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

Keep (most of) your prayers private.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 September

Matthew 6.5-6.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught,

Matthew 6.5-6 KJV
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Which is why we don’t see the streets of our nation lined with Christians, their arms raised and heads to the sky, praying as loud as possible so as to let everyone know we’re devout, and that we’re praying for our land.

Well… we don’t usually see this. Although I remember this one trip I made to Washington D.C. where we saw it all the time. I was chaperoning some kids on a civics tour, where we went to the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian, and all sorts of public buildings. And wouldn’t you know it: In every last one of these places, there were Christian groups, praying good ’n loud for the United States. If you didn’t know they were Christian by their behavior, you’d definitely know it by their very public prayers.

Various Christian organizations also put together days of prayer, or prayer breakfasts, or get high schoolers to gather at the flagpole to pray, or get concerned citizens to show up at all the city halls to pray. Sometimes they’re protesting something; sometimes they’re in favor of something; either way they pray. Publicly. Loudly. For all to see and hear.

There’s the occasional athlete who takes a knee every time he scores a goal. And there are the folks who pitch a fit because public schoolteachers can’t lead the kids in prayer. As someone who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s, I should point out this is more of a blessing than you realize: I’d’ve been exposed to all sorts of weird pagan prayers had my teachers been required to lead prayer time. It’s not at all like the Bible Belt, where the pagans have way more practice at pretending to be Christian.

Back in 2008, during a major economic recession, Texas prophet Cindy Jacobs led a prayer team to New York City to lead a Day of Prayer for the World’s Economies. They were gonna pray for the financial institutions who caused suffered from the recession, and pray for God to take ’em over. Which is fine, but here’s what happened.


I recall the Hebrews got in big trouble for doing something like this. Wonkette

On Wall Street there’s a statue of a bull, meant to represent an active, “bullish” economy. The prayer team chose to lay their hands upon it and pray. My very first thought upon seeing this photo: “Good Lord, they’re praying over a golden calf. Um… didn’t the LORD smite the Hebrews for that?” Ex 32.35

Okay, they meant well. But the prayer team didn’t bother to think about how their actions looked—or didn’t care, figuring their good intentions outweighed how foolish they looked. ’Cause pagans have seen The Ten Commandments, and know that golden calf story. And sure had a lot of fun with it.

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

by K.W. Leslie, 30 June

Back in grad school I heard this ridiculous story from a preacher. I’ve shared it before; now again. Goes like so.

There once was this Christian who felt unsure of his salvation. He hoped he was saved, but he was just so full of doubts. A little voice inside his head kept telling him, “Oh you’re not saved. Not really.” Of course the preacher assumed this voice was Satan, but considering how such baiting will simply drive us Christians to make certain we’re saved, I’m pretty sure Satan abandoned this tactic long ago as stupid. But I digress.

This uncertain Christian came up with a clever plan: First he said the sinner’s prayer again. (He no doubt said it ages ago, but bear with me.) Next he made a sign with that day’s date on it, fixed 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 back window at his sign, and say, “I am so saved, devil. Get thee behind me.”

Followed by a rash of my fellow students placing signs with various dates on ’em in the yard behind their dorms… Nah, just kidding. Nobody did that. Because this uncertain Christian posting signs in his backyard is, to put it kindly, dumb. “Yeah I know what’ll confirm my salvation: A sign in the yard!” Say the wind blows it away some day; then where will he be? Wouldn’t that surely look a sign from God suggesting no, he’s not saved?

Signs in your yard may indicate all sorts of things. Like whom you voted for, who installed your solar panels, who does your lawn, whom you voted for, whether the house is on the market, when the garage sale will be. Of course they mean nothing if they’re not true; if the sign says “Garage sale Saturday” but it was actually a Saturday in 2019. A sign can tell you the date of your sinner’s prayer, but did the sinner’s prayer even work?

Because sinner’s prayers don’t save people. Never did. God saves us, by his grace and through our faith. Does he automatically do this whenever a person says the sinner’s prayer? Well some evangelists claim he absolutely does, every single time.

Romans 10.13 KJV
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Jl 2.32

Of course they forget to quote the context of this verse—namely the verses following.

Romans 10.14-16 KJV
14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! Is 52.7 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? Is 53.1

If a petitioner lacks faith in God—as proven when they don’t live the gospel after they prayed the sinner’s prayer—calling upon the Lord won’t save you. “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?”

It’s like claiming, “I don’t know whether my checking 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, dumb.

When the sinner’s prayer doesn’t work.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 June

Imagine you share Jesus with someone. (Hope you do share Jesus with people. But anyway.)

Imagine they respond well: They express an interest in this Jesus whom you speak of. They believe you when you tell ’em Jesus saved them. They wanna become a Christian right here and now. So you say the sinner’s prayer with them. They recite all the words right after you. They feel happy about it. You feel happy about it. And there was much rejoicing. Yea!

Okay, now imagine it’s a year later and you meet up with that person again… and you find their life hasn’t changed. At all.

They don’t go to church; they don’t see the point. They don’t read the bible; they don’t see the point. They don’t pray; no more than usual, which is the occasional “God, get me out of this and I promise I’ll…” and nothing more. Not even religious feelings, which I admit are usually self-manufactured, but they don’t even have that.

No fruit of the Spirit. They’re not any happier, any more joyful. They’re as impatient as ever, as unkind as ever, and don’t know the difference between love and romance or passion or covetousness. Nothing.

Sinner’s prayer didn’t take.

It actually happens a lot. I used to work at a summer camp program for inner city youth. Those kids would come one summer, hear the gospel, say the sinner’s prayer, go home… and not be Christian. Then they’d come back next summer. Hear the gospel again, say the sinnner’s prayer again, go home, and still not be Christian. And repeat till they were too old for summer camp.

Evangelists know from experience: We’ll hold an evangelism event; some important guy from an evangelism ministry will come to town, and we’ll get a really big church to host it, or have it at the community center or ballpark. The important guy will ask everyone to come forward if they want Jesus, and counselors will be there at the foot of the stage to talk with those who come forward, and lead ’em in the sinner’s prayer. And next year, or two years later, we’ll hold another evangelism event, and again invite people to come forward, and many who come forward will turn out to be the same people who came forward last time. Who will pray the sinner’s prayer again. Who knows?—maybe this time they’ll repent.

I’ve done street evangelism. And sometimes ran into the same people. And they wanted to say the sinner’s prayer again, ’cause this time they meant it. And later, they’ll mean it again.

Like I said, it actually happens a lot.

But if Christians are new to evangelism, or if they’ve never really paid attention before, this is news to them. Some of ’em are kinda horrified: “It didn’t work? What d’you mean it didn’t work? The word of God doesn’t return void!”

Well yeah, if it were the word of God. It’s not; it’s just the sinner’s prayer.

“Yeah, but ‘he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it…’ ” Pp 1.6

Yeah yeah, I know the Steve Green song. You’re assuming God actually made ’em Christian and put the Holy Spirit in them, so they’re going to heaven no matter what. But he didn’t do that yet. Because they weren’t ready yet.

But some folks don’t believe that’s how God works: They insist grace is irresistible. If anybody says the sinner’s prayer, it’s because God led this person to pray that prayer, because God determined this person’d become Christian, and they will become Christian. Because determinism. It’s not actually up to them. Sure, their lifestyle makes it look like the sinner’s prayer didn’t take, but these determinists believe in their heart of hearts God will make it take, whether they want it to or not.

…’Cause that’s what they do. And I get that. If I were the Holy Spirit, and somebody said the sinner’s prayer, I’d’ve stepped right in and unilaterally changed a whole lot of stuff about ’em. Reprogrammed their brain so they’d be happier and more obedient. Knocked all the temptations out of their paths. Shouted at ’em nice and loud whenever they were about to sin, “DONT.” I’d go mad with benevolent power. I’d want ’em saved!

It’s mighty Calvinist of me, but I admit it’s not all that loving. Love is patient, 1Co 13.4 love doesn’t seek its own way, 1Co 13.5 and God is love. 1Jn 4.16 God might transform a person who has no interest in transformation, but usually he prefers to reward those who earnestly seek him. He 11.6 Not those who only turn to Jesus just to escape hell, and have no interest in becoming any different than before.

On people who have no real interest in following Jesus, the sinner’s prayer doesn’t work. It’s a prayer of surrender, and they didn’t surrender.

The “sinner’s prayer.” And how to lead one.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 June

In the scriptures, whenever someone wanted to become Christian, how’d they get initiated? Simple: They got baptized. Right away: They found some water and baptized ’em right then and there.

Acts 8.35-38 KJV
35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. 36 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? 37 [And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.] 38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

Splash, and you’re Christian. But by the end of the first century, ancient Christians got it into their heads there oughta be more delay than this: Too many people were getting baptized, yet didn’t continue to follow Jesus. And baptism is a sacrament, right?—it ought not be something we take lightly. So maybe we oughta delay those baptisms till people prove they really mean it. Maybe delay it a year. Make ’em take a catechism first.

Yep, this is why churches work this way. Make you memorize a catechism first. Make you take a Christian Initiation class, or at least baptism classes where they explain to you why baptism’s such a big, big deal. But this process can take weeks or months—and when we compare our whole initiation process to what we read in Acts, it’s like, “If people wanna follow Jesus, why do we make ’em wait so long and jump through so many hoops? The apostles didn’t.”

Correct. No they didn’t. And I wouldn’t either. Same as Philip and that eunuch: The dude wanted to be baptized, so Philip baptized him. The Textus Receptus (and KJV) added a verse where Philip double-checked whether the eunuch really believed in Jesus, which is why most churches still require a profession of faith before you get under the water—and that’s cool. If you wanna baptize new converts yourself, right away, without waiting for your church to schedule their beginning-of-the-year 12-week baptism classes, go right ahead. Philip did.

But popular Christian culture has come up with another way of initiating new believers: Make ’em say the sinner’s prayer.

The sinner’s prayer is the first prayer we formally pray to Jesus. We might’ve made informal prayers to him before, or begged him for stuff, or tried to bargain with him. This one is where we ask him to formally become our Lord, and promise to follow him. And then, we figure, we’re in. ’Cause

Romans 10.9 KJV
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

So there ya go. Easy-peasy-follow-Jeezy.

Though sometimes the sinner’s prayer can get a little tricky. Y’see, most of the churches who push the idea of the sinner’s prayer, don’t tell you how the sinner’s prayer goes. They don’t have a formal, written-down, memorize-this, pray-it-by-rote sinner’s prayer. Some of ’em don’t believe in rote prayers, and think of them as dead religion. They insist whenever you pray, you gotta do it extemporaneously: Make it up. Pray it from the heart. Pray what you feel; don’t just recite someone else’s prayer.

Which is dumb. Newbies don’t know how to pray, much less pray extemporaneously! Sometimes they’ll do it wrong. And even if they do just fine, they’ll feel like they did it wrong; like there was more they could’ve and should’ve said, but they didn’t, and maybe now they can’t make up for it. Don’t add to their stress level! You come up with a sinner’s prayer, then have them repeat after you. And if they wanna add anything to it, that’s fine.

We tend to say “the sinner’s prayer,” as if there’s only one version of it, like the Lord’s Prayer. (Which has three versions of it: The Matthew version, the Luke version, and the Book of Common Prayer version.) Many churches have their own sinner’s prayer; sometimes more than one, in their denomination’s prayer books. Many evangelistic ministries have their own sinner’s prayer too. There’s no standard prayer. You can compose your own if you want.

Does God listen to pagans when they pray?

by K.W. Leslie, 06 May

I’ll answer the question in the title right away: Yes. God listens to pagans when they pray.

And, well, duh. Of course he listens to them! He listens to everyone. He knows what everyone’s saying, what everyone’s thinking, and whether what we’re saying and what we’re thinking line up. (And when they aren’t, he knows we’re being hypocrites.)

He knows what our needs are; he hears us express ’em to him; he knows whether we’re sincere. True of everybody. Not just Christians.

Why’s this even a question? Because of course there are Christians who claim he doesn’t. Only we get access to the Almighty; only true believers.

(And maybe Jews… depending on whether they like Jews. If they like Jews, they always manage to find an exception to the “no pagans” rule; they’re God’s chosen people so he has to listen to them, doesn’t he? And if they’re antisemites, either Jews are simply another type of pagan he dismisses; or God’s rejected the Jews ’cause of the sins antisemites claim are unique to Jews, so he can’t abide them. Nope, these views aren’t based on reasoned-out theology. They’re always, always based on personal biases. Notice how often antisemites also figure God won’t listen to Roman Catholics, Muslims, or anybody they hate.)

Okay. Where do the Christians who claim God ignores pagans and sinners, get their ideas? Well, bible.

Isaiah 1.15 KJV
And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
 
Micah 3.4 KJV
Then shall they cry unto the LORD, but he will not hear them: he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings.

Okay. When you read these verses in proper context, both Isaiah and Micah were referring to people who should already be in conversation with God, but for whatever reason—they don’t believe in him, they don’t care to follow his commands, hot pagan sex—they’ve chosen sin. And when they suffer the consequences of those sins, God’s gonna let ’em. He warned them; he just had his prophets warn them; they’re not listening, so when they ultimately need his help, he won’t be listening.

No, it doesn’t sound very gracious of God, which is why a number of Christians who like to preach grace, like to skip these verses altogether. Or pretend they don’t exist; or pretend they can’t possibly mean what they mean; or straight-up say the prophets were wrong. I don’t care to go there: I believe the prophets are accurately relaying what God told ’em. God has infinite grace, and offers us infinite chances. But he also sets deadlines, and if we resist his grace all the way up to the deadline and beyond, he’s gotta follow through with his entirely fair judgments. And when they beg him to not follow through… what’s he gonna do, cave in like the parents of a spoiled child, and let people go right back to doing evil? Nope. He’s gotta ignore their shrieks of indignation, and stop the evil.

That’s what the verses mean when they state God sometimes won’t hear people.

The rest of the time, of course he will.

Psalm 145.18-19 KWL
18 The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. 19 He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them.
 
Romans 10.12-13 KWL
12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Jl 2.32

If God didn’t heed the prayers of pagans, it’d be impossible for pagans to call upon him to save them! Even the most hardcore cases of people who claim “God doesn’t hear pagans” have to admit this is so. And they do. It’s just they claim every other prayer these pagans make, every other thing they request, God ignores… ’cause he’s waiting for the sinner’s prayer, and only after he hears that will he move his hand.

But nope, God hears pagans when they pray. Even if their prayers are weird, ridiculous, warped, selfish, or evil. Same as our prayers, when we get weird, ridiculous, warped, selfish, and evil. God hears everyone.

Hearing versus answering.

Part of the problematic idea God doesn’t hear pagans, is the problematic way we talk about prayer. Too many Christians don’t describe it as talking with God, which is all it really is. They try to make it sound more Christian. Throw a lot of Christianese lingo on it. Make it sound extra-holy and sacred. Shout, and pray in tongues, and use a lot of bible quotes and metaphors and poetry, because we somehow got the idea it’s okay to get weird when we’re addressing God. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care for our melodrama; all he wants to do is talk. Maybe help out a bit.

So when Christians talk about God hearing our prayers, sometimes we don’t just mean to perceive the sounds we’re making as we talk to him about stuff. Usually we mean God answering our prayers—fulfilling our requests especially.

Hence when certain Christians claim, “God doesn’t listen to pagans,” what they more accurately mean is God doesn’t answer pagans’ prayers.

Which is an idea that’s also easily debunked.

Acts 10.1-4 KJV
1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, 2 a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. 3 He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. 4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.

Yeah, people will argue Cornelius wasn’t pagan, ’cause he was a devout worshiper of God. But he was. He didn’t worship the Greco-Roman gods, but the LORD, which is most definitely a step in the right direction. But he wasn’t a convert to Pharisaism; Jews still called him uncircumcised, Ac 11.3 which was one of their requirements for conversion. He’d follow the LORD only to a point, and otherwise do what he felt was best—which is exactly what makes any “Christian” actually pagan.

But God is gracious, and sent Cornelius an angel to set him straight by having him get and listen to Simon Peter. And as the angel pointed out, God was not unfamiliar with Cornelius’s prayers. True, some naysayers point out the angel didn’t say “God’s been hearing your prayers,” but αἱ προσευχαί σουἀνέβησαν εἰς μνημόσυνον ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θεοῦ/e prosevhé su… anévisan eis nimósynon émprosthen tu Theú, “Your prayers… go up to a memorial before God.” As if he’s noticed them, but not heard them. It’s ridiculous nitpicking, and creates an equally ridiculous scenario where God’s telling himself, “Y’know, because he’s pagan, I’m not gonna listen to him. But since he seems so earnest, I’ll send an angel his way.” It makes God sound petty; really it’s the fact the interpreters are petty, and projecting their bad attitudes upon God.

God rewards those who earnestly seek him, He 11.6 Christian or pagan. If they’re making an effort, same as any Christian who makes an effort, God meets ’em where they are, and tries to bring them along even further. He’s trying to save them too. Jesus died for their sins same as ours, 1Jn 2.2 and there’s nothing but their own resistance getting in God’s way. So if they’re making any small, pathetic efforts in his direction, of course he’s gonna try to encourage more of that. He’s gracious, not petty.

So yes, he hears pagan prayers. And yes, he even answers pagan prayers. Not just the sinner’s prayer; if a pagan asks to be cured of some illness, God’s definitely been known to cure pagans. Many a Christian chaplain can tell you of pagans who’ve asked them to pray for stuff, and many chaplains can tell you God’s granted stuff—and no, that’s not because God listens to the chaplain and not the pagan.

It’s because, as usual, sometimes our will syncs up with God’s, so he grants those requests. And of course sometimes it doesn’t sync at all, and even Christians get such requests refused.

James 4.3 KJV
Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

When pagans make selfless requests of God, same as we Christians should be making selfless requests of God, it stands to reason God is likely to respond positively to them. Hence sometimes pagans get what they ask for, and Christians don’t. God knows best.

And yeah, some of those pagan prayers definitely won’t work for us. Like when they’re throwing wishes out into the universe, hoping some cosmic law of attraction will give them what they want. We wouldn’t care to honor such poorly-expressed “prayers”; we’d want to straighten the pagans out first, and explain there’s a lot more humility involved. But y’know, when the LORD answers such requests anyway, we’ve got to remember he knows what he’s doing. He’s trying to bring them along, gently and kindly; certainly more kindly than we can be. No, pagans don’t rightly understand how God works. But isn’t this just as true of so many of us Christians?

So if pagans wanna pray, let’s encourage the practice. Let’s point them to way better prayer resources than the usual mumbo-jumbo they find in the spirituality section of the bookstores. Let’s encourage them to talk with God, and try to hear him, and confirm it really is him before acting upon what we think we’ve heard him say.

And don’t be surprised when God uses their newly-evolving prayer life to point ’em to Jesus.

Do we really get whatever we ask in Jesus’s name?

by K.W. Leslie, 05 May

While the idea of “God’ll give us whatever we ask in Jesus’s name” has been largely misunderstood, misinterpreted, and abused, by Christians who wanna depict God as if he’s a magic genie who grants way more than three wishes—or like Santa Claus, who will only give you presents if you’re good, so be good for goodness’ sake—the reality is Jesus does hear prayer requests. And isn’t just willing, but eager, to answer the good requests.

John 16.23-24 KJV
23 And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. 24 Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.

Here’s the context of this scripture; it’s important, y’know. At the time Jesus was speaking with his students about leaving them; about returning to his Father. Once he’d done so, they’d be miserable. But once he comes back in victory, having conquered sin and death, they’ll be overjoyed. They’ll be so thrilled to see him, his mere presence would be enough for them; they couldn’t ask for anything more. But, Jesus says, this is the perfect time to ask for anything more.

See, Jesus didn’t return to them in the same condition as when he left. Certainly not; all crucified and gory and mangled. He’s resurrected. He’s a harbinger of the age to come, with God’s kingdom in clear, plain sight, and the power to bring it into our reality. When he returned to them it wasn’t just time to bask in the joy of the Lord, but to get started bringing God’s kingdom to earth.

Just as true for us Christians today. We’re gonna need God’s help to bring about his kingdom. We need to ask him for things!

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

by K.W. Leslie, 04 May

Jesus told us, more than once, we can use his name whenever we ask the Father for things.

John 14.12-15 KJV
12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. 13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
 
John 15.16 KJV
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
 
John 16.23-24 KJV
23 And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. 24 Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.

Usually Christians are fully aware of this fact. Which is why whenever we want our requests fulfilled, we do ask for stuff in Jesus’s name.

Well, more accurately we ask “in Jesus name.” No possessive. (It’s not like most people know how to use apostrophes properly anyway.) It’s kinda the traditional, rote, thoughtless way we’ve grown accustomed to praying: Before we say amen, we throw a “In Jesus name” in there just to make extra sure we get what we want. It’s not a reminder of who we follow and who’s our Lord; it’s an incantation. It’s what we say to unlock the power. It’s magic.

Yeah, no.

’Cause we have that one bible story where people try to use “in Jesus name” as the magic words, and fail miserably. You might’ve heard it.

Acts 19.13-17 KJV
13 Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. 14 And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so. 15 And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? 16 And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.

Many Christians claim Jesus’s name unlocks every door. Here it didn’t.

Usually it’s presumed it’s because Sceva’s boys weren’t Christian. Didn’t personally know Jesus; they were just using his name because they knew Christians use it, and heard it gets results. But no; Luke stated these kids were Jews, and their dad was a priest, which meant they were Levites; they’d be likewise trained as priests. Any priestly training, whether instructed by Sadducees or Pharisees, would’ve taught them the Law—so they knew you don’t call upon any other name but God’s.

Exodus 23.13 KJV
And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.

Jews didn’t do exorcisms in any other name but God’s. Still true: We Christians recognize Jesus is God, so that’s not an issue. So Sceva’s sons would’ve have known better than to invoke Jesus—unless they were Christian. Or thought themselves Christian. Where they got their Christianity we don’t know; as “vagabond Jews” they traveled from city to city, and picked up Jesus along the way.

But they didn’t know him as well as the thought they did. Certainly the evil spirit they tried to fight, didn’t detect anything of Jesus about them, which is why it could beat the clothes off them.

Sceva’s kids didn’t get what they sought “in Jesus name,” because the name is not a password, a spell, a magic word; it’s not just a name we drop because we wanna appear important. When we ask for something in another person’s name, like when Jesus’s students borrowed a donkey—

Mark 11.2-6 KJV
2 And [Jesus] saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him. 3 And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither. 4 And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him. 5 And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt? 6 And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go.

—we’re properly asking for something they want, not something we want. If we only ask for something we want, yet never take the other person’s wishes into consideration—“I’d like a kilo of your finest cocaine, and here’s a blank check from my dad”—should we be surprised at all if that other person stops payment on the check?

The reason Jesus is cool with us using his name, is because we’re supposedly following him. We do as he teaches, try to develop his character, and want what he does. We abide in him, as he does in us. If this is the case, feel free to invoke Jesus’s name every time you pray.

And if it’s not, and our assumptions about what Jesus wants are based on projecting our own bad attitudes or desires upon him, I really don’t expect him to fulfill our requests. He might anyway—but it won’t have anything to do with us; we just happened to ask for something he wants to do for his own reasons, regardless of our reasons.

Christians who don’t want you to fast.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 February

As I elsewhere said, if fasting weren’t in the bible, it’d nonetheless be a fad. One Christians still frequently use as a spiritual exercise, because it does strengthen our self-control. When seeking God in prayer takes priority over sustaining our very lives, it’s this kind of hardcore behavior which makes us less likely to give in to the many temptations which comfort offers us.

So what keeps Christians from fasting? Usually it’s those very same comforts.

Years ago I was in a prayer meeting where the leader challenged us to fast for a week. Really, diet. He wasn’t telling us to utterly go without food. Just go vegan for a week, and set aside sweets and coffee. Set aside a few comforts so we can focus better on God. And my knee-jerk reaction was, “I just went to the grocery store yesterday and bought a bunch of yogurt. I don’t want it to go bad…” as if we were gonna be dieting that long. Wasn’t really about the expiration date either. It’s ’cause I love yogurt.

So as we were praying, the Holy Spirit got on my case about this: “Really? You’re gonna put aside growing your relationship with me over yogurt?” Okay yeah, it does sound petty and stupid when you put it that way. But frequently our temptations are just that petty and stupid. Doesn’t take much at all to make us stumble sometimes.

Fasting is uncomfortable. That’s kinda the point. Having food in your stomach feels way better than hunger pangs. Eating something delicious is way more pleasurable than eating something just to keep your blood sugar levels stable. But, just like when you sit on the edge of a chair to keep yourself from falling asleep during a boring meeting, fasting is meant to keep us spiritually alert, meant to keep us more aware of our dependence on God. Meant to help us pay attention to what he’s telling us.

So yeah, we gotta fight the temptation to make ourselves more comfortable, and thereby compromise our fasts or diets. And the other thing we gotta watch out for—the main topic of this article, which I had to get to eventually—are the fellow Christians who are gonna try to make us stumble.

Yep. Because while you are trying to get more religious, they have no such interest. They’re not fasting. Or they’re pretending to, but they’ve swapped the fast for the most comfortable diet they can find. They’ll do a “Daniel fast,” yet fudge it so they can eat all the granola bars they want… because let’s be honest: Granola bars are cookies. Shaped like a bar, with a few healthy things thrown in, but they’re totally oatmeal cookies.

Because your activities are more hardcore than theirs, they feel convicted—“Maybe I should step up my game a little”—but they fight this feeling by telling themselves it’s wrong. That you’re too hardcore. That you’re engaging in works righteousness, as if fasting harder than them earns you special Skee-Ball tickets with God, which you can exchange for prizes. That you’re only doing this so you can feel better about yourself—“Look how Christian I am”—and look down on lazy Christians like them. To only look like a better Christian, even though you’re not really.

(Incidentally, don’t do any of those things.)

To some degree they’re projecting. That’s why they’d strive harder to follow God: To earn heavenly merit, or to look or feel superior. But it’s not that… right? You’re trying to grow. You’re pursuing God. You wanna get closer to Jesus. It’s about him, not you. And this pursuit of God can, sad to say, provoke jealousy in Christians who aren’t pursuing God, who imagine fruit grows spontaneously… or who wanna stay “ahead of you” when it comes to spiritual things, and don’t want you maturing faster than they.

In so doing, sometimes they pick really lousy excuses for why you shouldn’t fast. Not valid ones, like it being a feast day. Poisonous ones, like the idea fasting’s an Old Testament practice and we shouldn’t do it anymore. Or the ridiculous claim that fasting in the bible was dieting, not doing without food… contrary to what the scriptures themselves state.

Luke 4.2 KJV
Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered.

“Nothing” as in οὐδὲν/udén, nothing. Really nothing. No food. Not even quails and manna.

Religious people bug irreligious people.

Years ago I heard a sermon on fasting where the preacher noted how often things are gonna tempt us to violate the fast. Suddenly every business meeting is gonna have pastries and coffee. Suddenly old friends will visit town for a few days and wanna meet for lunch. You’ll get invited to birthday parties. You’ll drive past your favorite restaurant and find it’s their 20th anniversary, so for one day they knocked all their prices down to what they charged in 2001. (Yes, 2001 is 20 years ago. You’re old.) Man alive are you gonna drool.

Now yeah, some of that stuff isn’t really the entire fallen universe conspiring to knock you off your fast. It’s simply the fact there’s a lot of functions in our lives with food involved. Functions we never really think about… till we’re on a diet, or a fast. Food addicts know exactly what I’m talking about. In the United States, food’s everywhere. It’s one of our favorite comforts.

So for jealous Christians who wanna throw us off our fasts, it’s not at all hard for them to point to these temptations and say, “You can take a break from your fast for just this once. Hey, you don’t wanna be legalistic about it.”

Yeah, that’s the way they think: Self-control is legalism.

Actual legalism is when your church is gonna penalize you, threaten you with hell, or simply threaten you with a lack of prosperity in the coming year, if you dare to skip a fast. Is that what’s happening here? (If so, you’re probably in a cult.) What should be happening is you’ve voluntarily chosen to fast, you’re requiring no one else to fast along with you, and it’s not gonna irreparably damage your body to do it. If that’s the case, it’s far from legalism.

But to an irreligious Christian, any spiritual exercise which they don’t wanna do, which threatens their comfort, is “legalism.” Those of ’em who like to bash religion will correctly call it religion, but in their minds this means dead religion—it’s an unnecessary practice which doesn’t bring us any closer to God.

In that, they’re wrong. Fasting, if we do it right, rejects the idols we can make of our palate, our stomach, and one’s reputation as a discriminating foodie. Fasting rejects a material need in favor of spiritual things.

Because irreligious people reject nothing, this is gonna bug them. A lot. So they need to drag you back down to their level, and then they won’t feel so bad about themselves: “You quit your religious nonsense, proving I was right.” Nah, it only proves you’re susceptible to peer pressure. And if that’s the case, maybe stay away from such people, and work on your self-control. (Conveniently, fasting helps!)

Part of the reason Jesus told us not to play up the fact we’re fasting, Lk 6.16-18 is because we don’t need the public acclaim… and neither do we need the hassle of irreligious people mocking our devotion and trying to make us stumble. And, if we promised God or others we’d fast, trying to make us sin. But you realize if they have no idea we’re fasting, they’re not gonna try to sabotage us: They shouldn’t know any different. If we cancel lunch, they’re not gonna assume, “It’s ’cause you’re fasting, isn’t it?” Don’t promote your practices, and you shouldn’t encounter any intentional backlash from anyone.

Nope, the only temptations you’ll have to fight are the usual temptations in life: The coworker who puts doughnuts in the break room, the neighbors who leave the windows open when they’re frying bacon, the husband forgets you’re fasting and brings home a pizza… You know, life. It happens. Exercise that self-control!

“Fasting” from one thing at a time.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 February

When it comes to fasting, many Christians wanna know what’s the very least we can fast for it to “count.”

Two thoughts.

First of all I gotta ask them whether they’re fasting for the right reasons. We’re not obligated to fast: God never commanded it, and we’re not disobeying him when we skip a fast, break a fast, “cheat” on a fast, or diet instead of fasting. True, our churches might want us to fast, and legalistic churches will even require it. But unless you swore to God you’d fast along with ’em, you’re not sinning if you don’t fast. (And of course lying about it, or pretending you’re fasting when you’re not, is always wrong.)

Likewise I don’t want people to think we fast so we can earn karmic points with God. Again, he never obligates us to fast. It’s a practice we do. It helps us focus on him in prayer, and helps us develop self-control. (And even if God did order us to fast, he doesn’t “owe us” once we obey; obedience is our duty. Lk 17.10 What, did you not get enough participation trophies in youth soccer?)

Second I don’t assume Christians are lazy when they want a bare-minimum “fast.” Yeah, sometimes it’s totally that; we just wanna claim we’re fasting, even though our “fast” makes a minimal interruption in our lives. But more often it’s because fasting is hardcore. And admittedly, we’re weak. Going without food for a whole day? We’ll crack by 10AM! We’ll walk into the break room, someone will have brought doughnuts, and we’ll hold out maybe an hour. But knowing ourselves, less—a warm Krispy Kreme doughnut is a powerful thing.

I don’t say this to condemn weak Christians. Every last one of us was a weak Christian at one point. (Me, many points. Probably you too.) So if you’re still weak, I’m here to help, not judge or mock. You gotta build self-control. Fasting is the best way to do it, but it’s wise to start small and work your way up. Y’don’t just tackle the very hardest practices, and presume you’ll be a natural ’cause now you have Holy Spirit power. Fast small before you fast big.

So, the very least we can fast is one thing.

And this is a very common Christian practice. Some Christians do it every year, for Lent. Traditional Lenten custom is to give up meat and alcohol—at least on Friday and Saturday—plus one extra thing, which they do without every day till Easter. But the usual American custom is to skip the dietary restrictions, and just focus on giving up that one thing.

I’m not saying you have to observe Lent. Start even smaller. Abstain for a week. See how you do. If you fail—and you may—try again.

Abstaining from the wrong thing.

Every time Lent comes round, Christians like to ask one another what we’re giving up this year. And if I’ve not yet chosen anything—or if I don’t feel like sharing—I tend to joke about it. Fr’instance I’ll say, “I’m giving up fruits and vegetables.” That tends to throw ’em. Or “I’m giving up cocaine and meth”—and if people don’t know me very well, but they’ve already noticed I’m kinda hyperactive, they’ll assume that’s why, and respond, “Um… well that’s good!” Um… yes it is. That’s not why. But whatever.

Whenever I talked about Lent with my students, some of ’em would pick things they really shouldn’t give up, or kinda couldn’t give up. One kid declared, “I’m gonna give up bathing!” And the rest of the class immediately objected: He already smelled much too much like foot cheese. In fact this is the one example Jesus used when he taught us to not be obvious we’re fasting: Clean your hair and wash your face. Mt 6.16-18 For the love of God, bathe!

Likewise sleep. Many people really don’t get enough sleep as it is. Yet I’ve heard of Christians deciding they’re gonna limit themselves to six or four hours of sleep a night, with no naps to make up for it. And that’s nuts. People go crazy, or die, from sleep deprivation. I’ve seen a guy lose his mind from it, firsthand. Don’t do that! If you’re sleeping too much, check with a doctor to see whether you’re suffering from sleep disorders or clinical depression, but otherwise get proper sleep. You need it.

Certain Christians get the warped idea fasting is a form of suffering—that our times of fasting are best used in punishing ourselves for sin, or to get God’s sympathy, or so we can better relate to other people who are suffering. So they pick things that’ll make ’em suffer: They give up warmth, and sleep outside in the cold. They give up water, so they can experience true thirst. They add discomforts, and deliberately hurt themselves. Christian history is full of such examples, and none of this is God’s idea: Yes, suffering is part of the world we live in, Jn 16.33 but Jesus came to end suffering, not inspire people to make ourselves suffer all the more. Don’t hurt yourself!

Lastly, people who pick something they should’ve given up anyway. I already mentioned cocaine and methamphetamine: If you’re doing that, stop! Don’t just fast from cigarettes for a week; quit altogether. If you’re alcoholic or an addict of any sort, join a recovery or 12-step group; go to rehab. If it’s a habitual sin, repent and resist the temptation to ever go back to it. Don’t just give it up for a week, then fall right back in: Give it up forever.

Working on the one thing.

Okay. When we pick the one thing we’re gonna give up, whether for a day, a week, or for Lent, I usually advise people to look for the one habit we’re pretty sure we can’t give up. Something we really don’t wanna give up. Something that’s a real challenge. Like coffee, beer, watching sports (especially during playoffs, and Major League Baseball’s opening day, which almost always lands during Lent), bread, meat, social media, television, betting, video games… anything you habitually do, but can do without.

Instead of that thing you’ve given up, pray. Any time you’re tempted to slip up on your fast, pray. Yep, it means you’re gonna pray more often. That’s the point.

Start abstaining for a day. Get to a point when a day isn’t really a challenge anymore; then escalate things to three days. Then a week. Then tackle a month, or 40 days, or Lent.

If you slip up, don’t start over, as if to punish yourself with more fasting. Fasting isn’t punishment! And stretching it out really isn’t gonna develop your self-control any more than usual. Give yourself some grace, same as God gives you, and just go back to fasting. Do better next time.

And if it gets too easy, pick a different thing to give up. For four years I gave up coffee for Lent, and by the fourth year I discovered coffee wasn’t a challenge any more: I had grown too used to the idea, “It’s Lent, so no coffee.” I switched it to bagels the next year… and suddenly doing without got way harder. Hey, some areas in our life are far more under our control than others.

But everything we choose to do, should be wholly under our control—and we should be under Jesus’s control. So work on that self-control.

Can we really ask God for anything we want?

by K.W. Leslie, 31 January

Matthew 7.7-11, Luke 11.9-13, John 14.13-14, 15.7, 16.24.

These passages are found in the middle of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, in Jesus’s teaching on prayer requests in Luke, and as part of Jesus’s Last Supper lesson in John. Obviously the Matthew and Luke bits line up more neatly than the John bits, but the same idea is found in the John verses.

I tend to summarize this idea as “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” If we want something from Jesus, ask! It’s okay for us to do that. He does take prayer requests.

Matthew 7.7-11 KWL
7 “Ask!—it’ll be given you. Look!—you’ll find it. Knock!—it’ll be unlocked for you.
8 For all who ask receive, who seek find, who knock God’ll unlock for.
9 Same as any of you people. Your child will ask you for bread; you won’t give them a cobblestone.
10 Or they’ll ask you for fish; you won’t give them a snake.
11 So if you’re evil, yet knew to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?”
 
Luke 11.9-13 KWL
9 “And I tell you all: Ask!—it’ll be given you. Look!—you’ll find it. Knock!—it’ll be unlocked for you.
10 For all who ask receive, who seek find, who knock God’ll unlock for.
11 Any parent from among you: Your child will ask for fish,
and instead of fish do you give them a snake?
12 Or they’ll ask for an egg; do you give them a scorpion?
13 So if you evildoers knew to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
 
John 14.13-14 KWL
13 “You can ask whatever in my name. I’ll do it so, in the Son, the Father can be thought well of.
14 When what you ask me is in my name, I’ll do it.”
 
John 15.7 KWL
“When you stay in me and my words stay in you,
whenever you want, ask! It’ll happen for you.”
 
John 16.24 KWL
“Till now you’ve never asked anything in my name.
Ask!—and you’ll receive, so your joy can be fulfilled.”

This needs to be said, ’cause some folks don’t really believe it is okay to ask God for stuff.

When I was a kid, I’d ask my parents for stuff, sorta like the kids in Jesus’s examples. Except those kids asked for bread, fish, and eggs; and I’d ask for a Commodore 64. Sometimes my parents gave me what I asked for. Other times, not so much. Computers weren’t cheap.

When I got persistent—when I wouldn’t take no for an answer, and kept right on asking, seeking, knocking—they’d respond, “Would you stop asking?” Not just because they didn’t want me to have these things: Sometimes they did, but they wanted me to learn to do it myself, or earn money and buy ’em myself. Or otherwise learn to be independent, and grow up.

And sometimes they’d pull this sort of evil stunt: Say yes, just so I’d suffer the consequences.


Calvin and Hobbes, 25 May 1986. Calvin’s mom teaches him an unnecessary “little lesson.” GoComics

The punchline—“Trusting parents can be hazardous to your health”—is exactly right. Calvin’s mom thought she was teaching him a valuable lesson. She was, but she didn’t do it in a kind way. She did it in a cruel way: She didn’t warn him away from the consequences. She let him suffer them, and suffer ’em even more by surprise. And because humans do this, sometimes we wonder whether God’ll do likewise: God says yes, and we ironically find out we didn’t want this at all. Meanwhile, up in heaven, he chuckles at our hubris. Ps 2.4

No. God is not a dick. He’s not secretly evil, plotting our downfall for his amusement or entertainment. Read the Prophets: He warns his people away from the consequences. Why suffer when you don’t have to? Ek 33.11 Turn to God and live!

God wants to give good things to his children, Mt 7.11 and for us to experience the joy of getting what we ask for. Jn 16.24 He wants to give us his kingdom. Lk 12.32 Starting with answered prayer requests.

But seriously, anything we ask?

There are a number of “name it and claim it” Christians who take these and similar verses, and teach, “It’s how prayer works! Name everything you want, claim ’em in the name of Jesus, believe you will have them, and God’ll give ’em to you. If you don’t get ’em, it’s only because you didn’t have enough faith. You gotta believe. Believe harder.”

Any of that true? Nope. Because it’s based on imaginary faith, not the real stuff. It’s based on wishing things into being. True, these folks don’t claim they’re doing it under their own power, but God’s. Because once you start claiming you have the power to wish things into being, you’ve crossed the line from wishful thinking to magic.

And no fooling, some Christians do believe in magic. They claim when God made humans in his image, he gave us the power to create like he does, and speak things into existence same as he does. The Christian Science church really took this idea and ran with it: They claim reality is a construct of the mind, and all you gotta do is believe really hard, and you can alter reality. Abracadabra!

In real life, experience has demonstrated we don’t always get what we request. Sometimes God tells us no. We’ll ask things for selfish reasons, fleshly reasons, fearful reasons, dark reasons. Not godly ones. Jm 4.3

We got lots of examples in the bible. The apostles James and John wanted to call down fire on a city full of innocent Samaritans. Lk 9.54 Paul wanted an ailment taken away—understandably, but God felt it was better he suffer from it. 1Co 12.7-9 Even Jesus asked to not be crucified. Mk 14.36 That’s right, Jesus asked for something, in his own name, and of all the people in the cosmos to get a “yes” answer, you’d think it’d be him! But he acknowledged that in his mission to earth, the Father’s will took priority over his own. Mk 14.36 And in our missions in his kingdom, God’s will must take priority over ours.

It sometimes appears God has granted a wrong-headed request. And wrong-headed Christians may claim it’s because God grants our requests no matter what. Really it’s because God wants to do these things for his own independent reasons; not because of our warped motives. A selfish evangelist may want a roomful of people saved so he can brag about how many he led to Jesus, but God wants ’em saved because he loves them. Jn 3.16

Hence getting what we ask is only guaranteed to those of us who truly follow Jesus. Jn 15.7 It’s only guaranteed to those who trust God with the results—not those who wanna second-guess him, or nitpick whatever we get, as James warned his readers when it comes to asking for wisdom. Jm 1.6-7 God’s looking for the right attitude in his petitioners: Obedience and repentance, not pride, stubbornness, rebellion, and greed. Not that he can’t be gracious and patient with people who are trying to overcome those bad attitudes, Ro 9.18 but remember, we don’t tend to get favors from people when we’re doing what we know annoys them.

Motive’s important. Attitude’s important. Humility’s important. Don’t pray without ’em.

God wants to give good gifts.

Matthew 7.11 KWL
“So if you’re evil, yet knew to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?”

The Greek word in question is ἀγαθὰ/ayathá, “good.” (Nice to know bible translators are on their game, huh?)

In other words not bad gifts. Not gifts which, though we consider ’em the most awesome things ever, and solve our problems perfectly, turn out to backfire and wreck us like a Twilight Zone episode. God doesn’t fulfill our requests so, like Calvin’s mom, he can teach us an ironic lesson. He’s a good God, not a passive-aggressive one.

When I chide parents for pulling such stunts, it tends to rub ’em the wrong way. Some of ’em think aversion therapy is the very best way to teach kids. It’s the “school of hard knocks.” Toughens ’em up. Teaches ’em life’s lessons the hard way. Burn your hand, and you’ll never touch a hot stove again. Get scratched, and you’ll never pull the cat’s tail again. Puke heavily, then suffer a raging hangover, and you’ll never get drunk again. As if that ever stopped teenagers.

Frankly, that’s careless, reckless, evil parenting. Fr’instance, imagine Calvin asked his mom if he could play with Grandpa’s handgun, and she answered just as cavalierly: “Sure; just do it outside.” Crank up the volume on the circumstances, and now we can recognize the evil in it.

Whereas God’s parenting style is not to teach us the hard way. It may appear that way to people who superficially read the Old Testament. They read Judges and assume every time the Hebrews sinned, the LORD sicced their enemies on them. Nuh-uh. Read those passages again. These people sinned for years, even decades—with plenty of warnings from angels, prophets, priests, judges, and the bible, to repent and turn back to God. They didn’t listen, so God let the next step in the cycle happen. He’s patient, y’know. We’re not, and claiming God’s as impatient as we are, is simply projecting our evil values upon our loving Father.

God’s a good Father. He doesn’t parent us by tossing us into the woods, Spartan-style, with nothing but a pointed stick and a compass, demanding we claw our way into his kingdom despite the horrors of the forest. He warns us away from such things. Explicitly. Read your bible.

So if your 5-year-old daughter is hungry, you don’t figure, “Time to teach her to fend for herself,” and make her hunt pigeons in the backyard. You might tell her to go get some breakfast cereal from the pantry, but you stocked the pantry. Nor will you surprise her with poisonous food: Bread full of grit, Mt 7.9 or scorpion eggs. Lk 11.12 Unless you’re a sick, abusive parent, you’re gonna feed your kids. Why not give ’em bread or eggs, if you have ’em?

Pride and prayer requests.

From time to time, I come across Christians who look at prayer requests as a major hurdle. Y’see, they were raised to be independent. They’re quite proud of their independence and resourcefulness. To them, asking God for stuff—begging God for stuff—bugs them greatly. They don’t like the idea of being dependent on anyone. Not even their heavenly Father.

I know a lot of libertarians who hate the very idea of dependence. It offends them. They’re outraged when people get something without working for it. (You know, grace.) They don’t want charity or aid or freebies; if they fail, they’re okay with suffering the deprivation, and if others fail, they’re okay with them starving to death or dying. Survival of the fittest is nature’s way, after all.

Yep, it’s a pride thing. Precisely the sort of pride God opposes. Jm 4.6 The reason God tends to answer few of their prayers, is because they don’t ask for stuff when they pray. They only praise him, or acknowledge him, but they never ask for stuff. Some of ’em were even raised to think it’s wrong to; that “God helps those who help themselves.” They put their trust their own ability. Not God. And once they’re unable to do for themselves, strangely enough, they begin to lose faith in God—as if the only way he provides is through their own ability. But the sad thing is he never did provide for them; they never called on him!

It’s not a new attitude. Jesus instructed his own students:

John 16.24 KWL
“Till now you’ve never asked anything in my name.
Ask!—and you’ll receive, so your joy can be fulfilled.”

The kids didn’t really know they could ask and receive. They’d seen Jesus ask and receive, but they assumed he was successful ’cause he was extra-special, ’cause he’s Jesus. A lot of us Christians think the very same way: Jesus could do it, but we can’t. Well, Jesus wanted it made clear we can so. Ask in Jesus’s name, and you’ll get as Jesus got. You’ll get answered like Jesus was answered. Because you know Jesus—and because you’re asking for stuff with the very same attitude, motive, and faith.

God wants to help. It’s “so your joy can be fulfilled,” Jn 16.24 —so God can make us happy! So our prayer requests produce prayer results, and we can rejoice in our generous God, and share those stories with people who wonder whether God’s even out there. It’s so “the Father can be thought well of.” Jn 14.13 People definitely aren’t gonna be impressed by a Father who blesses selfish jerks, so we’d better correct our attitudes before we ask him for stuff.

So let’s work on that. Get rid of that pride. Remember he only wants our best. And ask.

When you fast, keep it private.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 November

Matthew 6.16-18.

Believe it or don’t, some Evangelicals have no tradition of fasting. I run into ’em from time to time, and when I talk fasting, they’re quick to reject it: “That’s an Old Testament thing,” and “Jesus never told us to fast.”

True to both. The LORD never commanded fasting in all of scripture. Fasting has always been voluntary; nobody has to fast. But certain churches do promote it. Might be a Daniel fast at the beginning of the year, a Lenten fast before Easter, an Advent fast before Christmas, a partisan fast before Election Day. And peer pressure aside, nobody has to fast. They’re voluntary customs. You can opt out. Don’t even need special permission from the clergy… although every year when St. Patrick’s Day falls in mid-Lent, many a Catholic who wants to get plowed will beg their bishop for a one-day pass.

But the way Jesus talks in his Sermon on the Mount, he totally expects his followers to fast.

Bear in mind his audience was full of Pharisees. Pharisee custom was to fast twice a week… and Jesus may not have expected them to keep that same rate going, but he did expect them to fast once in a while. And according to the Didache, the ancient Christians totally did. 8.1

Jesus himself fasted in the desert. While he was notorious for ignoring customary Pharisee fast days, he never banned fasting. Never declared it a done-away-with custom. It’s in the Sermon on the Mount, remember? “When you fast” means sometimes you’re gonna fast.

And if you don’t—if you never engage in any hardcore prayer practices, which is precisely what fasting is—don’t expect your relationship with God to grow as quickly as it will among the Christians who do fast.

So yeah, Jesus never banned fasting. It’s just when we do it, doesn’t want us to be hypocrites about it. Really that’s his only rule about fasting. One we’d better make sure we follow when we do it.

Matthew 6.16-18
16 “When you fast, don’t be like the sad-looking hypocrites
who conceal their faces so they look to people like they’re fasting.
Amen! I promise you all, they got their credit.
17 You who fast: Fix your hair and wash your face,
18 so you don’t look to people like you’re fasting, except to your Father in private.
And your Father, who sees what’s private, will repay you.”

Sad to say, a lot of Christians don’t follow this rule, and do let everyone know we’re fasting. Like our families and fellow Christians. And sometimes pagans, like coworkers and waiters and anybody whom we tell, “Oh I can’t eat that; I’m on a fast.” Well aren’t you the holy one.

Jesus wants us to keep our mouths shut about it. Because it’s nobody’s business that we’re fasting. It’s a private matter, between us and God, and that’s it. You keep it as confidential as if you just soiled your pants: Tell nobody unless you absolutely have to. Got it?

Prayer’s one prerequisite: Forgiveness.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 November

Mark 11.25, Matthew 6.14-15, 18.21-35.

Jesus told us in the Lord’s Prayer we gotta pray,

Matthew 6.12 BCP
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.

He elaborated on this in his Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 6.14-15 KWL
14 “When you forgive people their misdeeds, your heavenly Father will forgive you.
15 When you can’t forgive people, your Father won’t forgive your misdeeds either.”

And in Mark’s variant of the same teaching:

Mark 11.25 KWL
“Whenever you stand up to pray, forgive whatever you have against anyone.
Thus your Father, who’s in heaven, can forgive you your misdeeds.”

He elaborated on it even more in his Unforgiving Slave story.

Matthew 18.21-35 KWL
21 Simon Peter came and told Jesus, “Master, how often will my fellow Christian sin against me, and I’ll have to forgive them? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus told him,
“I don’t say ‘as many as seven times,’
but as many as seven by seventy 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. As if our heavenly Father is gonna hand us over to torturers too. No; he’s gonna leave us to our own devices, and without his protection it’s gonna feel like torture.

But fixating on this torture stuff misses the point. God shows us infinite mercy. What kind of ingrates are we when we don’t pay his mercy forward?

For thine is the kingdom…

by K.W. Leslie, 22 October

Matthew 6.13.

At the end of the Lord’s Prayer, in both the well-known Book of Common Prayer version and the King James Version, it ends with this line:

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

It comes from the Didache, an instruction manual for new Christians written in the first century. Yep, around the same time the New Testament was written. Its version of the Lord’s Prayer includes that line, whereas the oldest copies of Matthew do not. But because a lot of ancient Christians used the Didache to instruct new Christians, a lot of ’em were taught the Didache version of the Lord’s Prayer… and that last line gradually worked its way into ancient copies of Matthew. And from there into the Vulgate, the Textus Receptus, the Lutherbibel, the Geneva Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and the King James Version.

So it’s not from the bible? No it actually is from the bible. But it’s from Daniel, not Jesus. Comes from this verse:

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.

Jesus didn’t end his prayer with “Amen,” which quickly became a Christian custom, so the authors of the Didache wanted to include it. And while they were at it, a nice worshipful closing. ’Cause the Ancient of Days is gonna grant the Son his kingdom, and authority (i.e. power), and honor (i.e. glory), forever and ever. It’s all true, so there’s nothing at all wrong with saying and praying it.

But no, Jesus didn’t tell us to say it. So it’s optional.

So if you wanna get all literalist—and a little bit legalist—fine; pray the Lord’s Prayer without the added-on line. But it’s not gonna hurt you, at all, to say it. In fact it’s a useful reminder Jesus is coming back to establish his kingdom on earth—which’ll be awesome!—and he’s gonna have authority and honor, and his kingdom is gonna last a mighty long time… and even outlast the earth itself.

And hopefully the people who prefer the Book of Common Prayer version don’t clash with the KJV fans, because the KJV only has “for ever” instead of “forever and ever.” Y’all need to make accommodations for one another, instead of demanding uniformity. We’re all saying the Lord’s Prayer here; the intent, not the translation, is what matters.

Deliver us from evil.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 October

Matthew 6.13.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus has us pray not to be led to temptation—properly, not put to the test, whether such tests tempt us or not. Instead, in contrast, we should pray we be delivered from evil.

Matthew 6.13 KJV
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

The original text is ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ/allá rýsë imás apó tu ponirú, “but rescue us from the evil.”

Now. The Greek τοῦ/tu is what grammarians call a determiner, although I’m pretty sure your English teachers called it a definite article, ’cause that’s what English determiners usually do: This noun is a particular noun. When you refer to “the bus,” you don’t mean a bus, any ol’ generic interchangeable bus; you mean the bus, this bus, a specific bus, a definite bus.

So when people translate tu ponirú, they assume the Greek determiner is a definite article: Jesus is saying, “Rescue us from the evil.” Not evil in general; not all the evil we’ll come across in life. No no no. This is a definite evil. It’s the evil. You gotta personify it.

Is it “debts” or “trespasses”?

by K.W. Leslie, 30 September

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.

Daily bread.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 September

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.

Thy kingdom come.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 September

Matthew 6.10, Luke 11.2.

Matthew 6.10 KWL
“Make your kingdom come. Make your will happen both in heaven and on earth.”
 
Luke 11.2 KWL
Jesus told them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father!
Sanctify your name. Bring your kingdom.’ ”

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to ask our Father ἐλθέτω 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.