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

Can’t hear God? Read your bible!

by K.W. Leslie, 31 May

Prayer is talking with God, and the emphasis is on with God: Yeah we talk to him, but it’s not a one way-monologue where he doesn’t speak back. We don’t presume, like pagans do, that God’ll tell us stuff like “the universe” does—with omens, signs, coincidences, and other superstitions which can easily be misinterpreted, same as all natural revelations. We talk, and God definitely talks back.

That is… till he doesn’t.

’Cause sometimes we can’t seem to hear him. Much as we try, we can’t detect what he’s telling us. Sometimes because we’re too stubborn or impatient to listen. Sometimes because haven’t listened to the last thing he told us to do, so he’s waiting for us to act on that before he tells us anything more. (Oho, didn’t think of that one, did you?) And sometimes because we’re listening to him instead of reading our bibles.

Y’see, too many of us Christians get into the bad habit of not reading the scriptures. And once we’ve learned to hear God, we figure, “Why bother?” God already tells us what we need to know! Why dig around some 2,000-year-old book for answers when we can just ask our Father, “Hey, what do I need to know rght now?” I mean, if it really is a need-to-know deal, God’ll come through, right?

Yeah, it’s immature behavior. It’s like a history student skipping the textbook, and asking Siri or Google for the answers to every line on the take-home exam.

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. We’re to be like Jesus, remember?

So from time to time, when he feels we need to crack our bibles and get back into ’em, God puts his side of the conversation on pause. 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.

The “Forgive me” prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 May

Part of the Lord’s Prayer is the line, “Forgive us our sins.” Or “Forgive us our debts,” or “Forgive us our trespasses”; it all depends on the translation. Jesus goes on: “As we forgive those who sin against/trespass against/are indebted to us.” It’s one line in the whole of the prayer.

But there’s a whole category of prayer which consists of begging God’s forgiveness for sins. Sometimes it’s a part of a bargain with God—we wanna ask him for stuff, and we wanna first make sure we have a clean slate with him before we start negotiating. But most of the time it’s because we’ve sinned, we know it, we feel bad or guilty about it, and we wanna repent and get right with God.

Emotions vary. Some of us get mighty weepy. Lying on the floor, mascara running, blubbering, sobbing, snot pouring out of our noses, and so forth.

I’m not one of those. I’m the type which is really annoyed with myself for repeating the same stupid sins. Far less weeping; far more angry self-recrimination. Still others are upset, frustrated, embarrassed, exasperated, resigned, furious, woebegone… There’s no one way people feel, and they won’t always feel the same way every single time. But the one thing we have in common isn’t emotion, but unhappiness. We fell short of God’s glory. So we repent.

(Well… some of us don’t repent. We don’t like being on the wrong side of God, and wanna rectify that. But we don’t really have any plan to change our behavior any. I’ll discuss that rotten attitude another time.)

There are two ways Christians approach the “Forgive me” prayer. Some of us are just crushed by it. Others of us are blasé: “Hey, sin’s a part of life, and God knows I’m not perfect.” There are attitudes in between, but these are the main two extremes I find in Christians: Those who worry we’re taxing the limits of God’s grace, and those who take this grace way too much for granted. There’s a happy medium in there somewhere. That’s what we should seek. Sin should bother us… but God has us covered! 1Jn 2.1 So repentance shouldn’t be a regular meltdown. Grace should take away all the extremes, and leave us feeling sorry, but not bothered.

Hearing God. It’s vital!

by K.W. Leslie, 10 May

Prayer is of course talking with God: We talk to him and he talks back. It’s not a complicated idea—though Christians obviously overcomplicate it all sorts of ways.

And because it’s talking with God—’cause he talks back—prayer is therefore the most common, usual way God communicates with people.

Yep, even more common than bible. I know; I’m fully aware plenty of Christians claim bible is the only way God communicates with people. They believe this because it’s what they’ve been taught: “God doesn’t talk to people anymore, so stop trying to hear him and read your bible.” And hey, if you shut your ears to everything God tells you in prayer, in dreams, through prophets, or even full-on personal appearances, of course you’re gonna claim he only communicates through bible. It’s like someone who throws out their phone and computer, burns their mail, refuses to interact with anyone in person, and only communicates by carrier pigeon: Okay, guess we’d better get some carrier pigeons. God’s frequently willing to work around our ridiculous arbitrary rules. But for normal people, we pray and he talks back.

I’m also aware there are Christians who insist they don’t hear anything. They’ve tried hearing God, but they got nothing. So they gave up and presume prayer is unidirectional: We talk, he hears, but he says nothing—’cause he doesn’t need to say anything, ’cause he said everything he cares to say in the scriptures. Such people are easily swayed into believing God only talks through bible. You can find whole churches full of people who claim they never, ever hear God in their prayers.

But you’ll also find that’s what they tell you when other people from their church are around. In private, they’ll confess they did hear God once. Or twice. Or all the time.

And hearing God is confirmed by the scriptures. All over the scriptures. ’Cause the guys who wrote the scriptures heard God, and they’re writing about other people who likewise heard God. The whole reason there are scriptures in the first place is because people hear God. Yeah, certain cessationists are gonna claim prophecy doesn’t work that way; that prophets opened their mouths, God took ’em over like a ventriloquist manhandles a puppet, and his voice came out of ’em. Or his words flowed from their pens. Whichever. But that’s more like the mumbo-jumbo we find among Spiritualists and pagan religions; it’s not at all how God works. The prophets came to God with questions—

Habakkuk 1.2-4 GNT
2 O LORD, how long must I call for help before you listen, before you save us from violence? 3 Why do you make me see such trouble? How can you stand to look on such wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are all around me, and there is fighting and quarreling everywhere. 4 The law is weak and useless, and justice is never done. Evil people get the better of the righteous, and so justice is perverted.

—and God responds with answers.

Habakkuk 1.5 GNT
Then the LORD said to his people, “Keep watching the nations around you, and you will be astonished at what you see. I am going to do something that you will not believe when you hear about it.”

(Followed by an answer they probably didn’t like at all—if you keep reading Habakkuk.)

This is why prayer and prophecy is so closely connected: It’s how God gives prophets his messages for other people. We’ll ask God questions; he’ll give answers, and add, “Tell this to others.” ’Cause other Christians have the same questions, and God’s answer applies to them too.

But of course if you don’t pray—or you think all your prayers are unidirectional—you’re not gonna get prophecies like this. Or have any prophecies in your church at all. Or you’ll have what your preachers claim are “prophecies,” but they’re all angry, political, fruitless, and otherwise inconsistent with God’s character.

“Praying right.”

by K.W. Leslie, 03 May

Prayer is, as I’ve said, simply talking with God. But for many Christians, it’s a profound ritual which connects us with the divine… so that we can get stuff from him.

This is why their focus is so much on effective prayer. On powerful prayer, and how “the power of prayer” can change one’s life. On appeasing God… as if he’s a petty human oligarch who won’t give us what we want unless we suck up to him in just the right ways, and if we get any one part of the ritual wrong, “Whoops! Didn’t do that right. No grace for you.”

From time to time I get rebuked for “praying wrong.” For not being formal enough, not bowing my head, not closing my eyes, not being solemn enough (or at all; I have no problem making jokes with God), not taking my hat off. I remind you when the LORD first spoke to Moses, he never told him to remove his keffiyeh; only his shoes. Ex 3.5 But y’know, different cultures.

The idea that we activate prayer through our good works, is of course crap. But popular crap. And because the people who practice this crap will actually get their prayers answered—not because they did the rituals right, but because God is good; it’s correlation not causation—they’re convinced the crap works. You’re never gonna change their minds about it. I’ve tried; I’ve failed.

Since they are still legitimately talking with God, I figure that’s the important thing. Yeah they’re wasting their own time and effort in trying to talk with him “right,” and they unnecessarily agitate themselves over the rest of us who “boldly approach the throne of grace” He 4.15 i.e. approach God informally, ’cause we can, ’cause he’s Dad. But don’t let them bug you. Talk with God, and don’t fret at all about making sure you’ve prostrated yourself properly. He doesn’t care about that, and we shouldn’t either.


by K.W. Leslie, 26 April

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

Yeah, you’d be surprised how many people, including us Christians, claim it’s way more, and way more complicated, than that. To them, prayer is a profound mystical and spiritual undertaking. It’s a connection with God which links our entire being to him. Done right, we don’t just communicate with him, but commune with him; we become one with him. It must only be done thoughtfully, seriously, soberly, and ritually. Only then will it work.

Thing is, when you’re just talking with anyone, like your parents, kids, spouse, best friend, whomever: Sometimes these conversations can likewise feel like a profound thing. Sometimes you feel so connected with them, you feel like you’ve connected on multiple deep levels; you might even feel like you’re one with them. These conversations work. That’s why we can say the very same things about praying to God—because it is the very same thing.

These folks simply have an over-romanticized, over-spiritualized idea of what prayer is. Which is why they’re so loath to give up the idea and admit we’re just talking.

Our English word “pray” used to mean “beg,” as in the King James Version’s many uses of “I pray thee.” Ge 18.3 KJV, etc. Most instances of “pray” in the Old Testament have to do with begging God—same as a lot of instances nowadays. Most prayers are requests. Nothing wrong with that, but this idea of begging is pretty deeply embedded in our ideas about prayer. Begging is why humans have all these rituals and postures involved with praying: It’s what humans demand of the people who came to them with requests. They want us to humiliate ourselves and suck up to them. So we basically teach our fellow Christians we oughta approach God the very same way.

And we don’t need to. God is not a dick!

Hebrews 4.15 KJV
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Y’know what “coming boldly unto the throne” means? It’s not like serfs approaching their feudal lord, with bows and curtseys and facing the ground lest they make eye contact. It’s like when the lord’s 5-year-old daughter comes into the room, climbs into his lap, and hugs him while he’s trying to be all lordly—and he lets her ’cause he loves her. We don’t have to be formal and ritualistic with God when we pray: He’s our dad. Acting like he’s not—like he’s that feudal lord whom we have to appease before we can get anything out of him—means we don’t really know him at all.

And not all prayer consists of begging God for stuff. Sometimes we’re thanking him. Sometimes it’s praise. Sometimes apologies: We screwed up, and we’re acknowledging this. Sometimes we’re sharing with him what we’re going through, or venting our frustrations or outrage. Sometimes we have questions and know God has answers.

Basically all the same reasons we humans talk to one another, we talk with God.

Yeah, sometimes prayer even consists of lying and gossip. Shouldn’t, but we don’t always realize what we should and shouldn’t tell him. But even so: Prayer is just talking.

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

by K.W. Leslie, 01 March

Lent is the English term for the 40-day period before Easter in which Christians fast, abstain, and otherwise practice self-control. (Assuming we practice such things at all.) In Latin it’s called quadragesima and in Greek it’s σαρακοστή/sarakostí, short for τεσσαρκοστή/tessarkostí—both of which mean “fortieth,” ’cause 40 days.

It starts Ash Wednesday, which isn’t 40 precise days before Easter; it’s 46. That’s because the six Sundays before Easter aren’t included. You don’t fast on feast days, and Sabbath is a feast day; it’s when we take a weekly break from our Lenten fasts. Many Christians don’t realize this, and wind up fasting Sundays too—since they’ve got that abstention momentum going anyway.

And for eastern Christians, Lent begins the week before Ash Wednesday, on Clean Monday. Partly because they don’t skip Sundays, and fast that day too; and partly ’cause their Lenten fast consists of the 40 days before Holy Week. Then they have a whole different fast for that week.

But no matter how you arrange it, all the fasting is finished by Easter.

Just as Jesus went without food 40 days in the wilderness, we go without… well, something. The first Christians who practiced Lent likely went all hardcore, and went without food and water. And after this practice gravely injured or killed enough of ’em, the early Christians decided maybe it’s wiser to stick to bread and water, or a vegan diet. Or, as American Catholics practice it nowadays, go without meat on Friday and Saturday. (Though for various iffy reasons, fish is considered an exception.)

Protestant custom is usually to cut back to two meals a day, then give up one extra something. Abstaining from the one thing has leaked back into popular culture and Catholicism, so now most pagans and many Christians think Lent only consists of giving up the one thing. Preferably something difficult: Giving up coffee or alcohol, chocolate or carbs, watching sports or playing video games, or anything we originally tried to give up for New Year and failed at.

Whenever I’m asked what I’m doing without for Lent, I tend to joke, “I’m giving up fruits and vegetables. Nothing but coffee and Goldfish crackers till Easter.” The kids like to joke, “I’ll give up smoking,” since they already don’t smoke. (They might vape though.)

But all joking aside, abstaining from one thing isn’t a bad custom. And we’re not giving it up for Lent; properly we’re giving it up for Jesus.

So once we recognize this, we need to ask ourselves: Exactly how does this benefit Jesus? How will it grow our relationship with him? Does it grow our relationship with him?—are we abstaining because this is something we want, or he wants? Didja bother to ask him what he actually wants us to do without?

That’s most of the reason Christians pick something difficult to abstain from. It’s a reminder Jesus is infinitely more important than our favorite things. Really he should be our favorite thing, and during Lent that’s what he oughta become, in a far more obvious way than usual. And after Lent, oughta remain.

For this reason we shouldn’t just pick something we oughta give up anyway. If you figure, “I really oughta give up adultery for Lent”: Well duh. And you oughta give up adultery period. Don’t figure you’ll quit shoplifting, or verbally abusing people, or smacking your kids around… but only till Easter. Don’t save obeying God till Lent. Nor start sinning again once it’s Easter! Just stop.

Put some wisdom into your choice. The first time I abstained for Lent, I picked coffee. I love coffee. Makes sense to pick something which might have enough of a hold on me to tempt me. Problem is, when I have my coffee first thing in the morning, the first words out of my mouth are, “Thank you Jesus for coffee”—I’m in a thanksgiving mood. From there, I can go on to prayer, devotions, and other ways of honoring him. But when I don’t have that coffee, it takes longer to get into that mood. No, I’m not saying I need coffee to worship Jesus; that’s stupid. But dropping coffee doesn’t help. (And lest you’re worried about my caffeine addiction, I usually drink decaf. Not just for Lent.)

Don’t pick a Lenten fast which’ll irritate others, or cause them hardship. I unthinkingly did this myself one year: I went without meat. In itself it’s not a bad thing… but I attended a party, was given the duty of ordering pizza, and selfishly only thought of my fast: I ordered nothing but vegetable and cheese pizzas. The other folks in the party of course wanted meat. They didn’t appreciate how I’d convenienced myself but inconvenienced them: I was behaving exactly like one of those self-righteous vegans who impose their consciences on everyone else. Lots of fasting Christians do likewise: If the friends wanna go out to eat, they respond, “Not that restaurant; I’m fasting,” and demand all their friends accommodate their devotion. That’s actually selfishness disguised as devotion. Don’t do that.

My students used to joke, “I’ll give up bathing.” (Of course. They’re kids.) But they really, really needed to bathe. They smelled enough like foot cheese as it was. And lest you get any ideas, don’t you give up bathing. Fasting is supposed to be invisible. Mt 6.16-18 Plus it’s common courtesy to not outrage our neighbor’s noses for no good reason.

Putting something down… and taking something up.

Most people talk about giving something up for Lent. Not enough of us talk about practicing something new for Lent. ’Cause when we fast, we’re meant to pray instead of eat. So when you give up, say, caffeine for Lent, you’re meant to pray instead of drink. Do a little something extra for Jesus.

Do what? Up to you. Y’might block off a little extra time for prayer or bible-reading. Might join a prayer or study group. Might volunteer for charity work, or some other kind of regular Christian activity. Sometimes Christians have the goal of making this a regular practice in their lives, even beyond Lent. More often it’s just till Easter: If you gave up reading novels to read the bible, you oughta be finished with the bible by Easter, so back to the novels. Nothing wrong with that. Well, depending on the novels.

I’ve done special bible studies during Lent in previous years. Or extra prayer meetings, extra offerings and charitable donations, extra work directly with the needy; more so than usual. Some churches do something special during this time; get involved in it. If Lent is about extra focus on Jesus, we need to do more than passively focus on him by not doing something. We should act.

Opting out.

Yes, like all fasting, Lent is optional. God never mandated fasting in the scriptures: They’re human traditions and practices, invented by us Christians, like Christmas and Easter. We have plenty of freedom when it comes to how we observe ’em. That’s why customs vary from nation to nation, church to church, house to house.

True, some churches won’t leave it up to you. They’re definitely doing Lent, and expect you to join in. Roman Catholics, fr’instance: They’re really big on worshiping God together, corporately, in unity, as a group. Local bishops can determine exceptions, but in general if you’re a member of their church, you’re gonna do as your church does. If not, why are you even Catholic?

This is where Lent can turn into a sin: If anyone promises to do something, God holds us to our promises, especially when we swear to him we’ll do it. So if I join a church, I’ve obligated myself to participate in the life of that church. If I can’t do that, they need to be okay with it… or I need to find another church.

So when Catholics claim they’re observing Lent, but insist on doing it their own way instead of in a way their church approves of, they’re harming their relationship with their church. They’re violating any promises they made to their church. They’re often hiding their non-participation from others, yet pretending they’re fasting right along with everyone else. Yep, it’s hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is fraud, and fraud is sin.

You might have totally valid objections to the way your church does Lent. They might be too legalistic. Or you have health problems. Or your job gets in the way. Or, like every other Catholic-in-name-only on St. Patrick’s Day, you wanna get plowed on green Guinness. But you need to work these issues out with your church. Don’t just break their rules and your promises, and claim it’s freedom in Christ. Freedom in Christ isn’t freedom to sin. Ju 4

Are they too legalistic? Maybe they don’t realize it. Someone got overzealous, and didn’t know they were creating hardship. Hey, it’s not always because someone’s on a power trip. But even if it is a tinhorn dictator of a pastor trying to make everyone confirm, work this out. ’Cause if that’s the case, you really shouldn’t be at that church. And if it’s you, that needs to be dealt with too.

As for those Christians who don’t just skip Lent, but openly dismiss fasting in general, object to Christians who fast, and mock Lent in particular: This is exactly the sort of thing Paul wrote the Romans about.

Romans 14.5-13 NLT
5 In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6 Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. 7 For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. 8 If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead.
10 So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For the Scriptures say,
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD,
‘every knee will bend to me,
and every tongue will declare allegiance to God.’” Is 45.23
12 Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. 13 So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

Lent, practiced correctly, helps us Christians grow closer to Jesus. Ridicule (unless it’s to point out a legitimate flaw in our thinking) doesn’t help. Either do it or don’t, but don’t slam the people who are making an honest effort. Yeah, there are people who are only going through the motions to look good, and that’s all the reward they’ll get, Mt 6.1-6 because that’s really all the reward they want. But a lot of us are trying to grow our relationships with God by putting aside irrelevant things like food, drink, and entertainment.

And it just makes sense to do it before Easter, the day Jesus rose from the dead and revealed to us he really has defeated sin and death. That’s why, when Easter comes and we stop fasting, we can celebrate his victory all the more.

Lead us not into temptation.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 February

Matthew 6.13, Luke 11.4.

This part of the Lord’s Prayer gets controversial, because it sounds like our Lord’s brother James totally contradicted it when he wrote,

James 1.13-15 NRSVue
13 No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14 But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15 then, when that desire has conceived, it engenders sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.

So because James said God tempts nobody, people don’t know what to make of it when Jesus has us pray,

Matthew 6.13 NRSVue
“And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.”
Luke 11.4 NRSVue
“And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

’Cause praying that God not lead us into temptation, implies sometimes he might lead us into temptation.

Okay. The word in the Lord’s Prayer which popularly gets translated “temptation” in both Matthew and Luke, is πειρασμόν/peirasmón, “temptation, trial, test.” Yep, the translators got it right. It’s the noun-form of the verb James used, πειράζω/peirádzo. Means the same thing.

But while James said God tempts nobody, we got scriptures where it kinda looks like he does. Look up any Old Testament verses which include the word נָסָה/naçá, which means the same thing as peirádzo: Test. Try. Prove. Experiment. Tempt. Here, lemme quote just a few.

Genesis 22.1-2 NRSVue
1 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”
Deuteronomy 8.3 NRSVue
“He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
Deuteronomy 13.1-3 NRSVue
1 “If prophets or those who divine by dreams appear among you and promise you omens or portents, 2 and the omens or the portents declared by them take place, and they say, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (whom you have not known) ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you must not heed the words of those prophets or those who divine by dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you indeed love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul.”

Heck, David even told God to put him to the test:

Psalm 26.2 NRSVue
Prove me, O LORD, and try me;
test my heart and mind.

Not sure whether David passed that particular test; he was a horny fella. Definitely loved God though.

Anyway. How do we deal with this particular bible difficulty? Real simple: We remember James is wisdom literature.

The prayer warrior.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 January
PRAYER WARRIOR 'prɛr wɔr.i.ər noun. A prayer intercessor who believes this form of prayer is spiritual warfare.
[Prayer warfare 'prɛr wɔr.fɛr noun.]

As I’ve written elsewhere, spiritual warfare consists of resisting temptation. We gotta reject our selfish nature, and in so doing, resist the devil. Jm 4.7 It’s not a complicated idea. It’s just not easy to do. We really enjoy the things which tempt us; they wouldn’t tempt us otherwise! But we gotta resist.

But because actual spiritual warfare isn’t easy, it’s way easier to pick something else, anything else, and claim that’s spiritual warfare. Preferably something easy, and kinda fun.

Hence one of the more common claims you’ll find among Christians across the board (it’s in no way just a Evangelical thing!) is prayer is spiritual warfare. Intercessory prayer is how we resist the devil. We pray for other people. We pray for our nation and its leaders; namely the leaders we like. We pray that they control themselves, that they repent of their sins, and they submit to God’s will. Really hard.

Not so much that we control ourselves, repent, and submit. Though we might. But most of us are pretty sure we’re already doing that. We’re good. It’s the sinners who are the problem.

Christians who pray this way a lot, love to imagine they’re engaging in “warfare.” After all, they’re asking God for stuff, and surely Satan doesn’t want this stuff done, right? Surely the devil’s fighting this stuff, trying its damnedest to repel God’s kingdom and Christianity’s growth and the salvation of more people.

Hence “prayer warriors” claim whenever they pray for other people, or for God to do things, they’re doing battle with the devil. ’Cause the devil doesn’t want them to pray. ’Cause then God’ll do things, and as far as Satan’s concerned, God intervenes far too much for its comfort.

I grew up in a church which was big on prayer-warrior teachings and beliefs. Very little of this theology was based on bible, though. Most of it came from a popular novel, This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti. Published in 1986, it’s a horror novel about a New Age cult taking over a small college town, and the invisible demons which were really behind the cult. (In many ways it feels like Peretti read C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, but decided it needed less human free will, and more demons.) The good guys are of course praying Christians, and the angels feed off their prayer energies like solar panels feed off the sun. Better pray before the angels run out of juice!

Peretti didn’t invent these ideas. They’re found all over Christian mythology. The battle of Satan’s fall really fascinated such Christians, so they imagine battles like that are still going on in the heavens: Demons and evil spirits which wanna destroy humanity, angels which wanna defend us, and they’re going at it with swords and shields like the ancients. Or, depending on the whims of the artist, with medieval armor, Elvish armor, mecha armor and lightsabers… or even buck naked. (Some of these artists, you gotta wonder about.) And these battles have been waging non-stop ever since Satan was toppled. But every time we Christians pray, it provides support to the angels on God’s side.

Problem is, there are a lot of dark Christian teachings about how our “prayer warriors” affect this battle. Like how every time we pray, God grants his angels power and support. Thing is, this implies when we don’t pray, God doesn’t grant his angels support, and the devils get to win. And sometimes dark Christians don’t just imply this; they overtly teach this. When Christians don’t pray, God lets his loyal angels lose—and may even let his loyal humans lose the very same way. So don’t forget to pray for one another!

In this way, prayer warriors imagine themselves the most important Christians on earth. It’s because of them Christianity advances. The rest of Christendom? The missionaries and activists and ministry leaders and evangelists? Meh; they do some stuff; it’s not nothing. But the prayer warriors are on the front lines of the spiritual war. (Well, the angels are more like the front lines, but the prayer warriors are right behind them; they’re mighty close.) They’re keeping the front from receding, giving the rest of us a safe space to do our thing. Don’t forget to appreciate and thank them, same as you would for any soldier or veteran.

Okay. Any of these ideas based on bible? Loosely. Really loosely.

You know you can write out your prayers, right?

by K.W. Leslie, 19 January

Y’ever meet someone who’s articulate on the internet, but when you meet ’em in person they stumble all over their words? Very same thing happens when talking with God. It’s not because God’s intimidating; he’s actually not. It’s because verbal communication isn’t their thing! It’d be better if they had a script.

For such people, rote prayers kinda appeal to them. But they’d prefer it be their words, not just those of some well-meaning God-seekng saint. And they’d like to be specific, whereas rote prayers tend to be more generic. But they struggle to get the words out. Sometimes we all have those moments.

If you’re one of those people, relax. Load up your word-processing app, or grab a pen and paper, and start writing your prayers. Stop thinking of prayer as a phone conversation, and start thinking of it as texting. You can text, right? Then you can pray.

Write out your end of your conversation with God. Or write a monologue: A whole prayer of your own thoughts and feelings and requests and praise. Write what you’d like to pray. Then pray it. Aloud or silent; up to you.

Didn’t realize this was an option, didja? Lots of Christians haven’t. And lots of Christians have; where’d you think all our prayer books came from? People have been writing out their prayers since the bible. It’s why we have prayers in the bible. And it’s something you can do too: If you struggle to pray aloud, start writing to God.

The Jesus prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 January

In Psalm 123.3, the psalmist asked the LORD to show grace to his people. Quote it? Why sure.

Psalm 123.3 NRSVue
Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.

The Septuagint translated it ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς, Κύριε, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς/eléison imás, Kýrie, eléison imás, “Mercy on us, Lord, mercy on us.” And in Jesus’s Pharisee and Taxman Story, it comes up again.

Luke 18.9-14 NRSVue
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other, for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

To this day you’ll hear Christians pray a variation of Psalm 123.3, plus the taxman’s prayer, and Jesus’s name for good measure. We call it “the Jesus prayer.” It’s a really simple, really popular rote prayer. Probably the simplest.

Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, υἱέ τοῦ Θεοῦ (or υἱέ Δαυὶδ/“son of David”) ἐλέησόν με, τὸν ἁμαρτωλόν/Kýrie Yisú Hristé, yié tu Theú, eléisón me, ton amartolón. “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Sometimes it gets shortened all the way down to Ἰησοῦ ἐλέησόν, “Jesus have mercy,” or Χριστέ ἐλέησόν, “Christ have mercy,” or Χριστέ ἐλέησόν, “Lord have mercy.” But no matter the form it takes, it’s the “Jesus prayer.”

It’s similar to what Bartimaeus shouted at Jesus to get his attention. We pray it for the same reason. We want mercy.

Mark 10.46-52 NRSVue
46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Good for him. ’Cause when we pray the Jesus prayer, sometimes we get naysayers who object to our praying this prayer. “Stop the vain repetitions. Mt 6.7 KJV That’s not how Jesus taught us to pray!”

Actually it is how he taught us to pray. In his story of the unjust judge, he taught us to be persistent, to cry out to God day and night, and not lose heart. Lk 18.1-8 This is that. It’s the prayer equivalent of a knock on the LORD’s door. It’s not a vain repetition; we’re not praying it for no reason. (Better not be, anyway!) We’re knocking so the door might be opened to us. Lk 11.9 Sometimes we gotta knock more than once. Sometimes we gotta get loud. But when we mean it, we’ll get his attention. He’ll hear. And respond.

Thanksgiving. The prayer, not the day.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 November

In the United States, on November’s fourth Thursday, we celebrate a national day of thanksgiving. Today I’m not talking about the day itself though. I’m talking about the act.

Americans don’t always remember there’s such a thing as an act of thanksgiving. Our fixation is usually on the food, football, maybe the parade, maybe the dog show. If you’re pagan, you seldom even think to thank God… or anyone. Instead you conjure up some feeling of gratitude. You have a nice life, a decent job, good health, some loved ones, and got some stuff you’ve always wanted. Or you don’t have these things, but you’re grateful for the few things you do have. Or you’re not grateful at all, and bitter… and in a few minutes, drunk.

But this feeling of gratitude isn’t directed anywhere. Shouldn’t you be grateful to someone or something? Shouldn’t there be some being to thank?

And that’s a question many a pagan never asks themselves. I know of one family who thanks one other. Civic idolaters might be grateful to America or the president, as if they consciously gave ’em anythng. Those who love their jobs might be grateful to their bosses and customers. But pagans generally suppress the question by drowning it with food and drink. (And maybe thanking the person who prepared the food. But just as often, not.)

Even among the Christians who remember, “Oh yeah—we’re thanking God,” a lot of the thanking is limited to saying grace before the meal: “Good bread, good meat, good God let’s eat.” Although every once in a while somebody in the family might say, “And now let’s go round the table, and everybody say one thing you’re thankful for.” A game nobody enjoys but them… although I myself have come up with a lot of outrageous answers to that question, which amuse me at least.

But enough about Thanksgiving Day and its not-so-religious customs and behavior. The practice of thanksgiving isn’t limited to just this one day. If you wanna practice more actual, authentic thanksgiving in your relationship with God, great! I’m all for that. So’s God. But it means way more than thanking God only once a year, on the government-approved day set aside for it.

The prayer of Manasseh.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 November

Manasseh 1.1-15.

If you’re thinking, “Waitaminnit, there’s no book of Manasseh in the bible,” that’s true of most churches. It’s part of the apocrypha. Protestants and Catholics don’t include it in our scriptures, but since it’s in the Septuagint it is found in many Orthodox and Ethiopian bibles. There used to be a translation of it in English-language bibles, but when English Puritans started purging all the bibles of apocryphal books, Manasseh was taken out of the King James Version, along with all the other books.

Depending on the bible, sometimes it’s a separate prayer, and sometimes it’s made part of 2 Chronicles. No, we don’t know where the translators of the Septuagint got it.

It’s attributed to Manasseh ben Hezekiah, king of Israel. When he became king at 12 years old, 2Ch 33.1 he decided what we call “western religion” was not for him, and dabbled in pretty much everything else you could find.

2 Chronicles 33.3-7 KJV
3 For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down, and he reared up altars for Baalim, and made groves, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. 4 Also he built altars in the house of the LORD, whereof the LORD had said, In Jerusalem shall my name be for ever. 5 And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. 6 And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger. 7 And he set a carved image, the idol which he had made, in the house of God…

…and here the chronicler starts to rant about how he shouldn’t’ve done that. I’ll skip ahead.

2 Chronicles 33.11-13 KJV
11 Wherefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. 12 And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, 13 and prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God.

Here’s where the Septuagint inserted Manasseh’s prayer.

It’s a good prayer, which is why the ancient Christians kept it and used it. Every once in a while an Evangelical will come across it, won’t realize it’s apocrypha, and think, “Well that’s a pretty good prayer.” Might even use it for worship.

Happened years ago at one of my previous churches. Our worship pastor liked to pick a prayer from the bible for our Sunday morning scripture reading, and my guess is she was looking up bible passages on the internet. I made the slides, so she’d send me the passage… and one week she sent me a really long prayer “from 2 Chronicles” which had way more verses than that particular chapter usually had. I looked it up on Google and found it was Manasseh, in the New Revised Standard.

She was a little embarrassed that she picked a prayer which “isn’t bible.” But like I said, it is a good prayer. Like all the apocrypha, as Martin Luther once put it, there’s no reason we can’t read it and profit from it.

The prayer of Nehemiah.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 November

Nehemiah 1.5-11.

In the ’00s the prayer of Jabez got some attention with a popular book. It was quickly followed by other authors who were covetous of The Prayer of Jabez’s success, whose books probably didn’t sell as well for that reason. People realized they were knock-offs, whose authors only wanted to nitpick the Prayer of Jabez, or tried to teach us the same tired old things about having great success if we pray the Lord’s Prayer or the Jesus Prayer. Or other such prayer tricks.

Of course God can’t be reduced to formulas. And not only might he tell us no, he has every right to. People who wanna sell a million books won’t necessarily teach this fact. Instead they’ll claim if we pray their favorite prayers, we’ll get stuff. Pray like Jabez and 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.

Basically do X, and now God owes us Y. And no, he doesn’t work like that.

To help this 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 even 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.

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 got to go to Jerusalem and fix its problems himself.

The power of prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 November

The power of prayer is God.

If that sounds kinda self-evident to you, great! You’d be surprised how many people don’t get this. I’ve heard from way too many Christians who treat prayer as if the act of prayer itself—the effort we put into saying rosaries, or reciting certain “powerful” rote prayers, or regularly blocking off an hour for prayer time, taking the proper posture, repeating the right incantations, and praying as nonstop as possible; and of course the faith necessary to trust that God grants prayer requests—“activates” prayer’s power. Like we just found the cosmic cheat code, to borrow a video game term. Pray just right, and receive points or rewards from the heavens.

But their teachings aren’t so much about the One who dispenses the rewards.

Well, they might go on about how these prayer practices please God, and that’s why he rewards us with stuff. Pray just right, and it’s like God’s a happy dog and you gave him just the best tummy rub, and we know his tail is wagging like crazy by all the blessings he showers down upon us. It’s so Pavlovian.

There’s not a lot of difference between this mindset, and “the Secret,” as pagans have recently repackaged the mind-science idea that we can create things with our words, same as God. Basically you proclaim your desires to the universe, regularly and earnestly, and believe with all your might you will someday have them. Lo and behold, they materialize. You’ve willed them into being. Your mind is just that powerful. Whether we call it “the Secret” or “the law of attraction” or “magic,” the only difference between them and their Christianist variant of naming and claiming, is we imagine God is part of this process.

But too often “the power of prayer” doesn’t acknowledge God as the power. Preachers keep talking about it as if we’re the catalyst, we’re the source, we’re the real power. We get God to move, ’cause of our faith and works. And we deserve these results, ’cause we earned the good karma and get to cash it in.

Slap all the Christian labels on it you please, it’s not Christianity. Power doesn’t come from human ritual, and never has. We should know by now if God isn’t the center and the point, our practices are dead religion not living religion. Dead faith instead of living faith. Meaningless instead of meaningful.


by K.W. Leslie, 02 November

High school youth group services can vary. My previous church’s youth services looked exactly like the adult services: There’d be worship music, then the youth pastor would deliver a sermon. When I was in high school, the service was way more informal: We’d play a game for a half hour, then sit down, sing a few worship choruses while the pastor led on acoustic guitar, then he’d present a short message, pray, and then we’d hang out till our parents picked us up—at which point the kids who could drive, drove home.

Before the pastor prayed, he’d take prayer requests. Got anything to ask of God? Want a real live capital-P PASTOR to pray about it?—’cause surely Jesus hears his prayers, if anyone’s. Here’s your chance kids. Pitch him anything.

So we would.

  • Big test coming up; we want God’s help, either in improving our memory, or compensating for our rotten study habits.
  • Big game coming up; we want God’s help to do our best, and of course we’d like him to confound our opponents.
  • God help this kid I know whose dating life is a wreck (followed by some gossip about the juicy details, which the gossiper assumed is totally permissible because it’s a “prayer request”—yeah right).
  • God help this kid I know whose family life is a shambles.
  • God help me, ’cause I have stress for one of the myriad reasons kids stress.
  • “Unspoken.”

Wasn’t always the same kid every week who said “Unspoken.” Sometimes it was more than one kid. What’s it mean? It’s short for “unspoken prayer request.” We wanted to ask God for something, and wanted our pastor to include it—“God, please take care of all the unspoken needs tonight”—but we wanted it it remain solely between ourselves and God. Everybody else didn’t need to know what it was. God knows. That’s enough.

I was not the best Christian in high school. More of a giant hypocrite. But I’d invite friends from school to my church’s youth group, ’cause it was fun. Some were Christian and knew all about unspoken requests. And some wouldn’t, so I was called upon to be their tour guide to the Evangelical subculture.

One particular week, some kid—let’s call him Mervyn—had been the only one to ask for an “unspoken,” and I got the expected question from my high school friend.

HE. “What’s ‘unspoken’ mean?”
ME. “He needs God’s help for something embarrassing. My guess is he’s trying to give up porn.”
A DOZEN OTHER KIDS. [overhearing] Tremendous laughter.

’Cause Mervyn really did need to give up all the porn. But for about a year thereafter, this became the regular youth group joke about what “unspoken” really means. Whenever someone said “Unspoken,” whether it was Mervyn or not, someone in the group would say under their breath, “Porn.” Followed by giggles, and an irritated look from the youth pastor. He didn’t know what just happened, but he didn’t trust it was anything wholesome. Eventually he did find out, and read us the riot act.

But I admit to this day, whenever someone contributes “Unspoken” as a prayer request, a little voice in the back of my head pipes up, “Porn.” It amuses me. Bad Christian.

The rosary: Meditation… oh, and prayers to Mary.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 October

Some years ago a reader asked me about rosaries.

I gotta admit I don’t have a lot of experience with ’em. Rosaries are a Roman Catholic tradition, and I grew up Fundamentalist—and Fundies are hugely anti-Catholic, so any Catholic traditions are looked at with suspicion and fear. Many Evangelical Protestants are likewise wary of Catholic practices. Very few do rosaries.

Evangelicals assume a rosary is a string of prayer beads. Actually it’s not. The rosary is the super-long string of rote prayers you recite, and how you keep track of which prayer you’re on, and how many you have left, is with the beads. Each bead represents one prayer.

And most of these prayers are the Ave Maria/“Hail Mary.” It’s prayed from 50 to 150 times. Goes like so.

Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee. Lk 1.28
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Lk 1.42
Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

Yep, it’s not a prayer addressed to God; it’s to his mom. You’re mostly praying to his mom. Whereas very few Evangelicals pray to saints. Okay yeah, some of us talk to our dead loved ones, like a deceased parent or spouse or child, and hope God passes along those messages to that loved one, whom we hope is in paradise. But passing such messages along to anyone else feels, well, weird and wrong. Praying to Jesus is one thing; praying to his family members Mary, Joseph, James, and Jude, seems strange (do we really know these people?); as is praying to his apostles, praying to medieval saints, praying to famous dead Christians like C.S. Lewis or Martin Luther King Jr.… I mean, at least those last two guys spoke English. Pretty sure Mary of Nazareth only knew Aramaic.

But Roman Catholics believe when saints die, they go to heaven, where they’re resurrected; they’re alive. Ain’t nothing wrong with talking to living people. That’s what we do when we pray; we talk. Talking to Mary is fine. Hailing her and calling her blessed is biblical. And asking her to pray to her Son on our behalf is fine too.

But most of the reason people pray a rosary (apart from those who incorrectly think it earns ’em salvation points with God) is meditation. We don’t just recite rote prayers while our minds remain unfruitful: We think about Jesus. Think about the scriptures. Pray silently with our minds, like we do when we pray in tongues.

That’s why some Catholics won’t just pray one rosary in a stretch: They’ll pray two. Or five. They wanna spend significant time meditating on God, and to help ’em focus, they keep their bodies busy with reciting prayer after prayer after prayer, and fix their minds on Jesus. And, if they’re huge fans of his mom, Mary. But if that bothers you, you don’t have to meditate on Mary, or even pray to her. The prayers in one’s rosary are optional, as are all rote prayers.

Tongues build up the individual.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 October

1 Corinthians 14.1-4.

Most of the time when Christians quote this particular passage about speaking in tongues, they quote verse 4 thisaway.

1 Corinthians 14.4 NIV
Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church.

Yeah, tongues are okay, but. But but but.

Except the word but isn’t in the original text of this verse. The word which gets translated but in nearly every English-language bible, is δέ/de. It’s a conjunction which indicates the speaker just started a new sentence, and the new sentence is logically connected to the old sentence. You can, as bibles do most of the time, just leave it untranslated. Or, if you really, really wanna connect it to the previous sentence ’cause they fit together just so well, a semicolon will work.

Thing is, whenever translators think there’s a contrast between the two sentences, they can’t just translate de as a new sentence, a semicolon, or even “and.” They gotta turn it into a “but.”

So instead of writing John 1.17 as it it should be,

John 1.17 NIV
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

they gotta insert a “but” between those sentences,

John 1.17 NLT
For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ.

and imply there’s a conflict between law, and grace and truth, where really there’s no such thing.

But the reason they gotta imply such a thing, has nothing to do with the text. It has to do with their pre-existing beliefs. If you’re dispensationalist, and think in the Old Testament times God saved people through his Law, but nowadays saves people through his grace, you’re gonna want that “but” in there, proving your point. You’re not gonna want people to realize God chose Abraham by his grace, rescued the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery by his grace, enriched their nation by his grace, sent them prophets to lead them aright by his grace, inspired the writing of the Old Testament by his grace, and so forth. You’re gonna want to minimize that Old Testament grace (and hide its occurrences in the Old Testament by translating it “favor”) as much as you can.

Then you’re gonna push grace, and encourage people to reject law. Because that’s what people tend to do with contrasts. They’re not presented as “There’s A, and there’s B, and they’re different,” but as “People do A, but they should do B.” Hence dispensationalists insist people do Law, but they should do grace. Not, as Jesus teaches, that we should do both.

So back to 1 Corinthians 14. Paul and Sosthenes did wanna present a contrast between tongues and prophecy. But again, it’s not so people would reject tongues and only do prophecy. It’s so people would recognize only one of the two activities is appropriate for church gatherings. Only one of the two is a group activity. Wanna guess which one?

1 Corinthians 14.1-4 KWL
1 Pursue love. Be zealous for the supernatural.
Most of all so you can prophesy:
2 Tongues-speakers speak to God, not people.
Nobody else understands them, and they speak secrets to the Spirit.
3 Prophesiers speak to people: They build up, help out, and advise.
4 Tongues-speakers build up themselves. Prophesiers build up a church.

Forbidding tongues.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 September

Certain Christians are terrified of tongues. Afraid of other people speaking tongues, afraid of themselves speaking tongues, afraid of the very idea. For all sorts of reasons, but most of of the time it’s one of these four:

  • They think it’s devilish, and are afraid of evil spirits.
  • They think it’s madness, and are afraid of crazy people.
  • They think tongues-speakers are out of control, and don’t wanna surrender or lose control of themselves… nor of course be around out-of-control people.
  • They realize it’s empowered by the Holy Spirit… and of all people, they’re afraid of him.

All of them are wrong ideas and false views, and people need to be taught otherwise. But whenever someone starts speaking in tongues around them, their fight-or-flight instinct gets triggered, and at that point there’s no teaching them anything. They’re having a panic attack, or they’re getting out of the building as fast as they can, or they’re furious that someone’s put them in that uncomfortable situation.

So, reason the leaders of various churches, best to just hide or silence the tongues.

Now, those of us who do speak in tongues, tend to get our dander up at the idea. Hey, didn’t the apostles forbid this kind of behavior?

1 Corinthians 14.39 KJV
Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.

But what I’ve found are two types of churches: The cessationist sort which bans ’em outright, and the soft continuationist sort which believes miracles are still for today, but what they’re really banning are loud tongues. Speak in tongues all you please, but just as most prayers are better off done in private, so are tongues.

Because too often, when they get a tongues-speaker in their congregation, they get yet another immature Christian who can’t keep the volume down. Who insists they have every right to make noise. After all, Holy Spirit! And since God’s enabling their tongues, how dare anyone stifle them? How dare anyone declare how and when and where to show off exercise their particular gift of the Spirit? How dare these churches quench the Spirit. Betcha they blaspheme the Spirit too. Et cetera, ad nauseam.

I told a friend I was gonna write about Christians who forbid tongues, and this was largely his attitude too. He “got his angry up,” as they call it in the Bible Belt. Wants me to tear those Spirit-quenchers a new one. Nope. I’m with them. Did we forget the verse which immediately follows the “don’t-stop-tongues” one?

1 Corinthians 14.40 KJV
Let all things be done decently and in order.

Ah there it is.

You know how people are: We never give one another the benefit of the doubt. We just assume they’re sticking it to us. ’Cause human depravity and all that. But let’s not. Let’s practice a little basic discernment and find out why they “forbid tongues,” if that’s really what they’re doing. Have they absolutely forbidden prayer in tongues, both inside and outside the church building, in every single form? Or do they have no problem with tongues; they’re just exercising their prerogative to quiet noisy people? Unless they’re dark Christians who fear our tongues are calling down demons, you’ll find it’s typically the second reason.

Praying too loud—in tongues.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 September

Likely you know what Jesus taught about showing off when we pray. If you need a reminder, here ya go.

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.

Betcha you’ve never heard this teaching applied to speaking in tongues.

Because when you’re in one of those churches which don’t stifle tongues, you’re gonna notice whenever there’s a prayer group, those who pray in tongues tend to do so at a very audible level. Sometimes at the volume of an ordinary speaking voice. Often even louder.

If they were praying in English, would this be appropriate behavior? Only if they were leading the group, or praying on behalf of the whole group. Is that what’s happening? Nah; they’re praying individually. And too loud. Jesus’s teaching about hypocrites showing off would immediately come to mind. We’d consider it disruptive. Someone would take that person aside and have a private little corrective chat with ’em. And if they kept it up regardless, they’d be asked to leave the room, if not the group.

So… why do tongues get a free pass to be noisy?

Because, Christians shrug, it’s tongues! It’s a powerful prayer, supernaturally enabled by the Holy Spirit. He’s making us able to pray in the Spirit’s power, for all the stuff the Spirit particularly wants. For that reason, shouldn’t it take priority over everything else in the room?

Maybe so, maybe not. It’s not the issue, actually.

The issue is volume. Are we meant to outshout everyone else when we pray? No. Are we meant to interrupt others when we pray? No. Are we meant to be noisy or disruptive when we pray? No. And if it’s true of prayer, it's just as true of prayer in tongues. We don’t get a free pass to be fleshly just because the Spirit gave us the power to pray tongues. In fact it’s all the more reason to not behave this way: Making noise means we’re kinda nullifying any of the building up 1Co 14.4 which the tongues are meant to do for us.

1 Corinthians 13.1 KJV
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

Not a prayer warrior; a noisemaker.

And quit blaming the Holy Spirit for your bad behavior, wouldya?

Speaking in tongues.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 September
1 Corinthians 14.39 KJV
Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.

The technical term for tongues-speaking is glossolalia. (Greek γλωσσολαλία ɡloʊ.soʊ.la'li.a, which Americans re-pronounce ɡlɑ.sə'leɪ.li.ə and just means “tongues-speaking.”) Theologians, psychologists, historians, and anthropologists call it this. ’Cause Christians aren’t the only ones who do it. Lots of people do. Including—and this fact tends to startle certain Pentecostals—lots of other religions.

Yep. Christians tend to assume only we do tongues. But plenty of pagans do. Actual tongues, not just muttering in foreign languages, like when you’re watching a bad horror movie and magicians suddenly start incanting in Latin. (’Cause somehow Latin has become the devil’s favorite language; Satan’s existed for millions of years, yet none of the other human languages did it for him until Etruscan evolved into Latin, and then it said, “Oh wait guys, we gotta learn this one,” and now all the devils speak it. But stupid movie tropes aside, other religions definitely do glossolalia.) The difference between Christian tongues and pagan tongues is really simple: Ours are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Theirs aren’t.

And the reason the apostles had to sort out the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 14, is because the Corinthians were more familiar with the way Greco-Roman pagans spoke tongues, and were bringing too many of these pagan behaviors and motives into Jesus’s church.

How’d Greco-Romans do tongues? As part of their worship, they’d get sloppy drunk. Or eat hashish or opium, or stand over natural-gas vents and get partially asphyxiated. They’d go into trances or semi-conscious states… and start babbling. Then their “prophets” would interpret the tongues. Spiritualists and psychics still do this: They try to alter their consciousness, babble a bit, then interpret the babbling.

Christians do not do it this way. Watch out for those who do!

Nope, we don’t go into trances. We don’t “lose ourselves” in any other state of consciousness. Our bodies don’t get taken over by the Holy Spirit, nor any other being. We’re fully conscious. Fully awake. Fully aware of our surroundings. Fully in control of our faculties: At any point we can intentionally stop, and no it’s not “quenching the Spirit” to do so. Like when somebody asks a question—“I’m sorry to interrupt you, but where’s the bathroom?”—or if prayer time has to stop for whatever reason. We’re in full control of ourselves. And the volume of our voices.

I know; some Christians regularly claim “I can’t help myself!” And they’re wrong. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. He’s not gonna break character because he’s making us speak tongues. If we have to pause, or stop, and pick it up later, we can. So those Christians who claim, “When the Spirit takes over, I’m not responsible for my actions,” are lying. They chose to be boisterous, attention-seeking, inappropriate, and rude. Same as anybody who shows off their public prayers on the street corner. Lk 18.9-14

If any tongues-speaker truly can’t control themselves, that ain’t God. Get an exorcist.

Physically, speaking tongues only consists of opening our mouths and talking. But rather than speak articulate words in a known language, we let our mouths do as it will. We disconnect the language centers of our brains from what our mouths do. Scientists, who’ve done MRI scans of tongue-speakers’ brains, found the creative and language centers have nothing to do with the tongues: The mouth works automatically and unconsciously, and meanwhile our minds are occupied with other things. (Hopefully prayer, as Paul instructed. 1Co 14.14-15)

The sounds coming out, will typically be the sounds one most often makes. This is why an English-speaker’s tongues will sound like English babble, and a Hebrew-speaker’s tongues will sound like Hebrew babble. The lips, tongue, and teeth may move unconsciously, but they’re not trying to make sounds they don’t normally make.

The syllables which come out of a tongues-speaker’s mouth have no standardized meaning. No grammar. No syntax. They’re not code. This is not a translatable language. They mean what they mean only in the moment. They’re not meant to teach us the language angels speak in heaven, so don’t bother trying to create a Tongues/English Dictionary, or printing tongues-words on T-shirts. (No seriously: People have made T-shirts.) Yet every so often a naïve Christian will try it: “I cracked the code! Wanda means ‘well done,’ and botta means ‘good and faithful,’ and honda means ‘servant,’ so that’s what it means to say Wanda boughta honda.” No no; don’t do that. You look like an idiot.

The usual purpose of Christian tongues is prayer. The Holy Spirit knows their meaning. Unless he empowers us to interpret these tongues, and let the rest of us in on their meaning, we don’t know their meaning—and usually don’t need to know. Translating them means we’re trying to do an end-run round the Spirit. We don’t wanna do that.