Search This Blog

TXAB’s index.

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

15 November 2019

Sock-puppet theology: Meditation gone bad.

Let’s begin with a frequently-misunderstood passage, which I’ve elsewhere discussed in more detail.

Hebrews 12.1-2 KWL
1 Consequently we, being greatly encircled by a cloud of witnesses,
throwing away every training weight and easily-distracting sin,
can enduringly run the race lying before us,
2 looking at the start and finish of our faith, Jesus.
Instead of the joy lying before him, Jesus endured a cross, dismissing the shame.
Now he sits at the right of God’s throne!

This is a sports metaphor. Since we do track and field events a little differently than the ancient Romans did, stands to reason Christians will mix up some of the ideas. The “cloud of witnesses” among them: It refers to the runners. It’s our fellow Christian witnesses, running through dirt, kicking up dust. Since today’s stadiums use polyurethane and rubber tracks—so we can actually see the runners, not a massive dust cloud—we don’t recognize the historical context of this verse anymore. Hence Christians guess at what νέφος/néfos, “cloud,” means… and guess wrong. Usually it’s heavenly spectators.

So now lemme bring up John C. Maxwell’s book Running with the Giants. I worked at a church camp a decade ago, and this book was inflicted upon me as a devotional. Leadership principles are Maxwell’s shtick, and he had 10 leadership principles to share. Like many a Christian, he wanted to put ’em into the mouths of bible characters, so it’d look like these principles come from bible. And since he knows little about historical context—and certainly doesn’t care, ’cause it’d make book-writing so much harder… well you can quickly see why I dislike this book.

The book begins with Maxwell envisioning a stadium with Christian track ’n field going on. From time to time, a great figure from the bible comes down from the “cloud of witnesses” in the stands, to encourage us runners. They’re not running with us, in Maxwell’s imagination; they’re all done. Now they have stories and life lessons to share; which is the point of the book.

After getting these life lessons from Abraham, Esther, Joseph, Moses, and Noah, by the sixth chapter Maxwell was so jazzed about all their good advice, he “can’t wait to act on the empowerment I have received” from them, “to put it to good use.” Maxwell 79

Except none of it came from them. Maxwell put all the words in their mouths. As anybody who knows historical context can tell, ’cause very little of what he imagined his “bible characters” said, are what they’d actually say. Far more what a present-day motivational speaker says.

14 November 2019

Using your imagination to meditate.


The kids, and their robot in the red galero, have a not-at-all-awkward conversation with a buck-naked pre-genitalia Adam and Eve. Aníme Óyako Gekíjo episode 1, “Adamu to Eba Monogatari”

When I was a kid there was a Japanese TV cartoon called Aníme Óyako Gekíjo/“Anime Parent-Child Theater,” which Americans know better as Superbook. Christian TV stations used to air it every weekday. Your own kids are more likely to have seen the 2009 American remake.

In the 1981 original, two kids named Sho and Azusa discovered a magic bible which transported them, and their toy robot Zenmaijikake, back to Old Testament times. (Yeah, they all had different names in the English redub: Chris, Joy, and Gizmo.) The kids would interact with the bible folks, who somehow spoke Japanese instead of ancient Hebrew, and were surprisingly white for ancient middle easterners.

Well in the first series they did. In the second series—also called Superbook in the States—Pasókon Toráberu Tántei-dan/“Computer Travel Detective Team,” the kids totally ignored the bible characters ’cause they were trying to rescue a missing dog. Which is best, I suppose: Less chance they’d accidentally change history, and whoops!—now we’re all worshiping Zeus, and Biff Tannen is president. (Well…)

Obviously we haven’t yet invented time travel, and it’s not possible to have any Superbook-style adventures. But a whole lot of us would love to check out the events of bible times, and maybe interact with it. It’s why there are bible-times theme parks in the Bible Belt, like The Ark Encounter or The Holy Land Experience, which Christians flock to. (Or, for about the same price, actual real-life Israel, which I far more recommend.)

But when time travel or pilgrimage are out of the question right now, it is possible to meditate on a story from the scriptures, by imagining ourselves there as it happened, watching it as it took place.

Some Christians call this practice Ignatian meditation, after St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. In his 1524 book Exercitia Spiritualia/“Spiritual Exercises,” he taught his followers to not just contemplate certain passages in the bible, like Jesus preaching in synagogue or temple, or teaching students, performing miracles, getting born, getting crucified, paradise, hell…. Instead, really mentally put themselves there. Imagine breathing the air. Feeling the weather. Hearing the sounds, smelling the smells. Being in these places.

The idea is to stop thinking of these events as merely stories, but as real-life history. Stuff that truly happened. Stuff the prophets and apostles truly experienced. Stuff where God came near and interacted with humanity—same as he does now. Stop looking at them from the outside, and visualize yourself in the inside, in the bible, fully immersed in the story, just as you’re fully a part of God’s salvation history now.

Try this with the passages you’re reading now. Put yourself there, in your mind. See what new insights come out of it.

13 November 2019

The fear of what meditation might “open you up to.”

Years ago in a prayer group, our prayer leader asked us to sit a moment and meditate on the lesson we’d just heard.

“And I know,” she said; “some of you are worried about this whole ‘meditation’ thing. You’re worried it’ll open you up to evil spirits or something. Well, you’re Christians. It won’t.”

She didn’t go into any further detail; she wanted to get to the exercise, and didn’t want to spend the rest of prayer time explaining why it won’t happen. I’ve got time, so I will explain.

There are a lot of Christians who are big on what they call “spiritual warfare.” Which isn’t at all what the scriptures call spiritual warfare, i.e. resisting temptation: They think spiritual warfare means we fight evil spirits. Mostly by praying against them, but often by constantly, carefully watching out for boogeymen. Because they believe evil spirits are everywhere. Everywhere. Behind every corner. Even in the corners of our prayer closets. Waiting to pounce.

This dark Christian mindset makes ’em super paranoid. They call it being watchful or vigilant, but really it’s a lifestyle of fear. The sort of fear actual evil spirits can use to keep Christians far away from anything unfamiliar. Particularly new stuff the Holy Spirit himself is introducing into our lives to encourage growth and fruit. If it doesn’t look like the stuff their church does, or the popular Christian culture, or even just looks like something they don’t feel like doing, they presume that’ can’t be of God. Thus they follow their comforts instead of Jesus, and never doubt the two might not be the same thing at all.

So, meditation. As I said in the appropriate article, the middle eastern stuff is about filling our minds instead of blanking them, and the Christian stuff is about filling our minds with God. We think about him. We contemplate him. We go over what we read in the bible, what he’s shown or told us recently; anything God-related. Eliminate distractions as best you can, and do some deep thinking.

But if all you’ve known thus far are the pagan forms of meditation—if, really, you’re surrounded by it—you’re gonna think that’s the default. Maybe wrongly presume “Christian meditation” is an attempt to Christianize the pagan stuff. Except, as your paranoid dark Christian friends might warn you, some pagan practices can’t be Christianized. They’re just too inherently wrong.

Well, we’re not appropriating the eastern practices. If you know your ancient middle eastern or Christian history, you’ll know people have been practicing Christian-style meditation for at least as long as easterners and Hindus have. Our practices developed and evolved very differently. ’Tain’t the same thing. No matter what physical traits we might share—like sitting down, closing one’s eyes, controlled breathing, concentration. No matter what external accouterments we might also have in common—maybe soothing music, candles, privacy, whatever. If you’re worried the tchotchkes might lead you astray, go ahead and leave them out. But don’t believe the rubbish of fearful Christians who don’t meditate, and clearly lack the fruit of peace.

12 November 2019

Meditate.

MEDITATE 'mɛd.ə.teɪt verb. Think deeply or carefully about something.
2. Focus one’s mind for a period of time, for religious, spiritual, or relaxation purposes.
[Meditation mɛd.ə'teɪ.ʃən noun.]

Mention meditation to the average person, and images immediately come to mind of sitting cross-legged on the floor, hands out, eyes closed, humming “Om” or something mindless. ’Cause you’re trying to blank your mind.

And that’d be eastern meditation. It’s the sort we find among Hindus, Buddhists, and Californians. It’s grown in popularity because it’s a useful way to get rid of stress and relax. But it’s not middle eastern meditation, the sort we find among Christians.

Well, assuming we even meditate. Many don’t. Those who do, stumbled into the habit and don’t realize we’re actually meditating. Or we were given other names for it, like “contemplation” or “practicing God’s presence” or “Christian mysticism”—a term which tends to weird dark Christians out just as much as “meditation.” Many such Christians are terrified that if we practice any form of meditational exercise, we’re opening ourselves up to evil spirits, which’ll quickly rush in like shoppers on a Black Friday, and demonize us. (Assuming they even can demonize someone with the Holy Spirit in ’em. Dark Christians might officially teach it’s not possible… but always allow for the possibility. Yes it’s a paradox; they don’t care. Whatever keeps us fearful and cautious.)

I explain elsewhere why that sort of thinking is ridiculous. In proper Christian meditation, we open ourselves to nothing and no one but God. It’s not about blanking the mind, hoping insight will somehow fill the vacuum. Just the opposite. It’s about filling the mind. Namely with God.

We sit, stand, lie down, hang upside down—whatever position works for you—shove every other distraction out of the way, and think. Hard. Turn an idea over in our minds. Analyze it. Play with it. Repeat it till it’s memorized, or till we understand it better. And ask God questions about it: What can he reveal to us about this?

Yep, it’s a form of prayer. Which makes it all the crazier when dark Christians tell us, “Don’t do that! It’s demonic.”

Yep, this practice may sound mighty familiar, ’cause you’re already doing it. You just didn’t realize it was called meditation. People tend to call it “thinking really hard,” and when we talk to God about it, “lifting it up in prayer.” It may be a regular discipline; then again maybe not. But Christians stumble into meditation all the time, because it’s so useful. And it really oughta become a regular practice.

05 November 2019

Is it “debts” or “trespasses”?

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 art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
Matthew 6.9-13 KJV
9B Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
13 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.

Some of the differences go largely unnoticed: “Who art in heaven” and “Which art in heaven” is a minor difference in pronunciation, same as the “on earth” and “in earth.” There’s a bit of confusion at the end when the BCP has “for ever and ever” and the KJV only has “for ever.”

But the real hiccup is where the BCP has “trespasses” and the KJV has “debtors.”

At first you might think (’cause some have): “Well the Lord’s Prayer is also in Luke, so let’s see what word Luke used,” but that’ll just frustrate you: Luke has Jesus say,

Luke 11.4 KJV
And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.

So it’s half a vote for “debts,” because the second part of the verse describes debtors. But it doesn’t matter what people are voting: Those who say the Book of Common Prayer version have a really strong traditional bias in favor of “trespasses,” since it’s what they’ve been praying all their lives, every time they recite the Lord’s Prayer. And those who quote the King James Version have a likewise strong traditional bias in favor of “debts,” because it’s what they’ve been praying all their lives… and I’m not gonna even get into the type of KJV worshiper who thinks the KJV is the one true bible and every other variant is satanic.

Okay. Is this minor difference of wording a big deal? Of course not. But not every Christian has the maturity to recognize this, and they want to pick a fight. They wanna be the prayer leaders, largely so they can impose their favorite version of the Lord’s Prayer on everybody, and make everyone say “debts” or “trespasses” as they please.

And somehow they don’t notice everybody is pretty much saying whatever translation of the Lord’s Prayer they’re accustomed to saying anyway: For one second of cacophony, the BCP fans are saying “trespasses” and the KJV fans are saying “debts,” because nobody’s following the prayer leader: As usual, they’re reciting by memory.

And y’know what? That’s okay.

And y’know what else? If it’s not okay—if it’s making you nuts—go back and read the Lord’s Prayer again: “As we forgive those who trespass against us,” or “As we forgive our debtors,” or “As we forgive every one that is indebted to us.” We’re supposed to forgive the people who “say it wrong,” same as we’re supposed to forgive everyone. If you can’t do that, you’re doing it wrong.

29 October 2019

Prayer’s one prerequisite: Forgiveness.

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.”

And 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 times.
23 This is why heaven’s kingdom is like a king’s employee who wanted to settle a matter with his slaves.
24 Beginning the settlement, one debtor was brought to him who owed 260 million grams silver.
25 Having nothing to pay, the master commanded him to be sold
—and his woman and children and as much as he had, and to pay with that.
26 Falling down, the slave worshiped his master, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back everything.’
27 Compassionately, that slave’s master freed him and forgave him the debt.
28 Exiting, that slave found his coworker, who owed him 390 grams silver.
Grabbing him, he choked him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe!’
29 Falling down, the coworker offered to work with him, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back everything.’
30 The slave didn’t want to, but went to throw him in debtor’s prison till he could pay back what he owed.
31 Seeing this, the slave’s coworkers became outraged,
and went to explain to their master everything that happened.
32 Then summoning the slave, his master told him, ‘Evil slave: I forgave you all that debt, because you offered to work with me!
33 Ought you not have mercy on your coworker, like I had mercy on you?
34 Furious, his master delivered him to torturers till he could pay back all he owed.
35 Likewise my heavenly Father will do to you—when you don’t forgive your every fellow Christian from your hearts.”

The “delivered him to torturers” bit Mt 18.34 makes various Christians nervous, and gets ’em to invent all sorts of iffy teachings about devils and curses and hell. And misses the point: God shows us infinite mercy. What kind of ingrates are we when we don’t pay that mercy forward?

22 October 2019

Daily bread.

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 interpretation is fine. But so many Americans expand it: “Oh he doesn’t necessarily mean food; he means spiritual food. He means we’re to do the will of his Father, Jn 4.34 so we’re to ask God for the strength and power to do that.” Or, if they’re more into Mammon and materialism, they claim it means financial food: Give us this day our weekly paycheck, that with it we might pay our bills and buy whatever we covet.

And yeah, we recognize we should go to God first when we want anything, and submit to his will when he tells us yes or no. But when Jesus told us to pray for daily bread, it’s not a metaphor for our every necessity or desire. It’s about sustaining our lives. We need food so we can live. We need to recognize our dependence on God for our lives. So when he says pray for daily bread, pray for daily bread.

Yeah, you can pray for spiritual growth too. You can pray for money. You can ask God for anything, and he’s not stingy. But don’t go reading your various other desires into the Lord’s Prayer, and pray for those things instead of what Jesus told us to pray for. Pray for bread.

And specifically, pray for tomorrow’s bread. Because that’s a better translation of what Jesus commanded.

18 October 2019

Thy kingdom come.

MATTHEW 6.10, LUKE 11.2.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to ask our Father ἐλθέτω 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 said that: In his second coming, he’s coming to earth to take over. God’s kingdom’s gonna be here. We Christians have been laying the groundwork for it.

And doing a rotten job of it, but that stands to reason: Too many of us think the kingdom’s not here. We anticipate an otherworldly, cosmic heaven; we figure we leave this world behind to fall apart and be destroyed. The millennium isn’t part of our plans.

So why have we bothered to pray “Thy kingdom come”? Well, ’cause the words are there, so we recite them by rote, but never meditated on them any. We just presumed God’d make his kingdom come by blowing up the earth while we all watch safely from heaven, and that’s where his kingdom is. And since God’s gonna blow up the earth, why bother to care of it? This world is passing away, so it’s okay if we pollute and spoil it, ’cause God’ll make us another one.

But once we realize God’s kingdom is located here, on our planet; once we realize God’s kingdom is meant to fix everything that’s broken on our planet (’cause God’s in the business of fixing what’s broken); and once we realize the Holy Spirit’s been given to us so we can get started already on God’s plan to make all things new: It’s gonna radically transform our nihilistic attitudes towards our world. And towards the people on it, whose glimpses of the coming kingdom are gonna attract them to it far better than warnings of doom and gloom.

17 October 2019

Hallowed be thy name.

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, so all our after-the-fact prayers won’t change a whiff of it. So what’s the point of prayer then? Changing us—changing our attitudes about God by reciting various truths about him, like we do with our worship music, until these ideas finally sink in and transform us.

(As if this even works with worship music. Just look at all the Christian jerks whose favorite songs, so they claim, are hymns. But lemme stop here before I rant futher.)

Thanks to this mindset, Christians imagine “Hallowed be thy name” is just another reminder to think of God’s name as holy. To not take it in vain. To glorify and worship him, and tell other people how awesome and mighty he is. To remember God is holy—and because we so often misdefine holy as good, to also remember God is good. Or because we so often misdefine holy as solemn, to remember to treat God as formal.

We really do botch the meaning of what Jesus is trying to teach us in this prayer, don’t we? It’s why Christians can recite the Lord’s Prayer the world over, sometimes every single day, and still not behave any more like Jesus than before.

So to remind you: Holiness means something’s not like anyone or anything else, because it’s distinctly used for divine purposes. It’s weird. Good-weird, not weird for weirdness’ sake, not twisted, not evil-weird. When we pray for God to make his name holy, we want him to not be like any other higher power, any other mighty thing, any other force in the cosmos, any other god. We want him to stand out. He’s not like anything or anyone else. He’s infinitely better.

Now. Does recognizing the Lord’s Prayer is about actually asking God for stuff, and that it’s not merely about changing our own attitudes, mean our attitudes don’t need to change? Of course not. If we want God to make his name holy, part of that means we need to make his name holy too. Stop treating God as if he’s just anyone else. He’s not.

And no, I absolutely do not mean we should treat him more formally, more solemnly, with more ritual and ceremony and gravitas and all that crap we do to suck up to people in authority. God’s uniqueness is reflected by two things about him: He’s almighty, of course. And, more importantly, more relevantly to us, his character: He’s infinitely good. Infinitely gracious. He infinitely loves us. Has infinite patience with us. He’s infinitely kind. Infinitely faithful. He’s not like anyone else because, unlike everyone else, he’ll never, ever fail us.

So don’t put him on the same level!

16 October 2019

Our Father who art in heaven.

MATTHEW 6.9-10.

The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew begins with πάτερ ἡμῶν 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 knows who he is; he knows what our relationship consists of; that’s fine.

As I said in the Lord’s Prayer article, Jesus isn’t the first to teach people God is our Father. Many a Pharisee prayer, and many Jewish prayers nowadays, address God as אָבִינוּ/avínu, “our Father”—like Avínu Malkéinu (“our Father, our king”), recited during fasts and the high holidays. If we have a relationship with him, and we should through Jesus, we should have no hesitation to approach him boldly. He 4.16 He loves us; he wants to be gracious to us; let’s feel free to talk with him about anything and everything.

15 October 2019

The Lord’s Prayer. Make it your prayer.

When it comes to talking with God, Christians get tongue-tied. We don’t know what to say to him! And if we follow the examples of our fellow Christians, we’re gonna get weird about him. We’ll only address him formally, or think we’re only allowed to ask for certain things—or imagine God already predetermined everything, so there’s no point in asking for anything at all.

The people of Jesus’s day had all these same hangups, which is why his students asked him how to pray, Lk 11.1 and he responded with what we Christians call the Paternoster or Our Father (after its first two words—whether Latin or English), or the Lord’s Prayer. The gospels have two versions of it, in Matthew 6.9-13 and Luke 11.2-4. But the version most English-speaking Christians are most familiar with, actually comes from neither gospel. Comes from the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, which is based on an ancient new-Christian instruction manual called the Didache. Goes like so.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

The last two lines don’t come from the gospels, but from an idea in Daniel

Daniel 7.14 KWL
The Ancient gave the Son authority, honor, and the kingdom,
and every people, nation, and language, who’ll bow to his authority.
His authority is permanent: It never passes away.
His kingdom can never be destroyed.

—which was shortened to “yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever,” and tacked to Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. The editors of the Textus Receptus liked the Didache version so much, they inserted it back into Matthew. And that’s why the King James Version has “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” Mt 6.13 KJV Nope, it’s not what Matthew originally wrote. But relax; the idea does come from the bible.

17 September 2019

When God answers our mundane prayers: Thank him!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kinda sad, but kinda common.

10 September 2019

The prayer of faith. Or not.

James 5.13-18.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

03 September 2019

God’s still small voice?

Y’might’ve heard this story before.

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

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

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

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

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

27 August 2019

Start listening to God.

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

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

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

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

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

20 August 2019

We need more people of prayer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep, we definitely need more people of prayer.

13 August 2019

What about those Christians who pray to saints?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06 August 2019

Pagans and prayer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 July 2019

Prayer… and morning people. (Groan.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 July 2019

De profundis.

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

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

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

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

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