Tag Archives: prayer

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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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.

Thank you for letting me go, Lord

Thank you, Jesus, for letting go of my hand. I know I still have a very very long and very painful walk ahead of me, through desert and thorns, but thank you for doing what my parents never could – letting me go and letting me fall. I know that you are always there beside me: watching, encouraging, hoping for me, cheering me on, and loving me even when I forget you and when I despise your creation of me. You will never abandon nor forsake me.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Thank you for letting me stumble. I am hurt pretty bad now and I haven’t been getting up very eagerly (or at all) when I fall. Thank you for your patience when I am bitter. Thank you for your love when mine runs cold. I’m sorry.

As I take a step away from you to see if my parents’ faith is for me, please do not abandon me to myself.

Amen.

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)

Second – prayer

So, I really have a lot on my mind right now. I’m going to spit it up right now. Who knows – maybe I’ll write a dozen posts tonight before I’m ready to go to sleep. Hey, as the Spirit leads me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer recently. I have been put in a position in which I am responsible, with a few others, for motivating prayer for the group around me on campus. The thing is, I accepted this position before I seriously tried praying. And as it turns out, I have hated praying out loud in front of two or more other people. Perhaps it’s my pride standing in my way, but I have enough trouble stringing together a minute of sentences to say out loud in prayer that I dread every time I am asked to pray. And that anxiety doesn’t help, either. Over my winter break, I have been praying more. And as I pray more, I need to pray more. When I first noticed this effect, I likened it to what I imagine coming off of a starvation diet is like – where I hadn’t realized I had been starving but at the first bite of food I became ravenous and I need to keep eating. I can’t go back to where I was, because I know now what I was missing before. [Speaking of which, I am very physically hungry now – I’ve been trying to release my emotional pain, no longer by eating to numb it, but by bringing it to the Lord, while trying to be careful to keep myself humble and with open ears to listen, and to spend more time with Him than just in prayer therapy. It’s hard right now – I’m still obsessed about the food, rather than actually physically hungry. I might simply be terrified of starving to death. You might pray for me about that. 🙂 ] So, I have found the “taste” of prayer so appealing that it brings its own reward. I am always calmer after I pray, life makes more sense, and I have a more stable base to return myself to when things go wrong. I also have a greater sense of the Lord in my life. This is similar to how I feel about scripture. I started a plan to read the Bible through in a year, with a few chapters each day, and maybe four months into it I started noticing that during my regular day, I would have these urges like “I should read that parable in Luke again” or “I want to read some more stories in Judges” or, my favorite, “I should read some psalms right now.” I praise the Holy Spirit for these, for he is their only possible source.

So, back to prayer. There are many defined types of prayer. Here are a few.

  • Popcorn prayer: Someone starts and someone ends, but there is a large pause in the middle for anyone in the company who feels called to say anything to add their prayers (one at a time).
  • Korean style prayer (disputed definition – this is the one with which I am familiar): Everyone prays out loud at the same time.
  • Church prayer: The classic hands folded, eyes closed “Dear God … Amen” prayer.

Prayer in general is just talking to G-d. You don’t have to close your eyes or fold your hands. You can be driving, walking, watching TV, or anything else and pray. I’ve been having trouble finding it conscionable for me to pray in a pour-my-heart-out kind of way when I’m doing something else, too, but I can keep company with G-d at any time. Incidentally, that attitude keeps my heart turned towards him and gives me a great tool to see sin in my life – where it’s harder for me to talk to or want to talk to my Lord, there I will find something competing for my heart, and that I must surrender to the Lord.

You know, I’ve heard that in the olden times, people prayed out loud and read out loud. Books in the middle ages weren’t yet read silently, but people who read always read them out loud, if they were alone or not. In 1 Samuel, (1 Samuel 1:13-14) “Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, ‘How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.’ ” This makes me even more worried that I cannot pray out loud, if that is how everyone initially did it, the “natural order of things”. I can pray silently. I can pray in some fashion out loud if I’m by myself (a bit slow if I’m really praying). I can squeak out a few cliche lines if I am asked to pray for a group. But the Lord is not a secret for me to keep, that I should in effect hide my relationship with Him. I am seeking clarity for what to ask the Lord for that will please him and encourage those around me, and for boldness to utter what is put on my heart to say. I am so scared that I will let down my group that I may be letting down my Savior. Fear of man is no small thing.

Lord, I pray for you to increase my fear of You, fear of God. Oh, that I would seek to honor you with my thoughts, words, and deeds, indeed with my very being, to such a degree as would absolutely eclipse my other desires. “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18), so may you continue to reveal your works and your love for me as I learn that I will not be punished for love. When I pray in love, You are with me. How could I pray any other way, how could I speak to my Lord with any other heart than one seeking to be loving and righteous and Christlike? And yet, I so often find myself thinking “what do they want to hear?” before I pray out loud, and dreading their judgment on how well I bring their petitions before Your throne, so much that I am rendered ineffective as a prayer warrior for your Church. Let me grow in boldness that I may fight the good fight. Teach me how to pray, and give me the confidence (if not self-confidence, then God-confidence! – faith) to pray as I learn from Your beautiful, precious instruction. Thank you for hearing my supplication. Amen.

I am still working out the purpose and style of this blog. I initially thought I would do some kind of teaching, expanding on a verse or passage, but so far it seems like I am writing a personal page of my story each time. This post was scattered and long and I used a lot of phrases that have strong meaning for me but that don’t all hold the same meaning for everyone. Perhaps I may let this blog post stay as a benchmark for me to measure my growth, or perhaps I will use it for raw material for three or four other topics I approach in it. But I cannot let this stand as my quality of post. I pray that this develops over time into a final style that is useful to the world and myself, natural for me to write, and makes my soul sing when I have a chance to publish something new. If I am sowing seeds, I will do my best to sow them well. I pray for the future of my blog. I feel like I have something to teach the world – at least I want my voice to be heard. The more humble God leads me to be, the more service-oriented I become, and the more I need to do to feel right. I want to be able to teach, and I don’t think this is driven by pride. I can’t sit and listen any longer, but I have no teaching skills. Perhaps tomorrow I will try exegesis on some passage. If I’m to make sense, I’m really a lot better at answering questions than at extrapolating on my own thoughts.

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As always, your comments and questions are welcome. I pray you have a love-filled evening and wake up tomorrow thirsty for Jesus. ❤