Thursday, September 28, 2017

That's why we pray... or is it?

On a mission start to doubt here we go
Kicking back, read these words we need to know
Living high, living good, living long
Take a minute, bust a prayer
And you're good to go

That's why we pray
ah, yeah, pray
We need to pray
Just to make it today
---MC Hammer, "Pray"

(Jesus Walks)
God show me the way because the Devil trying to break me down
(Jesus Walks with me)
The only thing that that I pray is that my feet don't fail me now
(Jesus Walks)
And I don't think there is nothing I can do now to right my wrongs
(Jesus Walks with me)
I want to talk to God but I'm afraid because we ain't spoke in so long
---Kanye West, "Jesus Walks"

hey, jesus, it's me
i'm the one who talked to you yesterday
and i asked you please, please for a favor
but my baby's gone away, went away anyway
and i don't really think it's fair
you've got the power to make us all believe in you
and then we call you in our despair
and you don't come through...

i'm not gonna call on you any more
i'm sure you've got a million things to do
all i was trying to do was to get through to you
because when i die and i get up to your doors
i don't even know if you're gonna let me in the place
how come i gotta die to get a chance to talk to you face to face?
---Indigo Girls, "Hey Jesus"

It happens every time there is a tragedy. Earthquakes. Hurricanes. Shootings. 9/11. The response is the same, regardless of place in society- "Our prayers are with the people of Puerto Rico." "We pray for the people of Houston." #PrayForFlorida. A child dies in a small town, the news appears on a website, and the comments are all very similar- "I'm so sorry! I'm praying for you."

I don't. I know, I know, I'm a Christian, I shouldn't be a heartless bastard. Prayer should be the first thing I should offer.

But I just can't.

Why do we pray? In times of tragedy everyone says that they'll pray for you, but what's the point? Is God listening? If God is listening, why doesn't he answer? I've had people say to me that "sometimes God answers yes, and sometimes no, and sometimes wait", and my response to that is that it's a load of crap. If God (supposedly) answers no or wait, then he didn't answer. Ignore my son's autism for a moment. Let's say that I ask him to take the garbage out on Wednesday night, because the trash collector comes Thursday morning. He takes it out Thursday night. Did he answer my request? No, he did not. It doesn't matter that he did the job, the job needed to be done at a certain time and he didn't do it. Same with praying to God. If someone is down on their luck and prays to God for a job, a request born not out of selfishness but out of necessity, and they do what needs to be done to seek a job, and said job doesn't come, then God didn't answer that prayer. Or at best you can say that the evidence is inconclusive.

How about prayers for healing? Why do we have to pray over and over again for someone to be healed of cancer, for instance? What's the point? Doesn't God hear you the first time? And suppose you pray and pray, and the person dies anyway? Your prayers are wasted. Already I can hear people saying "but the person did get healed…they aren't in pain anymore…they received the ultimate healing…" blah blah blah. My answer is no, they did not get healed and God did not answer the prayer. To answer any other way is to dance around the issue. You're playing semantics. God then becomes a divine Bill Clinton who dances around the obvious meaning of a word. (See the word "is".) If I pray for someone to be healed, my intention is obvious. I want them healed in this life. Any other twist on the statement is just making excuses for God.

I have made numerous trips to Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital with my son. While there I've seen small children in wheelchairs who seem to be in a catatonic state, the same expression seemingly frozen on their faces for all eternity. They don't care about LeBron James… or maybe they do; Donald Trump is the last thing on their mind… or maybe not; we don't know. They don't communicate other than to stare. For some people their first response would be to offer their prayers. My first thought?


How am I supposed to pray here? First off, I shouldn't even have to pray for healing. If God can't see that this kid needs healing… it's obvious to anyone with eyes and half a brain. Do I pray for the parents to have peace of mind? Do I pray for the doctors to have wisdom? I mean, come on!

And yet throughout the Bible we are exhorted to pray. Jesus says "WHEN you pray," not IF, and then gives instructions. The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. Paul says "Pray without ceasing." So my struggle is this- I know that I need to pray, yet I have issues with praying for things, because there doesn't seem to be much of a point. You pray for healings, but for as many people that do get healed, more people suffer and die. Or they get healed in a year, although in the natural process of things they would have been healed anyway. You pray for people that genuinely need certain things, and they don't get them. I just don't get it.

Do I need to change my definition of what prayer is? We come to God with our shopping lists and then don't come back unless we have another list. I realized that if my children only came to me when they wanted something, and no other time, my experience as a parent would be cut short. There are times when my daughter would crawl up on my lap, curl up against me and watch the game with me. It doesn't matter what game, she has no sense of what constitutes "the big game" as opposed to one between two 1-10 teams; spending time with me is the experience she seeks. And it is that experience that defines the joy of being a parent for me. So should we always present God with our wants? Shouldn't we just crawl up into his lap sometimes and express our love?

A few years ago I went to a Catholic charismatic conference and heard a speaker named Ralph Martin
. He has been a leader in Catholic renewal since the charismatic movement started in 1967, yet in the last several years he has concentrated on the spirituality of the saints. The talk I heard was on the stages of union with God according to the writings of St. Theresa of Avila, and it was fantastic. It opened my mind to the possibility that I've had it all wrong; that the goal of prayer is union with God, and the presenting of our petitions is peripheral to this central purpose.

Within the same time frame I was introduced to the teachings of Mike Bickle
. Mike has made the focus of his ministry exhorting Christians to seek the face of the Lord and pray what David prayed in Psalm 27:4- " thing I ask, this one thing I seek, that I may behold the beauty of the Lord…." He views the Song of Solomon in an allegorical format popular with the early Church fathers, teaching that the bridegroom represents Jesus and the bride represents the church, and Jesus longs to draw us to himself in a relationship of love. Prayer in this paradigm is not simply airing our requests and grievances, although intercession is certainly a part, but sitting at the feet of Jesus as Mary did while Martha busied herself with the tasks of everyday life.

And then there is Witness Lee
. Witness Lee uses the phrase "the economy of God" to stress that God's central plan is to dispense himself into his chosen people, the church. Our goal above all other things is to dwell in our spirit where Christ has made his home, and from that ground all other things have their growth.

So to answer the question "has Sean given up prayer?", the answer is "you know? I just don’t know." I pray that I would experience and enjoy the love of God in the same way that my son and daughter enjoy my love. I pray that the stages of illumination, purgation and union would be a reality in my own spiritual life and not just a theory to be studied in a textbook. But I haven't gotten through my difficulties with intercession. I may never. I can’t find people who are willing to take on the task of trying to explain it to me, and stick with it when I ask questions counter to their theology. I try to believe that my requests are heard. When life went south on me over the past year, the first thing I did was ask everyone I knew who might possibly pray for me to do so. But at this point.. I just can't. Maybe if I could get one prayer answered, God? Of course, if I understood all things, faith wouldn't be necessary. I guess. What do I know?

Just a few thoughts, your mileage may vary.


Post a Comment

<< Home