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

13 November 2018

The “Your will be done” prayer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06 November 2018

Praying or singing yourself into an “altered state.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 October 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16 October 2018

Vain repetition?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

09 October 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

02 October 2018

The “Where are you?” prayer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 August 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31 May 2018

Gossip, prayer, and trustworthiness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 May 2018

Praying for ordinary stuff.

Seriously. You can pray for anything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 May 2018

Prayer techniques that get God over a barrel?

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

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

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

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

Um… what power’s she talking about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01 May 2018

Facing Jerusalem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nah; Solomon had you covered.

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

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

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

14 March 2018

The “Not what I want” prayer.

Sometimes we don’t pray for what we want.

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

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

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

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

There’s our example.

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

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

07 March 2018

Saying grace… and a little bit more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

07 February 2018

Can’t hear God? Read your bible!

’Cause sometimes God holds back his answers when he’s already given them in the scriptures.

So I’ve written on how prayer is simply talking with God. It’s not a one way-monologue where we do all the speaking, but God communicates back through omens, signs, coincidences, and other natural revelations which we can easily misinterpret. We talk; he talks back. Once we get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy to hear his responses whenever we pray.

That is, till we don’t.

’Cause sometimes we can’t seem to hear him. Much as we try, we can’t detect what he tells us. Maybe he’s talking and we’re too stubborn to listen; maybe he’s not, ’cause he’s waiting for us to finally act upon the last thing he told us to do. (Oho, didn’t think of that one, did you?)

Or maybe it’s time we stop putting off reading our bibles.

’Cause once we learn how to hear God, too many of us Christians get into the bad habit of not reading the bible. We figure why bother?—God already tells us everything we need to know! So we don’t read the scriptures and find out what else we might need to know. If it really is a need-to-know deal, God’ll tell us. Right?

Yeah, it’s immature behavior. And God’s training us to be better than that. You think Jesus, just because he is God, has godly wisdom and character in abundance, figured it was okay to give the scriptures a pass? Nuh-uh. He made darned sure he knew ’em better than everyone. Jesus read his bible, and we’re to be like Jesus.

So from time to time, when he feels we need to crack our bibles and get back into ’em, God stops talking. Or he straight-up tells us (as he has me, many times), “I already answered that in the scriptures; read your bible.”

Hence that’s become my go-to response whenever somebody tells me, “I haven’t heard from God lately,” or otherwise complains God feels so distant, or the heavens feel like brass when they pray. Dt 28.23 My usual advice: “Read your bible.”

Okay, maybe you already do read your bible. Good. Keep it up. I’ll explain why.

06 February 2018

Power through prayer.

Power’s a byproduct, not the goal—contrary to some Christians’ wishes.

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

There are three types of Christians who wanna know about getting power through prayer. Most of them are the Christians who wanna be “strong in the Lord, and the power of his might.” Ep 6.10 KJV These are the Christians who like to imagine themselves “prayer warriors,” who wanna be able to pray for anything and everything, and have their prayers regularly answered with yes. If prayer gets ’em what they want every single time, that’s mighty power. That’s what they want: Their wishes are… well, not God’s commands, for they’d never put it that way. But essentially yeah: God does as they want.

The second group wants supernatural power. They wanna see miracles. They wanna do miracles. Same as the Christians who want God to do as they want, they want the Holy Spirit to empower them to do every mighty act they can think of. They wanna be able to touch sick people and instantly cure them. Or part seas, make axheads float, make sundials go backward, turn fillings into gold, and even call down fire. Anything that demonstrates God’s really among us. (Or, more selfishly, anything that demonstrates God endorses us. Which miracles don’t actually do; note Samson. But since people aren’t really aware of this, they’re hoping to milk this misbelief for a while.)

And the third group wants temporal power. They might want to be in charge of a church, or a ministry, or a nonprofit. They might want political gain, for all the issues they care about God cares about, to become law. They might want to do really well financially—have a nice house, own a nice car, pay off their mortgage, take all the vacations they want missions trips God wants. And they’re figuring prayer might be the key to this: Do a little praying, earn a few karmic points with God for the time they put in, and he’ll pay them back with victories over their environment.

Is there power to be gained through prayer? Of course there is. Otherwise Christians wouldn’t write piles of books on the subject.

So what’s the secret? Um… it’s hardly a secret.

11 January 2018

Sock-puppet theology: Meditation gone bad.

Or as I call it, sock-puppet meditation.

Beginning with the frequently-misunderstood passage:

Hebrews 12.1-2 KWL
1 Consequently we who have a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us,
who put aside every weight and easily-distracting sin:
We run the contest set before us through patient endurance,
looking to the start and finish of faith: Jesus.
2 He endured in joy instead of on what was set before him,
despising the dishonorable cross, and sits at the right of God’s throne.

It’s a sports metaphor, and since we do track and field events a little differently than they did in the Roman Empire, stands to reason Christians will miss, and misinterpret, some of the ideas.

The “cloud of witnesses” among them. Nefós/“cloud” is an odd wording. Christian tradition has borrowed the pagan idea of dead relatives looking down from the heavens upon the living, and interpret this verse to mean departed saints who once witnessed about Jesus, who watch present-day saints as spectators. Cheering us on, we hope. (Cringing at how we repeat all their old mistakes, more likely.)

It’s not at all what the author of Hebrews meant. She meant fellow runners.

See, the ancients didn’t run on the rubber or polyurethane surface we put on our running tracks today: They ran on dirt. And what do you get when a bunch of runners race through dirt? Clouds. There’s your cloud of witnesses: Fellow runners. Active co-participants. Not spectators, who usually can’t see through the clouds, which is why we switched to asphalt tracks, and eventually to the stuff we use now. Modern technology made it so we can’t recognize the context anymore, and now the CEV, GNB, and NLT straight-up translate nefós as “crowd.” Meaning, most of us imagine, the crowd of spectators.

I bring this up ’cause the interpretation of a passage makes a really big difference when we meditate upon it. As we do; as we should. But if our mental image of a “cloud of witnesses” consists of spectators instead of co-laborers, we’re gonna get a very different mental image. One which can go all kinds of wrong.

13 December 2017

The prayer of Nehemiah.

And the need to seek God’s will in our prayer requests.

Back in the ’00s, the prayer of Jabez got a bit of attention with a popular book. Which was quickly followed up by other writers, covetous of The Prayer of Jabez’s success, whose books probably didn’t sell as well for that reason: Books on the Lord’s Prayer and the Jesus Prayer and other tricks to successful prayer.

The only real trick is remembering God can’t be reduced to formulas, and that he has every right to say no. These books don’t necessarily teach this fact. Instead, the idea is if we pray like Jabez, God’ll expand our territory. Pray the Jesus Prayer and receive peace. Pray the St. Christopher prayer and kids get protection; pray the St. Jude prayer and get a yes to your hopeless cause; pray the rosary and get special protection; do X and now God owes us Y.

Doesn’t work like that. And to help that idea sink in a little, I remind you of the Prayer of Nehemiah, offered by Nekhémya bar Khakálya right after he heard what a mess Jerusalem still was.

Nehemiah 1.5-11 KWL
5 I said, “Please LORD, God of heaven, great God,
scary covenant-keeper, lover of those who love you and keep your commands:
6 May your ear now be attentive, your eyes open, to hear your slave’s prayer,
which I pray to your face daily and nightly over Israel’s descendants, your slaves:
I confess the sins Israel’s descendants sinned against you. I and my father’s house sinned.
7 We hurt, hurt you, and didn’t keep the commands, decrees, and rulings you sent your slave Moses.
8 Now remember the word you sent your slave Moses, saying,
When you trespass, I’ll scatter you among the nations.
9 Return to me, keep my commands, do them, and if you’re exiled to the heavens’ edge,
I’ll gather you from there, and return you to the place I chose where my name dwells.’
10 They’re your slaves, your people whom you rescued with your great strength and strong hand.
11 Please Master, have a listening ear for your slave’s prayer,
for your slaves’ prayer—we who wish to respect your name.
Please grant your slave success today. Give me compassion before this man’s face”
for I was the Persian king’s butler.

And though Nehemiah didn’t neatly sum it up as did the author of Chronicles, 1Co 4.10 God went along with his request, and Nehemiah himself got to go to Jerusalem and fix its problems.

06 November 2017

“Be still and know that I am God.”

It’s not about being quiet.

Psalm 46.10

Most people shorten this verse to simply, “Be still and know that I am God.” But sometimes they actually do know the entire verse:

Psalm 46.10 KJV
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.

When people do remember the rest of this verse, they tend to recall (and prefer) a translation without that bothersome word “heathen” in it. The word goyím properly means “foreigners,” which we also translate “foreigners” or “nations”—the Amplified Bible, ESV, NASB, and NIV went with “I will be exalted among the nations,” which works better for them. Be still, know God is God, and if everybody can just chill out and meditate for a bit, God can be exalted by all the nations, round the world.

Yeah, this tends to be considered a meditation verse. I’ve been in prayer groups where Christians have talked about meditation, and they misquote Psalm 46.10 all the time. “Remember, we’re just trying to be still and know God is God.”

Other times Christians wanna encourage one another to relax. People get agitated, emotional, panicky, flustered, and once again Psalm 46.10 pops up: “You need to just be still and know God is God. God’s on the throne. He can solve every problem.” Or less patiently, “Can you be still for a minute, and know God is God?”

Actually, this less-than-patient last example, though still wrong, is closest to what Korah’s sons were talking about in this particular psalm.

31 October 2017

God reveals himself through prayer.

Why does God listen to our prayers? For the same reason he reveals himself to us.

Prayer is of course talking with God. We talk to him and he talks back. It’s not a complicated idea, though we might, and do, complicate it.

Prayer is therefore the most common, most usual way God communicates with his people. Yeah, we can…

Christians list all these things as forms of revelation, though I would object to the last two. But nearly all of us pray, and nearly all of us hear God when we pray, so that’s how nearly all of us get revelation.

Now yes, there are those Christians who insist they don’t hear anything. To their minds, prayer is unidirectional: We talk, God hears, but God says nothing, ’cause he doesn’t need to say anything, ’cause he said everything he cares to say in the scriptures. This belief is largely based on cessationism, the belief God turned off the miracles—and in so doing, functionally abandoned his people—till the End Times. If you’re surrounded by cessationists, you’re gonna get the idea most Christians think like that. You’d be entirely wrong. Most of us hear God. (Not necessarily well, but I’ll discuss that in the next several prayer articles.)

Hearing God is demonstrated all over the scriptures. ’Cause the scriptures were written by prophets, and how’d they get their information? Yes, some Christians imagine they opened their mouths and God’s words came out of them like they were meat puppets. But in more cases they went to God with questions—with prayers—and during those prayers God responded, and that became their prophecies.

This is why prayer and prophecy are so closely connected. That’s usually how God gives prophets his messages for other people: He’ll say, “Tell them this.” You wanna see more prophecy in our church? Then y’all need to pray more often. You don’t get one without the other. (And if you do, those “prophecies” are usually messed up.)

24 October 2017

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

Don’t ever let this saying become a platitude.

When disaster strikes, whether natural or manmade, one of the most common platitudes we hear thereafter is, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

In the past several years the expression has seen a bit of backlash. Mainly because the people who say it have turned it into an empty, hypocritical saying. By their actions, they demonstrate they’re not really thinking of the disaster victims. And either they’re also not praying, or they’re praying in some manner that doesn’t change ’em whatsoever—contrary to how we all know prayer is supposed to work.

To be fair, some of the backlash comes from nontheists who are pretty sure prayer is bunk: Nobody’s listening, so we Christians are only talking to the sky; nobody’s interacting with us, so we Christians aren’t gonna change. Prayers are therefore just as useless as when some pagans attempt to send positive thoughts, vibes, and energy towards the needy: All they actually do is psyche themselves into feeling really happy things, then feel a little burst of euphoria which they figure is them “releasing” those thoughts into the universe—and then they’re back to life as usual. Unless the happy thoughts get ’em to deliberately behave in more positive, productive ways towards those around them, the universe is no different. Nor better.

Give you an example. One of the United States’ recent mass shootings might take out more masses than usual. The news media covers it like crazy; the public is horrified; the usual senators tweet that their “thoughts and prayers” are with the victims and their families. And those who want gun restrictions object: These particular senators aren’t gonna change the gun laws whatsoever. If anything they’ll try all the harder to eliminate gun restrictions. Which means more mass shootings are inevitable. So what good are those senators’ thoughts and prayers?

I mean, functionally it’s the same as when James objected to “faith” which lacked works:

James 2.14-17 KWL
14 What’s the point, my fellow Christians, when anyone claims to have faith and takes no action?
This “faith” doesn’t save them.
15 When a Christian brother or sister becomes destitute, lacks daily food,
16 and one of you tells them, “Go in peace! May you be warm and fed,”
and doesn’t give them anything useful for their body, what’s the point?
17 This “faith,” when it takes no action, is dead to the core.

Our “thoughts and prayers” frequently aren’t any different than wishing the needy well, but doing nothing to make ’em less needy. Sometimes out of our own laziness, sometimes our own ill will. And the needy aren’t dense. They see the irreligiousness of it. They’re calling us on it. Rightly so.

If our thoughts and prayers do nothing, our faith is dead.