Tag Archives: perspective

How we do prayer is really weird. 5 reasons why.

We are the “body” of Christ, in one metaphor. The Biblical precedent (using the OT here, since I don’t buy a lot of the NT) is that praying on behalf of someone else is done only for their healing (God, heal them), or as a part of the group (Lord, help us, give us something). I haven’t read anything that says, the group went around and shared prayer requests. And each person prayed for the person on his left. And God looked down and granted their requests.

“Pray for me.”

Ok, so we’re a family. God is daddy, and my churchmates are my brothers and sisters. When do I ever ask my brother to go talk to Daddy for me? When I did something wrong and I think Daddy will be mad, I send him to give him the news. But God already knows. When I think my brother will be able to get a more favorable response, I send him. But will God fall for that? It might be trying to be selfless, like “I am not worthy to come before the throne and ask God for what I really want / need”? Real relationships don’t work like that.

When I am out of the country and can’t call my dad because he doesn’t have internet and I don’t have a phone, I email my brother to call my dad to send him a message. But we all have the Holy Spirit praying within us. We are all connected to God.

There is a psychological benefit of praying by sharing prayer requests; we share deeper things about us: our struggles, goals, desires, and pain. So, we are forced to grow closer as a group, when we know more about each other. We can work, in this world, through connections and abilities of the group, to provide comfort and support, and sometimes solutions (like, my bike broke. Hey, Mike can fix it! Or, I need a good lawyer. Susan can help!). Then, putting out the prayer request answers the prayer.

But there are also really bad detriments: to our feelings of confidence before God. I can’t pray for myself, I can’t talk to Him myself, I’m not worthy. Or, when people come up with really stupid prayer requests. We’ve all heard them. They may sound super-religious, like for humility or spiritual growth or more love. Or it may be the person who asks for the tenth time for good grades on a test, or the one who babbles in spiritual gobbledygook that’s all but speaking in tongues. They don’t focus on God, but on things that make us unhappy here, or on making themselves look good. It’s prayer that drips with privilege, praying for First World Problems. Yes, they are annoying problems to have. But isn’t there something more to do? If you’re a Christian and you’re not involved with anything bigger than yourself in a tiny world, something is wrong. Even if you just became a Christian, if we truly believe the Bible, shouldn’t we care that billions of people don’t believe, or that somebody a block away is hurt, or that my mom is really, really sick, or that there is bullying in the school, or that oppression on the basis of skin color is still a thing in many places, or that someone is hungry? I don’t mean to judge or shame. If you don’t feel that, take some time to fall in love with God. You walk at your speed when you’re walking with God. But the apostles didn’t keep themselves locked up praying forever. They went out, preaching, ministering to the sick and widows and orphans. They did real work, not just feel good work or self-help work. (Of course, if you’re super-missional, remember to be grounded in prayer. The constant presence and direction of God is your driving force to work.)

So, it’s weird. When we pray, are we family, or One in the Spirit? Why do we act as though there is a greater effect when We pray for you rather than just You pray for you?

Group prayer.

At the close of each Bible study, and the start of every meal with a Christian, I’m practically forced to pray. I had a dinner once where we were sitting down to eat, and one girl prompted me, “Will you say grace?” I said, “No” and she was shocked. Like, you don’t do that. But it’s so weird to me, to even be asked, “Sister, will you talk to Daddy in front of us?” Like, this is really weird. It might kind of be like going as a group to God, and selecting one spokesman to do the honors of saying Thanks. But this is a bad analogy. We all know God very well. Why is it so formal? Something needs to be said, but this method impinges on how I naturally talk to God. Can’t my relationship with God be private? How can I be expected to be called out to pray, or to have a ‘turn’ to pray? (To escape this, I have a rote prayer, “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest / and let these gifts, to us be blessed. / Amen.” I still get looks sometimes when I say it, like I’m cheating.)

Interceding is a little bit like tattling. And you know those passive-aggressive prayer lists?  *skin crawl*

In my experience, we routinely pray in groups. Method: chat about the week, share prayer requests, then pray about them. Like, maybe it “works” for some good with certain kinds of people. When in the Bible does anyone ever pray like this? Yes, prophets prayed for people. Kings asked prophets to pray for them. Hannah, in the temple, was approached by Eli the priest. He said, at most, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” He blessed her prayer, but she prayed (silently). Other examples:

Prayer from the prophet on behalf of the people:

“And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.”  Numbers 21:7

Prayer on behalf of the larger group:

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:7

Prayer for healing:

And Moses cried to the Lord, “O God, please heal her—please.” Numbers 12:13.

There are no “prayer request boxes” or the like to be seen. There are no church groups that sit around and pray for other people. No one seeks God on behalf of another. If someone has a real problem, it is conceivable that a group must support them, and that can include intercession. But the person prays for herself, too, and the group must provide more support than simply prayer, if at all possible (and it will always be possible. If someone is sick, you can’t heal them, but you can help them with chores, bring them food, spend time with them, etc.).

Two more bugs in religion:

Why testify? Give testimony, is like telling family stories? This is what God has done in my life. This is who I am in Christ. These can be really cool, and/or scary, or just weird.

People who say: God doesn’t exist, that’s stuuupid! but my horoscopes / ghosts / heaven / something does, for no reason.

Conclusion: I don’t understand prayer. The way my church likes to pray is neither logical nor Biblically based. Do you agree? Do you have a better way to pray?

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What is Christianity? Simple language.

So at the beginning of time, this all-powerful being we call God spoke everything we have into existence:  light, darkness, sky, the earth, stars, plants, fish, birds, animals, and humankind. The first people didn’t obey him, so he let them be able to die. Over time, more and more people filled the land, and he chose one man to be the father of a group of people he would pay close attention to, the Israelites, or Jews. God gave them a piece of land and said it would be theirs. But they were not happy with God, and they didn’t obey him. So God allowed them to go through a lot of hard stuff including slavery, being lost in the desert for a long time, sickness, and lots of wars.

God was mad with them. He punished them by letting other groups of people drag them away from their land three times, and then letting them go back after a while. But he always kept them together and did not let them all die.

They didn’t obey God. Even when they tried, they messed everything up. Today, they are still a group of people, and they still have their land, Israel, but they struggle with invading people, and are the center of warfare in the Middle East. They still don’t obey God.

About 2000 years ago, God’s chosen group of people were in their land, but being ruled by another group of people, the Romans. God wanted to enter the picture as a human, instead of a deity that feels far away and unrelatable. So he searched his group of people, and found a willing woman who loved him and had a good heart, and she was the mother of his son. This man grew up in a little rural village as a carpenter, and studied the history of God with his group of people. He learned to obey God, and made it his life’s goal to obey God. He became a “rabbi”, which is like a preacher, and which made him upper-class.

When he was 30 he started giving speeches about God in the local churches. The church leaders did not like these speeches because he challenged their traditional way of doing things. He pointed out what they were doing wrong and where they were not obeying God, which made them mad at him. They didn’t care about obeying God, but wanted to make the lower classes think they were perfect. This man ignored the social rules that put him in a position above women, people of other races, and less educated people. Some of these people were considered “bad people.” He cared about them, because they cared about obeying God more than looking good. They were his fans and loved his speeches. He spent more of his time with them than with the leaders.

This man also is known for doing crazy things like changing water into wine for wedding guests so the party could go on, and walking on water, and healing people, even bringing them back to life.

He knew what he was talking about, and it showed. People really liked him. Crowds followed him everywhere, so he gave his rebellious talks out in rural areas to groups of thousands of people, and in houses full of people. A lot of the crowd wanted him to become king and lead a rebellion to break their nation free from subjugation to the Roman people, but that wasn’t his plan. He kept ticking off the people in charge. so they had him tortured and killed a short 3 years after he started. The people were disappointed. Then God judged him in the afterlife, and loved him. God declared that this man had always obeyed him. He said that this man could stand as a representative of all humans who had ever lived or who would be born after him. Because this man obeyed God, then God will be happy with us if we try to obey him and his son, no matter how much we mess up.

So now, God says we can all become part of God’s family, as brothers and sisters of God’s son. He also says that when we die, we are not dead forever but God will bring us back to life when he comes back with his son for the final judgment of all people. Then, he will send away people who didn’t obey him to die forever, and keep people who did obey him, or tried to. We will then live forever in a perfect world (no tears, pain, sadness, or sickness) with him forever.

I couldn’t pray out loud like they did.

Everyone prays differently. In church, they always prayed out loud, with lots of “Lord”, “just”, etc, and they prayed for a long time. I tried mimicking them and I felt so self-conscious! I dreaded praying out loud. This past year, I have been a member of my campus ministry’s prayer team, which has been a huge challenge and has stretched me in ways I didn’t expect.

I have a really hard time praying out loud. I am comfortable praying in my head and in my journal. Over time this past year, I got used to vocalizing part of what was in my head. I pray best when I have time to think, and especially when I have the Bible in my hands or verses floating between my ears. I think, “I have an audience of One”, but I can still only manage one-on-one talk with the Lord when I don’t have additional people listening to me.

A friend reminded me,

“Jesus already gave you what you’re going to say. You’re just sending it back to him. Why are you worried?”

While I am still way too self-conscious (read: concerned about my reputation, prideful), this makes me relax. I can humble myself to listen to what the Spirit brings up for me to pray, and use God’s own Word with him. I hope that the Lord will make me more versatile and confident in prayer that I may be a better tool for His work. But I am not a “failure” for being unable to stand in front of a crowd and pray like they do in church. Lord, teach us to pray.

Unworthy of heaven.

Adam: I am unworthy.

Eve: Of what?

Adam: God’s love. God’s favor. Any reward God has for me. I’ve never done anything right. I’m not good enough to stand righteous before a holy God. I am not good enough to go to heaven.

Eve: Then do you think I’m worthy?

It’s not whether you’re worthy or not, but whether Jesus’ sacrifice for you was sufficient to pay any debts you owe to God. Was his death and rebirth enough to pay for your sins? Yes. God does not reward the righteous, but saves the broken. He says,

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

At some point, humility becomes pride against God’s power to save you. If you agree that God is God, all-powerful, then if he decides to save you, he can and he will. Peter says,

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

“All” reaching repentance includes you. If you think anything you have done or left undone can keep you out of heaven, then God desires that you turn from your foolish thoughts or  repent of your pride. If you think your actions can counteract God’s will, that’s foolishness or arrogance, and it’s not true. God can do anything, and he desires for you to choose to go to heaven.

But I’ve done the unforgivable sin! I’ve actually killed/raped/hurt someone! I ignored my father’s last request on his deathbed. I cheated on my boyfriend. I am a nasty, disgusting person. I’ve blasphemed the spirit!

(“Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven man, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men.” Mark 3:29) What does that even mean?

Or, I’ve rejected God.

“It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.” (2 Peter 2:21)

Now, that one’s a problem. Have you accepted God again? If you’re reading this, then you’re clearly still searching. Know that God is still pursuing you. (See: the prodigal son story.) God loves you and wants you close to him. He will give you a second chance. If you ask him for forgiveness, he will forgive you seven times seventy times (Biblical language for as many times as you ask), because he cannot deny himself.

The Bible says that the least in the kingdom of heaven will be greater than John the Baptist, one of God’s prophets. If you have to be that good now, where you are, to get into heaven, then heaven will be empty. Even John the Baptist is not greater than himself. And would God send his prophets to hell? There is no indication of that in the Bible.

To be the least in heaven is better than being the best person on earth, is way way better than being the best person in hell. Can you comprehend?

“Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” C.S.Lewis, Weight of Glory

Don’t be pleased by thinking you’re not worthy of heaven, and leaving it at that. God holds out the promise of heaven to you. If there’s a specific reason that you consider yourself unworthy, then bring your reason before God and seek forgiveness, and try to remove it from your life if it is still there. Repent of the sin, and God will forgive you. Please understand, God offers a spot in heaven to you:

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2) – Jesus

There’s room, you’re invited, and there’s nothing you can do that Jesus cannot overcome if you seek him. I hope to see you there.

If my parents aren’t in heaven, then I don’t want to go, either.

Most people can name someone close to them that they know is not going to heaven, maybe a parent, friend, spouse, or child. But they’re good people! you say. Why would a good God send them to hell? And why would you ever want to go where they are not? You can’t say you love them if you can leave them in hell while you relax in the luxury of heaven. That’s like walking right by him or her homeless on the street while you are on your way to your mansion, and leaving them there. It’s selfish! You can’t just help yourself.

The work that God does is to save sinners, not to reward good people. God sees that all of us are wicked and it would be just for God to throw us all into hell. We are a miserable lot, full of cheaters, liars, murderers, adulterers, gosspers, rapists, and disobedient fools. If one of us were perfectly good, then he would be perfectly obedient to God, as Jesus was, because God is perfectly good and God gives all of us commands. It often seems vindictive and cruel to me that someone who tries his best to be good is still subject to God’s wrath. But that strain of being “good enough” for God is truly too much for any person. Jesus tells a parable about a poor man who owes several million dollars to another man. If the poor man worked as hard as he could for the rest of his life, he could never pay off the debt. Every evil act that we do incurs a debt on our account to God. Somehow, the best that God can do is to forgive our debt through the sacrifice of himself in the person of Jesus. When we accept that payment we go free. Heaven is not a reward for good people, but a place for the people of God, who know God and serve him on earth.

Indeed, C.S. Lewis contends that people who God sends to hell are given what they ask him for – separation from him. For why would anyone who does not even try to get to know God on earth want to spend an eternity with him in heaven?

I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside. – The Problem of Pain (C.S. Lewis)

If you love the person who will go to hell, they probably love you and want what’s best for you. Your parents were happy to watch you playing around in the ball-pit at McDonalds when you were little, and didn’t crave having you sit with them and eat. You could be separate. If they love you, they would rather see you take that vacation while they sit at home working. They want you to be happy, and they know you are happy because they know you’re in heaven. Perhaps they can find some solace that they cannot find you in hell.

A father in prison is happy to see his son go free, even though they’re separated, and he is very sad to see him put into prison, even though they are now together.

But you would rather be in prison and whatever came with it in order to be with your parent, spouse, child, or loved one, if that was the only way to be with them. This is why it is written:

26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-27)

If you would reject God because of his judgment on another person (or because of his mercy towards another person, see Jonah), then you are not fit to follow him. A true follower of Christ will follow Jesus even when he leads them away from their family. If God calls you to heaven, you go. But he does not want your family to be left behind. God craves everyone you know to be in heaven with him, too. If you believe in heaven, and your loved ones are not Christian, God asks that you work for their salvation. Paul explains from prison why he lives the way he does so boldly, proclaiming the gospel:

10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.  (2 Timothy 2:10)

God intends to save all of his “elect.” If you are a Christian, you are one of these elect, and you are also one of the people God wants to use to save more of his elect. You can bring your loved ones before God in prayer and plead for their salvation, ask for them to be included in God’s heaven, and share God’s word with them. He calls us to spread his word to everyone.

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Your Father in heaven loves you more than does anyone on earth. He let his son die so that he could get to know you, your loved ones, and everyone else.

16 “For God so loved the world,[a] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

Right now, you are the focus of God’s immense love as if you were the only person on earth. God loves you, and he desperately wants you to love him and be with him. But he will not force you to be near him because that is an unlovely action. He will not force you to go against your will to stay away, although it pains him deeply. (Yes, you can cause God pain.) If you experience this kind of love in heaven, you will be joyful and peaceful, even if your loved ones are not there.

Is there someone you love of whose final destination you are unsure? Pray for them now.

And remember, God loves you.

 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-27)