the leader challenged us to fast for a week. Really, diet. He wasn’t telling us to utterly go without food. Just go vegan for a week, and set aside sweets and coffee. Set aside a few comforts so we can focus better on God. And my knee-jerk reaction was, “I just went to the grocery store yesterday and bought a bunch of yogurt. I don’t want it to go bad …” as if we were gonna be dieting that long. Wasn’t really about the expiration date either. It’s ’cause I love yogurt. So as

Lenten fasting. (It’s optional, you know.)

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Lent is the English term for the 40-day period before Easter in which Christians fast, abstain, and otherwise practice self-control. (Assuming we practice such things at all.) In Latin it’s called quadragesima and in Greek it’s σαρακοστή / sarakostí , short for τεσσαρκοστή / tessarkostí —both of which mean “fortieth,” ’cause 40 days. It starts Ash Wednesday, which isn’t 40 precise days before Easter; it’s 46. That’s because the six Sundays before Easter aren’t included. You don’t fast on feast days, and Sabbath is a feast day; it’s when we take a weekly break from our Lenten fasts. Many Christians don’t realize this, and wind up fasting Sundays too—since they’ve got that abstention momentum going anyway. And for eastern Christians, Lent begins the week before Ash Wednesday, on Clean Monday. Partly because they don’t skip Sundays, and fast that day too; and partly ’cause their Lenten fast consists of the 40 days before Holy Week. Then they have a whole different fast for t

“Fasting” from one thing at a time.

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When it comes to fasting, many Christians wanna know what’s the very least we can fast for it to “count.” Two thoughts. First of all I gotta ask them whether they’re fasting for the right reasons. We’re not obligated to fast: God never commanded it, and we’re not disobeying him when we skip a fast, break a fast, “cheat” on a fast, or diet instead of fasting. True, our churches might want us to fast, and legalistic churches will even require it. But unless you swore to God you’d fast along with ’em, you’re not sinning if you don’t fast. (And of course lying about it, or pretending you’re fasting when you’re not, is always wrong.) Likewise I don’t want people to think we fast so we can earn karmic points with God. Again, he never obligates us to fast. It’s a practice we do. It helps us focus on him in prayer, and helps us develop self-control. (And even if God did order us to fast, he doesn’t “owe us” once we obey; obedience is our duty . Lk 17.10 What, did you no

Can we really ask God for anything we want?

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Matthew 7.7-11, Luke 11.9-13, John 14.13-14, 15.7, 16.24. These passages are found in the middle of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, in Jesus’s teaching on prayer requests in Luke , and as part of Jesus’s Last Supper lesson in John . Obviously the Matthew and Luke bits line up more neatly than the John bits, but the same idea is found in the John verses. I tend to summarize this idea as “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” If we want something from Jesus, ask! It’s okay for us to do that. He does take prayer requests. Matthew 7.7-11 KWL 7 “Ask!—it’ll be given you. Look!—you’ll find it. Knock!—it’ll be unlocked for you. 8 For all who ask receive, who seek find, who knock God ’ll unlock for. 9 Same as any of you people. Your child will ask you for bread; you won’t give them a cobblestone. 10 Or they ’ll ask you for fish; you won’t give them a snake. 11 So if you’re evil, yet knew to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good

Getting hungry for God. Literally.

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FAST fast verb. Go without food [for God]. 2. noun. A period of going without food [for God]. Whenever I talk to people about fasting, their knee-jerk reaction is “No food? No food? No FOOD? You’re outa your [profane adjective] mind.” After all, this is the United States, where a 20-ounce soda is called a “small.” In this nation, the stomach rules. This is why so many Christians are quick to redefine the word “fast.” My church, fr’instance, does this 21-day “Daniel fast.” I’ll explain what that is elsewhere; for now I’ll just point out it’s not an actual fast. Nobody’s going without food. They’re going without certain kinds of food. No meat, no sweets. But no hunger pains either. Fasting, actual fasting, is a hardcore Christian practice. The only things which go into our mouths are air and water. In an “absolute fast” you even skip the water. Now, we need food and water. If we don’t eat, we die. And that’s the point: Push this practice too far and we die . But God

Thanksgiving. The prayer, not the day.

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In the United States, on November’s fourth Thursday, we celebrate a national day of thanksgiving. Today I’m not talking about the day itself though. I’m talking about the act. Americans don’t always remember there’s such a thing as an act of thanksgiving. Our fixation is usually on the food, football, maybe the parade, maybe the dog show. If you’re pagan, you seldom even think to thank God… or anyone. Instead you conjure up some feeling of thankfulness. You have a nice life, a decent job, good health, some loved ones, and got that [insert coveted bling] you’ve always wanted. Or you might not, but you’re thankful for the few things you do have. Or you’re not thankful at all, and bitter… and in a few minutes, drunk. But this feeling of thankfulness isn’t directed anywhere. Shouldn’t you be thankful to someone or something? Shouldn’t there be some being to thank? And that’s a question many a pagan never asks themselves. I know of one family who thanks one other. But paga

When you fast, keep it private.

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Matthew 6.16-18. Believe it or don’t, some Evangelicals have no tradition of fasting. I run into ’em from time to time, and when I talk fasting, they’re quick to reject it: “That’s an Old Testament thing,” and “Jesus never told us to fast.” True to both. The L ORD never commanded fasting in all of scripture. Fasting has always been voluntary; nobody has to fast. But certain churches do promote it. Might be a Daniel fast at the beginning of the year, a Lenten fast before Easter, an Advent fast before Christmas, a partisan fast before Election Day. And peer pressure aside, nobody has to fast. They’re voluntary customs. You can opt out. Don’t even need special permission from the clergy… although every year when St. Patrick’s Day falls in mid-Lent, many a Catholic who wants to get plowed will beg their bishop for a one-day pass. But the way Jesus talks in his Sermon on the Mount, he totally expects his followers to fast. Bear in mind his audience was full of Pharis

Prayer’s one prerequisite: Forgiveness.

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Mark 11.25, Matthew 6.14-15, 18.21-35. Jesus told us in the Lord’s Prayer we gotta pray, Matthew 6.12 BCP And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. He elaborated on this in his Sermon on the Mount : Matthew 6.14-15 KWL 14 “When you forgive people their misdeeds, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 When you can’t forgive people, your Father won’t forgive your misdeeds either.” And in Mark’s variant of the same teaching: Mark 11.25 KWL “Whenever you stand up to pray, forgive whatever you have against anyone. Thus your Father, who’s in heaven, can forgive you your misdeeds.” He elaborated on it even more in his Unforgiving Slave story. Matthew 18.21-35 KWL 21 Simon Peter came and told Jesus , “Master, how often will my fellow Christian sin against me, and I’ll have to forgive them? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus told him, “I don’t say ‘as many as seven times,’ but as many as seven by seventy tim

For thine is the kingdom…

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Matthew 6.13. At the end of the Lord’s Prayer, in both the well-known Book of Common Prayer version and the King James Version, it ends with this line: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen. It comes from the Didache , an instruction manual for new Christians written in the first century. Yep, around the same time the New Testament was written. Its version of the Lord’s Prayer includes that line, whereas the oldest copies of Matthew do not. But because a lot of ancient Christians used the Didache to instruct new Christians, a lot of ’em were taught the Didache version of the Lord’s Prayer… and that last line gradually worked its way into ancient copies of Matthew . And from there into the Vulgate, the Textus Receptus , the Lutherbibel, the Geneva Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and the King James Version. So it’s not from the bible? No it actually is from the bible. But it’s from Daniel , not Jesus. Comes from this vers

Deliver us from evil.

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Matthew 6.13. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus has us pray not to be led to temptation —properly, not put to the test, whether such tests tempt us or not. Instead, in contrast, we should pray we be delivered from evil. Matthew 6.13 KJV And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. The original text is ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ / allá rýsë imás apó tu ponirú , “but rescue us from the evil.” Now. The Greek τοῦ / tu is what grammarians call a determiner , although I’m pretty sure your English teachers called it a definite article , ’cause that’s what English determiners usually do: This noun is a particular noun. When you refer to “the bus,” you don’t mean a bus, any ol’ generic interchangeable bus; you mean the bus, this bus, a specific bus, a definite bus. So when people translate tu ponirú , they assume the Greek determiner is a definite article: Jesus is saying

Lead us not into temptation.

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Matthew 6.13, Luke 11.4. This part of the Lord’s Prayer gets controversial, because it sounds like our Lord’s brother James totally contradicted it when he wrote, James 1.13-15 NRSV 13 No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14 But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15 then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. So because James said God tempts nobody, people don’t know what to make of it when Jesus has us pray, Matthew 6.13 NRSV “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.”   Luke 11.4 NRSV “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” ’Cause praying that God not lead us into temptation, implies sometimes he might lead us into temptation. Okay. The word

Is it “debts” or “trespasses”?

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Matthew 6.12. I used to be in a small group which consisted of Christians from various churches in town. So, different denominations and traditions. Most were Baptist, partly ’cause there are a lot of Baptists in town, partly ’cause we met at a nondenominational Baptist church, so their members came out to represent. And many weren’t Baptist; I’m not. But we all have the same Lord Jesus, so we tried to avoid the churches’ doctrinal hangups and focus on what unifies us in him. Anyway one of the unifying things we did was, at the end of each meeting, we’d say the Lord’s Prayer together. We have that in common, right? Except… well, translations. Most of us have it memorized in either the Book of Common Prayer version or the King James Version. A few know it best in the NIV or ESV , or whatever’s their favorite translation. (Or their pastor’s favorite.) But the majority know it in either the BCP or KJV . Spot the differences. Book of Common Prayer Our Father, who

Daily bread.

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Matthew 6.11, Luke 11.3. Whenever we read Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, or any of his other teachings, they make way more sense when we remember his audience at the time consisted of poor people. In the United States, “poor” usually means you don’t have a lot of money, and live within limited means. In ancient Israel, “poor” meant you had no money. Maybe you had stuff to barter; usually not. You lived from job to job, from harvest to harvest, doing the best you could with what few resources you had. Any time you did have money, taxmen would take it away, priests and Pharisees would demand you give it to temple, or rich people would con you out of it. So when Jesus speaks on money, possessions, or economics: His audience seldom had those things. We do have these things. Even our “poor” have these things. We’re very blessed. So. We recognize when Jesus, in the Lord’s Prayer tells us to pray for daily bread, he doesn’t literally mean bread; he means food in general. That

Thy kingdom come.

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Matthew 6.10, Luke 11.2. Matthew 6.10 KWL “Make your kingdom come. Make your will happen both in heaven and on earth.”   Luke 11.2 KWL Jesus told them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father! Sanctify your name. Bring your kingdom.’ ” In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to ask our Father ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου / elthéto i vasileía su, “must come, the kingdom of yours.” The literal translation is a bit Yoda-like, which is why “Your kingdom come” is how the ESV put it, and of course we all know the Book of Common Prayer and KJV translation. The arrival of God’s kingdom is the gospel. It’s not John 3.16 , no matter how much we love that verse. Eternal life is part of it, but the more important thing is where we spend this eternal life, and John 3.16 says nothing about that. You know the verse; you know this already. It’s why when Christians interpret the verse for other people, we tend to explain “will have everlasting life in heaven , with Jesus.” But Jesus never s

Hallowed be thy name.

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Matthew 6.9, Luke 11.2. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to ask our Father to ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου / aghiasthíto to ónoma su , “sanctify” or “make holy” or “hallowify” (to coin a word) “the name of yours.” The Book of Common Prayer and KJV went with “Hallowed be thy name,” which means the same thing, but Christians commonly misinterpret it to mean “ I sanctify your name,” or “ I praise your name.” We think this is praise and worship on our part. It’s not. It’s a request for our Father to make his own name holy. For him to act. Part of our presumption comes from a way-too-common Christian misbelief that our prayers aren’t really about asking God to do anything. Because, the attitude is, God doesn’t actually answer prayer . He sits on his heavenly arse, watches us humans stumble around, reminds us to read our bibles, but isn’t gonna intervene in human affairs till the End Times—if they even ever happen. Besides, he’s already planned out everything he’s gonna do

Our Father who art in heaven.

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Matthew 6.9-10. The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew begins with πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς / páter imón o en toís uranoís , “our Father who’s [located] in the heavens,” Mt 6.9 ’cause we’re addressing—duh—our heavenly Father. Matthew 6.9 KWL “So pray like this: Our Father who ’s in the heavens! Sanctify your name.” Some Christians wanna make it particularly clear which god we’re praying to. Partly because some of ’em actually think they might accidentally invoke the wrong god (and y’know, if they’re Mammonists or some other type of idolater, they might). Sometimes because they’re showing off to pagans that they worship the Father of Jesus, or some other form of hypocrisy. But Jesus would have us keep it simple: Just address our heavenly Father. There’s no special formula for addressing him; no secret password we’ve gotta say; even “in Jesus’s name” isn’t a magic spell —and you notice “in Jesus’s name” isn’t in the Lord’s Prayer either. You know who he is; he know

Short, potent, authentic prayer.

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Matthew 6.7-8. In his Sermon on the Mount, right after Jesus taught his followers to keep their prayers private, he added, Matthew 6.7-8 KWL 7 “Petitioners shouldn’t be repetitive like the pagans: They think they’ll be worth hearing because of their wordiness. 8 You shouldn’t compare yourselves with them: Your Father has known what you have need of, before you asked him.” The Pharisee view, one we Christians share, is our God is the living God. Whereas other religions’ gods aren’t. They’re blocks of wood, stone, and metal; they’re abstract ideas without any intelligence behind them; they’re devils tricking people into worshiping them. When we speak to our God, he speaks back. When they speak to their gods, they don’t. They can’t. Yet instead of realizing, “Y’know, since our god never, ever responds to us, I wonder whether she’s real to begin with?” pagans just shove that idea right out of their minds as if it’s doubt or blasphemy, double down on their beliefs,

The street-corner show-off.

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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 credit. 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 credit you.” Standing was how the an

And now, a word of prayer.

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WORD OF PRAYER wərd ə preɪər noun. Prayer, usually meant to invoke God before a function. 2. Small sermon, disguised as a prayer. Brace yourself. Right before we do something important—like take a meeting, drive someplace, eat lunch, get a really large tattoo on our back, or whatever—Christians frequently say, “Before we do that, let’s have a word of prayer.” By which they never mean one single word; it’s not literal. Neither is this gonna be a short prayer. “Words of prayer” tend to be mighty wordy. Why’s it called “a word of prayer” instead of simply “a prayer,” as in “Before we do that let’s pray”? My guess is it used to mean a short prayer, like saying grace before a meal, but over time it got longer and longer. Just like when your boss tells you, “Can I have a word?” and it’s never just a word. Maybe the intent was for it to be short—or to sound short, so you won’t dismiss it with, “Don’t have time; sorry.” The same is true about words of prayer: It’s supposed t