October 20, 2017

I Have To Admit, I Don’t Get It–Part Two

Hear my prayer, O God;
Give ear to the words of my mouth. (Psalm 54:2, ESV)

You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it. (Matthew 21:22, NLT)

They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers. (Acts 2:42, The Message)

Hold a square dance night at church and prepare to have to push back more tables to make room for everyone. Having a chili cook-off? Set up twenty more tables than you were counting on. The guest preacher with a bestselling self-help book coming to your church this Sunday? Expect a packed house.

Announce a time of prayer, and all you’ll need is the toddler Sunday school room. And you’ll still have room for a couple of overflow tables of chili-eaters.

Are we not commanded to pray without ceasing? Is our Bible not filled with verses exhorting us to pray? Do we not see Jesus taking time away–often–to pray? Then why is prayer such an afterthought in American churches and for American Christians? I add the qualifier “American” because of the stories I hear firsthand of Korean Christians packing churches nationwide every morning for 5 am prayers. What is that they know that we don’t know? Or, more to the point, do they believe something we don’t believe?

If we American Christians really believed God hears and answers our prayers, we would be praying. We would be spending our time and energy in a much different manner if we thought Jesus meant it when he said anything we pray for we will receive. Why wouldn’t we? Annie Dillard laments the lack of belief in her essay, An Expedition To The Pole. “On the whole I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?”

We must not believe. Or, if we believe, we must not care. Because if we believe and we care, we would pray. Right?

Is prayer emphasized in your church, or is it an afterthought? You know, after the last song is sung and everyone is gathering their stuff and ready to head to lunch, someone announces, “If you need prayer for anything, one of our elders will be up front to meet with you.” Maybe someone goes up for prayer, usually not.

Does your church have a regularly scheduled time of prayer separate from a regular worship service? If so, how many participate?

Has your church ever had a time of 24/7 prayer for a week or more? Were all of the time slots filled?

How often does your teaching pastor speak on prayer?

Am I the only one who wonders why we are not a praying people?

I just don’t get it.

Comments

  1. Christians from other countries pray without ceasing, or are at least more enthusiastic about prayer than American Christians because they can’t take Him for granted. They have nothing else to fall back on, occupy their time with, hope for, dream of, or truly desire.

    American Christians on the other hand have all sorts of little meaningless goodies to occupy their time with. (iPad, iPod, iPhone, iMac, iMini, iMonk… Just kidding about that last one, facebook, Myspace, sports, new car, new house, politics, etc.) Perhaps if we had less worldly items we would desire the only thing that matters, Christ.

    15Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:15-17.

    • Matthew 6:20-21 (New International Version)

      20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

    • Except that they have all of those things and more in Korea…

    • Maybe I’m hanging out with different people, but a lot of us can’t take Him for granted, and I agree with the slogan: “I don’t believe in miracles- I depend on them!”. I get irritated at the generalizations about “American Christians”- where do you live? Do you hang out with single moms whose teen-age sons are into gangs and drugs- moms who are on their knees every spare minute for the salvation of that boy? Or how about the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs and their homes? You can’t have it both ways: Our culture has too much violence, divorce, porn, blah blah blah, and then turn around and say we have it so easy. Our kids are dying spiritually, and a lot folks don’t have jobs or homes, much less computers, ipods, etc. I can’t think of one person that doesn’t pray on a very regular basis because of terrible problems in their lives and others’ lives. I know many people who are attending special vigils for the upcoming elections- and fasting, too (who in their right mind is NOT doing this!?). As far as prayer meetings at church- well, some of us have to work 12 and 16 hour shifts on week-ends and can’t even make it to church! This is the new American world. What planet do you live on?

      • Sorry- this was addressed to Josh, the first commentator, not Jeff Dunn

      • I work a 12 hour shift that almost always turns in to a 16 hour shift.

        My wife’s schedule doesn’t ever meet with mine, so we hardley ever get to see one another.

        I, too, am trying to make ends meet just like everyone is in this economy.

        I work almost every weekend and therefore cannnot make it to church.

        To say that your average American Christian has it just as bad or worse than Christians from other countries is a joke.

        Do you have runnning water? Electricity? Food? Drinkable water? Job? Education? Well, then you are probably the average American Christian. Christians from other countries dont have these things. Tell me which is a harder existense.

        I suppose when you look at it I live on the same planet as you…

        • My point was that there are many American Christians who spend a lot of time in prayer; I was irritated that these lovely people were being denigrated, and that all Americans were being painted with the same broad brush. As many religious people from other countries have remarked, publicly and privately (ie: the former pope, African friends of mine), material poverty is not the worst problem: they remarked on how much harder it is to be surrounded by pornography, bad family relationships, and the materialistic values that assault people here on every side. My African friends find it harder to pray here than they did living in a hut in Africa. They are amazed at how much their American friends pray, when the pressures of life here are so much greater, and the pace is so much faster. My grandmother went to church every day, and had 2-3 times of private prayer daily. She did this raising 8 children on her own and working. I guess she’s one of those lax, lazy American Christians!

    • marly latto says:

      I remember when I started going to the new church after I moved to town. The whole coffee shop thing and media stuff and just all about the wow.
      The Wednesday night classes were starting. The Dave Ramsey seminar had hundreds of people. They needed the huge church auditorium to hold everyone who needed to understand money and holding on to it.
      The prayer group had eight people in it.

      We Americans have it so backwards.

  2. Jeff,

    I think this is one of your best posts, and one of your most convicting.

    I agree with Josh above. We are too preoccupied.

    However, prayer is becoming more important in some of the local churches where I live. Because of a “Prayer Summit” which brought over 50 local churches together for prayer recently, many of them are setting aside more prayer time. Some have coordinated their schedules so that a certain church is open to all at a certain time. Every day, with the exception of Saturday I think, some church in the city is open for prayer.

    I have to admit, my prayer life is nowhere near what it should be.

    And close to 200 churches that were invited to the Prayer Summit didn’t show up.

  3. We live so well we have no idea how naked we are. Yes, we are Laodicea.

  4. We have a midweek prayer meeting with 20ish people. (I’m not sure how big our church is, but I think about 150?)

    Both prayer requests and thanks arrive every few days in my email box, and they include updates on people in chronic situations who we don’t see often.

    My favorite of my church’s prayer pracices does take place during our worship service. The pastor will call us to form into prayer circles surrounding whoever can’t get up, and we spend time praying out loud in those many groups. The sound is amazing, like accidentally switching to God’s radio frequency, hearing saints voices quietly praying from every direction.

  5. Tim Becker says:

    Lot of legalism going on here. Let’s enjoy loading people down with more guilt about something or other. Just because American churches aren’t packed out at 5AM that means they’re bad? We should feel bad because we have an ipod or a new house? Come on folks.

    • Dan Allison says:

      Paul urged us to pray without ceasing. Was he being a legalist? Some preacher — I can’t remember whom — points out that anything we don’t like, we call it “legalism.”

    • 1 john 2:15-17. Take this to heart. I think it might be you who needs to “come on.” But I suppose taking this scripture literally and actually applying it would be legalism. If we all practiced the type of Christianity you advocate, then im not sure any good works would get done, because after all, according to you, that would be legalism.

      Or, to you it is just an iPod and nothing more. You hold a light grip on it so when the Lord asks for it back you can give it away with no problem. I wish at times I could be more like this…

    • Tim,

      Highlighting a glaring spiritual defect is not legalism. “Loading people down with more guilt” is a laughable accusation in today’s spiritual climate where fornication, divorce, greed, gluttony, consumerism, and avarice run rampant with scarcely a “tut-tut” let alone serious church discipline. Prayerlessness in contemporary Christianity is a problem, as it was in the Old Testament. I might suggest selecting the minor prophets as the text for your daily devotionals to get a feeling for how God feels about the things you see as “legalism.” His condemnation was far harsher than anything I’ve read on IM.

      • Tim Becker says:

        It’s new testament time now. Reading the prophets drove me right out of reading the Bible for awhile. Most of us are beat down enough as it is.

        • Tim: beware of unnecessary extremes, bro. Anything good and useful can be made into a legalist’s club to beat the snot out of you. I’ve been in churches where we did this with quiet time and evangelism. That doesn’t make quiet time and fervent evangelism bad ideas. Most of what the Sadducees and Pharisees TAUGHT were good, God ordained ideas…..it was the stinky hypocrisy that had to go.

          The prophets , minor and major , are in there for a reason: just mix them generously with the gospels, and a community of grace. We need all that.

    • It’s a tricky issue. Are Americans deficient in prayer? Absolutely, almost without question (And I’m easily exhibit A for this). Is complaining that they aren’t filling the church for prayer nights legalism? I’d say yes to that.

    • That sounds like a credit card commercial. Don’t feel guilty, just buy something. It’s the American way.

    • Spending more time with God is not legalism. It is legalism that keeps people from spending time with God by weighing them down with rules.

      Anyone who is attending a church that makes you feel this negative about prayer needs to run, not walk, to the nearest exit.

      A relationship with God is far more important than a relationship with any church. How can we have a relationship if we think it is a chore to converse?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        What happens when Spending Time With God becomes 24/7 on your knees in prayer and/or in church and it still isn’t enough?

        • If the church is coming between the praying person and God, telling them how to pray, how much to pray and causing quilt, obviously that is a problem. Myself, I would walk away from that church and simply pour out all my feelings about the situation to God.

  6. There is a deep intense longing and trust that God will one day put all things right. Then there is a vocal activity called “prayer”.

    True prayer seems to be the former – a deep longing for, and trust, in God. It is possible to engage in vocal “praying” without really praying. On the other hand, we may deeply long for something all the time (“without ceasing”) without engaging in the vocal activity called “prayer”.

    Maybe we should pay attention to what we really deeply care about, and not worry too much about the vocal activity called “prayer”.

    • Salsapinkkat says:

      I’m with you on this one- and I think we just often don’t really care about stuff enough! I try & be careful not to promise too much to people (I’ll pray for you…) but my deepest prayers are borne from desperation.
      What I am weak at, is that everyday alignment of my life with God’s purposes…

    • @Kien: well….then again, “the mouth speaks from that which fills the heart..” I think our mouth will tell us, over time, what is reallly in our heart. We can’t help but talk about what “fills us”. Granted, some people blather on and on in vocal prayer sanctimoniously for show… but a good thing can always be corrupted. I think this is a “both/and” situation. And prayer should be coupled with a heart ready to respond to the GOD Who will, and has been, active in the affairs we’re praying about. So prayer is both inward (first) and outward, as an expression of that.

      Or so the prayer warriors tell me…. 🙂

  7. I have to admit, I do get this one.

    I think some of it has to do with what we’ve experienced in previous prayer meetings (and please forgive me for being a bit broad, but I know it’s been a hindrance to others, including myself): a group of 20, yet the same 3 people usurp the time and energy of the whole meeting with meandering prose, gossipy prayers, and “just” praying (“Lord we just ask…”). That can be kind of draining.

    I also think people don’t know how to pray, and even more important — why they pray. We remember scripture about God “Knowing what we need” before we pray, and can take home a fatalist mentality. We think God was playing a trick on Moses when it says he relented. We expect our loudness (or in other circles, our attention to reverence) to carry the message.

    Or we fall into the traps Jesus talked about (endless babble, posturing), which is just as easy. Prayer for a lot of groups is filling up the empty spaces, but not the quiet.

    As for my church, we are now having a Wednesday prayer, but we’ll also meeting often during lent, and have a 24/7 time during Passion Week.

    And speaking of which, sorry for my rambling 🙂

    • Your rambling hit on some very true concerns. These issues can explain why prayer meetings at church are often sparsly attended. I have experienced exactly what you are saying.

      But my point was not why are we not filling the churches. It is this: Why don’t we pray? Do we really believe God hears us when we pray? For if we do, nothing would hold us back from individual and corporate prayer. That’s the question–do we believe?

      • @Jeff: I think Justin is on to something. Could it be that prayer meetings have somewhat inoculated us against prayer ? That and the incomplete theology of prayer (or just outright inaccurate) muddles the few prayers we send up. Maybe we’ve bought into a setup where “if I can’t get to the special prayer event, why pray ??” mentality. I’m guessing a large dose of Br.Lawrence’s lesson on the ever nearness of GOD is needed, and maybe a discipline of reminding ourselves why we pray (from the WORD), similar to reminding ourselves why we worship.

        The air we breath, experientially, is of mixed quality, and sends a confusing message.
        Great topic, and very timely coming off of the spiritual formation post: prayer is desparate cry to GOD to make up for what we are NOT.
        GregR

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Well, the whole idea behind inoculations/vaccinations is to introduce a harmless weakened form of the pathogen to provoke an immune response rejecting the real thing…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I also think people don’t know how to pray, and even more important — why they pray.

      I think this was the reason for the Breviary, Liturgy of the Hours, Daily Office, etc.

      One problem with Evangelicalism is they consider anything other than totally spontaneous and original prayers to be “Vain Repetitons”.

    • I think this nails it. Extemporaneous prayer is exhausting. From studying the greek, Jesus’ concern was over babbling – praying to just be heard, to look and sound important – not necessarily regarding repetition. If you listen to evangelicals pray, it all starts to sound the same. But it doesn’t covey meaning; it’s just people saying what they think everyone else expects them to say, which result in a bunch of tired old cliche prayers. It becomes very emotional and subjective.

      I love the way Catholics, Orthodox, and old-school Lutherans pray. A petition is raised once by one person ending with “Lord, in your mercy”, with everyone responding in agreement, “Lord, hear our prayer”. I think God hears that corporate, common expression. I think it also brings honor to the request itself. Everyone doesn’t have to “echo” a prayer by stating the exact same request but in a lengthy, verbose, personalized editorial. It comes across as if the first person didn’t quite get it right, so the prayer has to be restated.

  8. Hello there, I’m one of those Korean Christians who happen to go to a church that heavily emphasizes prayer. The practice you’re talking about is quite common throughout most Korean churches, in America and Korea. Usually it’s held every morning, seven days a week, at around 5 to 6 am. I’ve actually been to a couple myself, though not often, and most of the people who attend these early prayer meetings are middle aged people and the elderly who work on a daily basis. I hardly see any young people though.

    To be fair though, not everyone attending these meetings are exemplary Christians, as in matter in fact, many of them seem to just go every morning because their church told them that doing so will get God to do certain things for them, such as making more money, finding a spouse, and etc.

    What you say about prayer is correct, we should definitely pray more, however, I fear that oftentimes people pray to God continuously in the hopes of acquiring something worldly.

  9. Buford Hollis says:

    Perhaps your parishioners prefer to pray by themselves. Group prayer is less honest, more like just a ritual. (Unless it is NOT done as a ritual, in which case it is more like having sex in front of an audience.) Yeah I know–whenever two or three are gathered together blah blah blah (but check out the version from the Gospel of Thomas!), but that still leaves a lot unspecified. To many, the direction of a minister is a particularly irritating element. (Do you want somebody telling YOU what to think?)

    • DreamingWings says:

      Thank you. Your analogy of public prayer feeling as naked and exposed (I think I’m getting you right) as public sex is spot on. I for one would have no wish to expose my private needs to whatever random stranger happened to be next to me in the pew. Even praying silently can feel rather squicky in such instances.

      And, in general, an honest question on this topic. If you’re praying for hours on end; what exactly are you praying about/for? I pray many short prayers times a day; and I still can’t imagine what I’d being doing for multiple hours in prayer. I don’t even talk to humans I’m highly attached to for hours each day.

      • I have shared this same sentiment for decades. However, a public kiss good-by to my wife at the airport and loving embrace on return are publicly acceptable displays of affection that come spontaneously and uninhibitedly.

        Public prayer need not be full-on intercourse, but should be publicly acceptable displays of genuine affection for the One we love most in the world. Now that I’m an old codger and I am meeting with other silver-haired saints (those that still have hair, anyway), I am finding a precious delight in the corporate prayer of those who have walked with the Lord longer than I’ve been alive. There is no description I can find adequate for it but it is a sweet fellowship that is unlike any other corporate experience. It is a close intimacy that never strays into the inappropriate, but at the same time expresses genuine emotion. I’m not sure how it happens to be unselfconscious expression, but I think it is something that may have just come with time and the fact that we all love each other as we love our Lord together.

      • ‘whatever random stranger happened to be next to me in the pew’ stuck out to me. Something that I’ve become aware of in my church, at least, is the lack of real community and closeness to each other. I think that things would actually be better if we weren’t so concerned with hiding all of our ‘private’ issues and actually acted as one body.

    • Many times you might be right, but we do have the example in Acts where the church gathered to pray when Peter was imprisoned (and when God answered their prayers and freed him miraculously, they didn’t believe). So we can’t say absolutely it’s a bad thing.

    • cermak_rd says:

      I think the Quakers might get this more right. Folks are allowed to pray in silence with each other. Each reaching the Divine in their own way yet bolstered by the presence of the others communing in their way as well.

      • wow……the ev. community, IMO, needs a huge jolt of this: we don’t do SILENCE very well. Thanks Cermak, that’s a good word.

      • At the end of the Sunday morning service time is given to pray silently at the altar rail, or to go and pray with another member of the congregation, or to sit where you are and pray silently.

        I was touched to notice that our new pastor also kneels at the alter rail to pray in silence. Not only does he set an example, but it shows humility. It is wonderfully touching.

  10. If we American Christians really believed God hears and answers our prayers, we would be praying.

    Over the last nearly decades in an SBC Church, we’ve had (and I’ve participated in) weekly “prayer meetings”, prayer vigils, and a 24/7 prayer ministry. It’s my observation that prayer in much of the part of the church with which I’ve participated has been truncated to little more than intercessory prayer. And it seems to me that, while hardly unimportant, is still only a small aspect of what prayer should be within Christianity.

    There is, of course, a larger disconnect within American culture when it comes to prayer. From what I hear, even the various vespers and other prayer services within Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and the other traditions that maintain them are more lightly attended. I think that complacency has something to do with the frequent warning to the rich we see in the Holy Scriptures. Nevertheless, the services are attended. (In fact, I read a post this week by an atheist here in Austin who converted to Roman Catholicism about the number of 24 hour Adorations here in town and the surprising faithfulness and attendance. While I’m probably closer to what I’ve heard some Orthodox write or say about the specifics of those particular services, I think there is something closer to the fullness of communal prayer in it than the norm I’ve seen in my church.)

    And the traditions which have such services generally don’t just tell their members to pray. They give them prayer books, and short prayers, and a rule of prayer to follow. They tend to take seriously the exhortation to pray without ceasing and you have things like the Jesus Prayer in Orthodoxy and Brother Lawrence in Catholicism. In the SBC we don’t seem to have anything vaguely equivalent. We tell people to pray, but then largely abandon them to their devices. And often say things to make them feel bad that they don’t pray any better than they end up doing.

    • Scott,

      I live in Austin and started (by God’s grace) a perpetual adoration chapel in my old Catholic parish, so I am quite interested in the story you read about the atheist who converted (again by God’s grace) in part because of them. Can you find the link to that story? Thanks in advance.

      Many Catholic parishes have 24/7 Eucharistic adoration where at least one person (often more) adore our Lord who we believe is really present in the Blessed Sacrament. People commit to one or more hours per week, and we try to get two people per hour: 168 hours/week x 2 people = 336 people minimum, which is a lot. And committing to a weekly hour year in and year out can seem daunting: we have so many other commitments and our time is crunched by work and family. Still, it is well worth it.

      God bless,
      Devin

      • I think I mangled my run-on parenthetical a bit. I didn’t mean to imply the conversion was a result (in whole or in part) of the adoration. Jennifer Fulwiler of Conversion Diary reposted a 2008 post on the topic this past week. That post popped into my head as I was typing.

    • A few months ago I visited a small-town SBC with a friend. I was there for two Wednesday night prayer services and was very impressed with what I saw. This was a tiny, close-knit community. Concern for one another, reliance on prayer, was palpable.

  11. I think the answer is more obvious. Mere Churchianity jumps all over it. There is no prayer because there is no Jesus. By His blood we have bold and free entry to the throneroom of God. No one comes to the Father but through Jesus.

    I’ve been listening to a great series on prayer from the late Dr. Adrian Rogers. Something occurred to me after I heard the word “ask” so many times in relation to prayer. Is that all prayer is – asking for stuff? Is God just a magic 8-ball? After a while Dr. Rogers’ lesson sounded like English 101 – How to Have a Conversation. That’s no jab at him. He spoke the truth. We simply don’t know how to have a conversation with God. We don’t know how to talk or listen. For the most part we just ask.

    That is probably why folks don’t pray as well. Such one-sided prayer, always asking, is bound to get caught up in personal lust. We ask and receive not because we ask amiss. Before prayer – Jesus. Wrapped up in that is the heart of the Christian that loves God completely and desires only His glory. It is my experience that these are the effectual and fervent prayers.

    To encourage folks back on the track of righteous prayer, try praying without asking for anything at all. Keep it short. Speak simple words. Tell God that you love Him with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. See Him smile in return. Sometimes it is enough just to know that I please my Father.

  12. Tim Becker says:

    A friend of mine says our brains are hardwired into law and I guess it’s so. Hear is our message: You are a bad person, come to Christ to be saved. OK, you’re saved, good! Now get on your knees 24/7 or you are a bad person. Law, grace, law. Michael used to talk about this all the time.

    • Why is it that whenever a Christian says that we need to do something that is good, required, and not essential to salvation (which I think is the key thing to keep in mind here), that someone starts chirping legalism? Why is it that the response to “pray more” is not “How?” or “What can I do?” but “How much is enough?” and “What do I have to do before I can put aside the generalized feeling of I’m not good enough?” The answer to the latter two questions is, you’re missing the #$%&ing point! It’s not done to earn holy points. There is no “your prayer life must be this tall to ride the ride.” It’s not about requirements to earn God’s approval or trying to “holy” your way into heaven. We’re not making our way, because it has been made for us. It’s about the process of becoming more like Christ. He did it, so should we.

      Think of it this way: there’s no set requirement on how much like Christ we need to be before we can cross over from the naughty list to the nice list. (Because Christ crossed us over from damned to saved before we even started caring about those kinds of things.) Yet we are commanded to become like Christ. You don’t ask how much you have to do before you’re okay (which is, in a sense, a self-aggrandizing way of asking how little you can do before you get to stop); you just do it.

      It’s not a list of requirements that we fulfill, then we get to chill until we get another list. It’s a journey. It’s a process.

      • cermak_rd says:

        I think some of the cause of the reaction is that many here come from religious traditions that did browbeat and guilt people into doing things or acting a certain way. Regardless of the merits of those things or behaviors, it seems that browbeating or guilting people is a form of manipulation that is unattractive.

        • I know. And I think I overreacted a bit in writing that the way that I did. I’m in the opposite situation, coming out of a church environment where the Christian walk was all about feeling forgiven, and spiritual activities were disdained as “religious” or “legalistic.” It was impossible to grow. So I was reacting against that. But I apologize, Tim. I don’t know your story and so I shouldn’t have been nearly that harsh.

      • You ask the question “Why is it that whenever a Christian says that we need to do something…” (emphasis mine) and I have to stop right there. Words matter! “Need” implies that something really bad will happen if you don’t do whatever comes afterwards. No matter how many times you say “not essential to salvation”, if your tone and the rest of your words don’t support that, then you’re not really saying it.

        If someone responds to your “pray more” with the responses you listed, then you just gave the wrong impression somehow. It’s probably not your fault necessarily because so many people are wired with the idea that prayer is limited to intercessory prayer and often have a slight hint of prosperity prayer-ology in the background. It’s like talking about “football” outside of the US, you really have to clarify what you mean.

        You also have to be careful when saying “pray more”. If someone’s in a crisis and asks what to do and you say “pray more” than you have just given them the impression that prayer will make the crisis go away. Most people will be better served by recommending them to “pray different” than “pray more”. It will engage them more and you could then point them in the direction of prayer resources that challenge what they think of as prayer. Centering prayer and (for most protestants) liturgical prayer resources are the most obvious.

        My personal most bizarre form of “prayer” is learning to swear at God rather than other less-appropriate outlets for anger. I figure he can take it, and considering that whole “whatever you have done to the least of these…” stuff, he takes some of it anyway. It also slowly draws my focus towards God instead of whatever I’m angry about. I don’t hold back though; he gets it raw and unfiltered. I’d say I’m still significantly more mellow than the imprecatory Psalms, but they did have a bit more to be angry about than I do.

    • “Law, grace, law. Michael used to talk about this all the time.”

      I do not believe Michael ever suggested that spending time with God is legalism. If there are churches turning people off to prayer, this is their tragedy. The problem is with that church, and possibly their concept of prayer. Not with prayer.

      Jesus clearly showed by example various types of prayer.

  13. Maybe it’s because we define prayer so narrowly here in America. I can kind of connect with the comment(s) on meandering, lengthy, self-centered prayer; not that God doesn’t hear it, but that it’s difficult to sit through. I think it’s because people are trying to pray the most *effective* prayer they can think of. They really want to be earnest so that God will hear them (or something). Praying whatever came into one’s head is a relatively new phenomenon. Why should creativity be so important? What about centering prayer? What about liturgical prayer? What about praying the Psalms? I guarantee that you’ll run across a Psalm to cover every single issue you have at least once in the 30-day cycle. If you pray liturgically then you’ll cover confession every day. Centering prayer teaches patience and God-centeredness because there’s really nothing for *you* to do.

    Teaching these things to American Evangelicals is hard, no doubt about it. It’s viewed as senseless rigidity. Anything prayed by rote is seen as not coming “from the heart”, whatever that means. People get bored and quit before they learn all the really important things God wants to teach them, like the fact that our *feelings* are not the most important thing in the world, and certainly are not an indicator of the presence (or supposed absence) of God. They never learn to perservere during the dark nights of the soul (to quote St. John of the Cross), and as a result they don’t grow much.

    I’m trying to make some of this stick in my church. It’s developing more slowly than I’d like, but it’s bearing some fruit. I’m hoping to have an hour from 7am-8am three days a week, all focused on the Psalms, liturgy and silent, God-centered forms of prayer. Nobody gets to pray what they want to pray.

  14. What kind of prayer are we talking about? I know that Jesus went off alone and would spend a long time in prayer. He didn’t seem to need people around him to hear him say his prayers. I ran across a video of Erwin McManus this week and though I like him very much, he started off the video with a prayer which went on and on and sounded more to me like he was talking to the assembly, not to God. I got tired of it and almost turned it off.

    Even when I was part of a charismatic, stand-in-circle-holding-hands-and-praying group for a couple years many years ago, I didn’t feel…right?….praying that way in public. I am fine with the corporate prayers we pray at Mass. There is a point where the priest asks anyone in the congregation to speak up about anything they would like us all to pray about. I am not even really happy with that. Some people bring up political things and I don’t agree with their position. Some people tell us more about a person’s problems than I would want someone to do if I were the person being prayed for. So, you may say, what is my take on prayer?

    1. I like the prayers during Mass.

    2. I like reading scripture and then taking some to just sit quietly and let the words take hold within me. (Lectio Divina.) I could manage doing this in a group, maybe, with people speaking after the quiet time.

    3. I think those who are ill or have some other needs should be able to ask a group of people to “lay hands on” and pray for their healing. There is that part of the charismatic still in me. I know some Catholic churches will have what they call “healing services” on certain evenings each month. But I think it would also be great if each church had a group of people who sign up to be available to meet with people who have needs and do this kind of laying on of hands praying for them.

    4. I think most people could benefit from Christian Centering Prayer as taught by Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington, William Meniger and others. From the Contemplatiive Outreach website: “Centering Prayer is a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship.”

    People may be afraid to equate prayer with “power” and yet we have Jesus explaining to his disciples who who unable to dispel a demon or something from a person even though they asked God that this be done. Jesus told them that kind of problem needed to have lots of prayer in order to be able to dispel the demon So, things are not as simple sometimes as we think, although the simple prayer of a trusting child CAN have more power than the prayer of a scholarly priest.

  15. Tim Becker says:

    I am sorry if I come off sounding so negative. It’s just that I’ve spent most of my 52 years being made to feel guilty about something by preachers or super Christians. We never pray enough, read our Bibles enough, go to church enough…. There’s an ad on this page for Rosenbladt’s piece “The gospel for those broken by the church”. I guess I should have never listened to that! Again, I apologize, the pendulum is swinging the other way.

    • Tim, don’t be disheartened. I hear you, and I agree. I was reading others’ replies to your comments in this post, and the type of posts you were referring to, and honestly, they do sound a bit more like legalism than people here want to admit. That is a ‘dangerous’ word around here though if you use it to talk about the regular commenters here instead of using it to talk about ‘other people’.

      I think we too often equate “pray more” with “spent more TIME praying”. You’re absolutely right that it’s just a guilt trip that we Christians aren’t spending enough time praying, reading the Bible, helping the poor, encouraging the saints, living life with those around us….

      Yes, the BIble tells us to pray “unceasingly”. Then why is an hour a morning enough? The Koreans should be praying 4 hours a day. 8 hours a day. 12 hours a day. More! 12 hours a day isn’t unceasingly. That’s only half a day! That means the other half they “ceased!”

      There was a Skye Jethani video posted here by Chaplain Mike a few weeks ago about living with God instead of for God. And I think “pray unceasingly” means much more than how much “time” we spend in prayer. I actually believe it means that God wants us to be talking to Him ALL the time. He also wants us to “meditate on His Word day and night”, which means ALL the time. You know that sounds like to me? He wants a continuing ongoing conversation with Him, talking to Him, listening to Him, going on through every moment of our day. Not necessarily more time on our knees praying with our heads to the floor, not necessarily more time with other believers praying out loud, not necessarily… (fill in your favorite ‘form’ of prayer) Certainly, different ‘forms’ help us have a more prayerful attitude, but they are not the goal in and of themselves.

      The constant harp to do “more” in the Christian world, especially when it refers to time, and when presented as a “should”, is certainly a form of legalism, spiritual/emotional manipulation, even when used with very good things.

  16. I think there are two major things working against American Christians when it comes to really being invested in prayer. First, I think there is still a very strong undercurrent of Calvinism, or at determinism, in American Evangelical circles. Even people who would never call themselves Calvinists have the idea of “what will be, will be”. If we honestly think something is fated to happen, where is the motivation to pray? I’ve heard people say in answer to this, “well we should pray out of simple obedience”. I don’t know about others, but I find that not very motivating. Sure it may motivate to pray a few minutes a day, but through the night – forget about it!

    Secondly, I think rationalism has a big hold on us. We simply don’t pray because we don’t believe it makes a difference. A lot of Evangelicals are functional atheists. The fact that they are Christians doesn’t really change how they live their lives except for what they do on Sunday and perhaps another evening during the week.

    I’m not trying to guilt or shame anyone. I’m just simply stating what I observe in my life and others.

    • Phil –
      I wish more of the posters here would address your thoughts/observations. I have had that conversation with only a few, very few, occupants of the wilderness wanderings. You can’t say those things out loud in “real” church settings. But I wonder how many folks think through those ideas and never really voice them. I would appreciate more comments along this line.

      i.e., If someone comes to us with those thoughts, how do we encourage them?

      • Yes, bravo phil

      • Good question!

        I would start with Rev 8 “3 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.”

        in the world more real than this one, in God’s own home, our prayers have physical substance! I find that immensely encouraging, when I find myself doubting.

        I don’t know what to do with the functional atheist or agnostic, though, except to point out the internal dissonance when I have the opportunity and pray for their hearts. Someone who doesn’t really believe in God’s reality, character, and promises won’t be encouraged deeply by anything in his word.

    • Absolutely spot on, IMO. The ev. church is colored more by the enlightenment and modernity than we let on. We just need to have our “minds renewed by the Word” and all will be well. Rom.12:2 is , of course , totally true, but our renewed minds should lead us, in brokeness, to call out to a GOD Who is ushering in HIS Kingdom with , and in part BECAUSE OF our prevailing prayers. This is super-rational: not anti-rational, but goes beyond what our minds can grasp. Maybe this is too “squishy” for preachers to get ahold of and preach on confidently. Maybe they are afraid of boasting in their own prayer lives if they preach on this candidly. Not sure.

      I do know that those teaching on the spiritual disciplines, with the needed explanations of grace, are a breath of fresh air. We dont’ care about prayer like we don’t care about lots of good things for us: exercise of all kinds, nutrition, cleanliness , orderliness, common charity, there’s a list.

      LORD help us chart a path out of the weeds.
      GregR

  17. That should say “at least determinism” in my second sentence there. I was trying to type too fast…

  18. I agree that Christians in the West (and I am not in the USA) seem to have a problem with regular, corporate prayer – but I wonder if that is as much a feature of our livestyles as anything else. It would be wonderful to get together with other Christians to pray every morning – but like many people I have children to organise for school, work to get to which is at some distance to where I live etc etc so its not really realistic for me at this point in my life. Similarly for evening prayer meetings. Many of us don’t live locally to our churches and so an evening meeting requires major logistics to get to. Excuses, excuses – I know!

  19. SearchingAnglican says:

    This is an interesting discussion.

    I am part of a very small church (less than 40 on a Sunday morning). Of course, being in a liturgical church, Sunday mornings are infused with prayer. And I think prayer is preached upon a few times a year in one way or another. Since we only have a part-time priest, I’ve come to really love Morning Prayer on the Sundays she is not with us. The richness of those prayers is amazing. It has led me to start praying daily office (at least the morning office) more frequently.

    We have had prayer groups during Lent and other times of the year, but they are sparsely attended – four or five at most. Not a lot of interest in participating in community-wide prayer events, either.

    I’ve lead a women’s small group of 8-10 women for over 5 years. We have a few absolute “prayer warriors” among us (meaning, those I know have very active individual prayer lives and if they say they’ll pray for me, I know they mean it), and I would say all of us have some sort of daily prayer life. However, very few are comfortable with extemperaneous prayer. Most of the time, it ends up being 2 or 3 of us praying aloud at the end, with quite a bit of silence. I wish some of the “evangelicalness” that I have would rub off…but that’s really MY issue. I tend to get a little judgey about it from time to time, and have to repent.

    The answer? Asking individual members to use the BCP to find an appropriate closing prayer or lead us in the Our Father if they don’t want to pray extemporaneously. And asking them a week ahead of time to do so, so they aren’t surprised by the request.

    Something that HAS been extremely well received by our congregation is the introduction of a Taize service once a month. It’s been powerful. And people LOVE it. I think participation will continue to be high for that, and people are so excited and moved by the experience that they are (gasp) inviting non-church members to the service. There is something really powerful about coming together corporately and praying in silence for an hour in the darkness with lots of candles, bookended with short hymns and snippets of scripture. One unbaptized seeker among us told me he’s never felt as close to God as he does during that service.

    • I think you hit on a good point here, SearchingAnglican. That hour of silence, in a place of peace and beauty, is conducive to prayer. How many of us have — or even want to have — an hour of silence in a day/week/year, not to mention peace and beauty? I’m not saying that silence inevitably leads to prayer, but in many cases more silence would mean more prayer.

    • Buford Hollis says:

      I went to a Taize service (but somewhere else, not in Taize) and found it dull and awkward. The group struggled to follow the standard Taize songbooks. Because it was held in a Catholic church, I think everybody there was Catholic, which kind of defeats the purpose. And the end merged imperceptibly into the evening mass which followed–the priest just walked in and started doing his thing–which also struck me as less than ecumenical. YMMV of course (and hopefully will V).

  20. SearchingAnglican, I have read good things about the Taize service. I would like to attend one sometime. I haven’t heard of any around where I live yet.

    • I went to my first this past weekend. Very simple, very contemplative. I was a little in my analytical/observe mode but felt drawn in to centering on Christ with others.

  21. I just posted in reply to Phil, and it is further up the line here so you may not see it.
    Please be so kind as to scroll up and respond if you have time and thoughts regarding my question.
    Thanks.

  22. Out of curiosity, is it a habit in Protestant (by which I mean non-Catholic) churches to just pop in during the day at odd times to say a prayer?

    Round here (and as far as I have a notion more or less globally in Catholicism) that’s mainly the way people pray outside of formal services; drop in just to sit in the pews and light a candle, or say the Stations, or pray the Rosary, or whatever.

    There’s also the increasing tendency to have either separate Blessed Sacrament Chapels where the Eucharist is permanently exposed for adoration, or the welcome resurgence (in a quiet way) of Benediction – usually after the morning Mass mid-week.

    For more structured events, one example is the Novena to the Mother of Perpetual Succour which is currently going on over nine weeks in the parish church here in town. This is also an annual novena in Galway, to the point where the national radio station in its six o’clock evening news traffic report generally has something along the lines of “Traffic will be heavy in Galway due to the novena” at the time (February this year) when it’s being held.

    There are always one-off events like missions, prayer vigils, healing services, and the like. Formal twenty-four hour/seven days a week organised prayer outside of Mass – discounting things like the local branch of the Legion of Mary having regular Rosary recitation one evening a week or the morning Benediction or what have you – not so much.

  23. Does anyone else find it fitting or humorous that the science fiction article drew more comments?

    • The real question is how are the prayer lives of aliens? 🙂

    • Tim Becker says:

      Just more evidence that we are Laodicia. 😉

    • Obviously we’re all too busy praying to comment on this thread 🙂

    • Yeah, but we’re not really trying HARD enough….c’mon folks, what about

      FOR THE WIN: the prayer lives of female gay aliens, who are studying the early origins of their planets, while down/up sizing their congregations….. ?? Now THAT could generate some comments.

    • Buford Hollis says:

      That’s because we’re receiving this one with contemplative silence rather than discursive argument!

  24. OK, I’m at work so I’ll admit to not having read all the comments, so if someone else mentioned this, sorry for the repeat. I wonder though if an incorrect understanding of the kingdom as our mission is a major culprit leading to a lack of prayer. Jesus’ prayers seemed to center on God’s will…His kingdom on earth as in heaven. As I understand things, “God’s kingdom” is presented in wildly distorted ways in evangelical America. It’s either God giving you the blessing you’ve been asking for, or the political party of choice taking control of the government, or even (in dispensational theology) not for this place and time.

    So if one of the main goals of prayer is “Thy kingdom come”, and we don’t understand that kingdom or the implications of us making it exist on earth as in heaven, then don’t we miss out on one of the major reasons prayer exists? And if we don’t understand the purpose of a thing, we can’t use it properly.

  25. MelissaTheRagamuffin says:

    Have you all heard about the study published by Pew Research this week about how ignorant most Americans are about religion?

    http://www.pewforum.org/Other-Beliefs-and-Practices/U-S-Religious-Knowledge-Survey.aspx

    Only 45% of Americans can correctly name the Four Gospels. You know? Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Those four gospels. For grins I went around asking my co-workers if they could name the Four Gospels. Only two of us could name all four of them. Yet, all of us belong to a church. And of the ones who can’t name the gospels – none of them are especially worried about it.

    How can we expect people to believe what the Bible says when we don’t know what it says? Seriously. If people were reading their Bibles – even casually -they would be able to name the Four Gospels. You could show up in almost any given American Church on Sunday morning and read from the Bhagavad Gita and half of them wouldn’t know the difference. That is a freaking shame.

    Lack of prayer is only a symptom of a much larger problem in the American church.

  26. Prayer is a HUGE stumbling block for me. I have never understood it. Could we distill this down a bit, please? …

    • Is it more ‘effective” if a group of Christians prays than if just one prays? (Is God more persuaded by numbers, or by simultaneous rather than separate prayer?)

    • If the answer to the above is “yes”, is something like world peace or “the turning to God of our nation” too much for one person to pray for alone? At what point do we call for reinforcements?

    • Jesus said “two or more”. Does that make individual prayer useless?

    • If we pray and intercede for a brother or sister to be healed, how do we know we’re not actually praying against what he or she is praying for? How do we know that we’re asking for the best possible outcome?…or is it safer to keep it very general …”God’s will be done”?

    • As to the above, in matters of life and death, won’t God’s will be done anyway? Is He in control, or not? Personally, I want Him to decide my fate and not some particularly persuasive prayer group.

    In my experience, corporate prayer is all too often tailored to impress those praying along and only sometimes does it seem truly directed to God. Often, especially when coming from the pulpit, it is merely a postscript to the sermon …an attempt to further teach or persuade. A sort of summary. I hate that.

    I don’t mean to pose these questions in a cynical or rhetorical way. I’m serious. Praying to get something or to manipulate God’s decisions somehow seems futile and a bit presumptuous to me. The phrase, “be careful of what you pray for, because you just may get it” has become cliche because it’s true. I know what I want. I don’t necessarily know what I need.

    Maybe we are urged to pray because, regardless of what we pray, it is the time we dedicate to conversation with the father that blesses us and pleases Him. Some of my most meaningful prayers are spent just listening.

    By the way, as to Biblical instruction on prayer? …the REAL Lord’s Prayer for me is the whole of John 17. Awesome. Amen.

    Thanks so much for bringing this up for discussion, Jeff. Obviously, I don’t get it, either.

    • THANKS for the post Jim.
      Not unlike Phil’s post above.
      In stead of messin’ with aliens, I really want some guidance in this area of the discussion.
      Great to-the-point questions, Jim.
      Come on, all you imonkees, I know you won’t let me (us) down.
      What say ye?

    • The Bible is full of stories of people changing God’s mind. It seems God wants people to genuinely relate to Him as a Father, not just a distant deity who has everything planned. I simply don’t believe God has the future entirely planned. Some may call me an open theist, and if they do, that’s OK. I really believe that when we pray, God hears us, and He acts on our behalf. I believe it is His will to see His Kingdom come, and for evil to be defeated. So therefore, when people are sick, I pray for their healing. If they are in need of provision, I pray for that. Jesus didn’t equivocate when He saw sickness – He healed it. I guess I no longer see God’s will as some grand, unknowable mystery.

      I love this Brennan Manning quote:

      “He is not moody or capricious; he knows no seasons of change. He has a single relentless stance toward us: he loves us. He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners. False gods — the gods of human manufacturing — despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do. But of course this is almost too incredible for us to accept.”

      • In other words, I don’t think we need to worry about praying for the wrong things so much. Yes, it’s possible to pray selfishly – but I suspect that’s a matter of spiritual immaturity. Just like a four year old will ask his father for new toys all the time, I think immature Christians will be too wrapped up in their own problems to see the needs of others. But I don’t think that changes the fact that the Father loves us – unconditionally.

        I just think too many Christians simply don’t know the gracious love of the Father. We operate under the mentality that God is going to smite us if we mess up and reward us if we perform. Believing in this will seriously prevent from actually wanting to pray.

      • Phil, thank you for the thought, but I cannot recall such stories. I can see when God relented because of a change of heart, or repentence. Obedience to God may have averted catastrophe in Bible stories. More often a lack of repentance or obedience has brought on catastrophe. Do you refer, perhaps, to Abraham’s bargaining for lives in Sodom? Hezekiah being granted another 15 years? If so, I am not sure either of these showed a change of mind on God’s part.

        Is there a New Testament passage where God changed his mind because of prayer? Paul’s thorn remained. Jesus’ cup remained His to drink. Beyond “anything you ask”, where does Jesus teach that we can alter what God already has in mind?

        • In the OT, I primarily think of Moses’ interactions with God. There are several times when he convinces God to spare the lives of the Israelites. There are also times where God says He is sending judgment, the person repents, and judgment is withheld. This may technically not be God “changing His mind”, but I have a hard time squaring it with a deterministic understanding of things. If God actually foreknew what was going to happen, was He lying to the prophets when He told them otherwise?

          In the NT, I’d say the types of interactions that are recorded in the OT aren’t really there, but the NT certainly is full of warnings that imply contingencies of some sort or another. I don’t necessarily think that prayer is always a matter of “changing God’s mind”. I think it’s more a matter of seeking His will, and aligning our hearts with His. I do think intercessory prayer “works”, for lack of a better word, though.

    • I hear you loud and clear Jim. I think prayer is the most confusing issue in all of theology. I don’t have a strong existential problem with the origin of evil or how free will works. They aren’t really issues that affect my day-to-day life, but prayer seems really important and freakishly bizarre.

      I guess my core problem is that I find the idea of a god whose mind we can change almost repulsive. That simply does not compute for me. That’s like me taking advice from a parrot. For the most part I genuinely think it’s not right that God answers prayer. Why should what I want be more important than what a member of some tribe deep in the Amazon wants just because I have a better idea of who I’m praying too? I have essentially given up on intercessory prayer simply because I don’t think it’s right that it could work. I occasionally lapse when I’m a bit desperate, but on those occasions I’m typically also telling God how much he really shouldn’t answer my prayer. I also frequently feel guilty not praying for someone. The whole issue just really ties me up in knots.

      I consider the parable of the unjust judge the hardest passage in the Bible. I recoil so strongly against the idea of the squeaky wheel getting the oil that I really hate that God apparently works like that.

      • I guess my core problem is that I find the idea of a god whose mind we can change almost repulsive. That simply does not compute for me. That’s like me taking advice from a parrot. For the most part I genuinely think it’s not right that God answers prayer.

        But that sounds like the God of Islam (as I understand things), not the Father of Jesus Christ and the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. Why shouldn’t we expect God’s PERSONALNESS to include Him acting in ways that appear to us (or in fact may really be) as instances of His being moved or changing His mind by or through or as a result of or in response to our prayers? To reject God’s being able to relate to us Person-to-person would seem to me to diminish the person-ness of human beings.

        • Amen, Eric! Part of what makes God so loving is His humility in stooping to listen, and answer, our prayers! That’s what makes his Incarnation and mercy so amazing.

        • I’m with Therese.

          I think you’ve nailed it, EricW.

          “Why shouldn’t we expect God’s PERSONALNESS?”

      • I could try to give some theologically-based answer, but most of the time, those don’t do any real good. You might want to check out some of Brennan Manning’s or Henri Nouwen’s books. Those guys will change how you think of the Father.

      • Ken, I’m thinking that the best reason to pray is to seek God’s thoughts on an issue, and that the prayers of the saints are important in that they link God’s thoughts with His hands and feet here on earth to do and create, to repair and to heal.

        I know it sounds a little esoteric, but before we had watches, someone had to THINK about a watch …how it would display time and how the gears should be made to function with each other, how it would be powered, etc. Our minds are a way to convert spiritual and intellectual concepts into physical reality, analogous to how a motor converts one form of energy to another. Perhaps we are meant to pray so that our work on earth truly reflects God and his nature, not so much to receive whatever goodies we deem desirable. We are taught to pray so that we come to know His mind.

      • “I consider the parable of the unjust judge …”

        Ken, I think the parable of the “Persistent Widow” likely has a better explanation in the cultural and historic context of the story that we miss altogether. It seems a difficult passage, particularly when Jesus asks if whether he will find faith on the earth when he comes. How does that relate to the widow’s persistance? We’re missing some necessary cultural clues here.

        Perhaps one is that the widow asks for “justice” against her adversary, instead of demanding simply that her adversary be drawn and quartered. If she were seeking vengeance or wealth, perhaps the judge would not have responded so favorably. Jesus predisposes us to sympathy for her by calling her a widow. If he had said “prositute” instead, it would have been a whole ‘nuther story! Jesus does go on to say that God would quickly provide justice for his chosen ones who ask, so a faithful follower wouldn’t need to become a squeaky wheel. And our God, by His nature, assures ultimate justice.

        Perhaps the prayer for justice is the lesson here and not (as we’ve always been taught) persistence?

    • Those are great questions, Jim. Too bad I don’t know the answers. Intercessory prayer confuses me. Contemplative prayer is something I understand a bit better, even though I am only a baby in that area too. And the benefit of spending time in contemplative prayer is not just so that we can have a cozy time with God, but so that we can bring that love out to the world.

      I have always had a difficult time with Jesus saying that his disciples will do even greater things than he did. I haven’t seen or heard of anyone doing greater things than Jesus did.

      When it comes right down to it, my main prayer is, “Jesus, help me to love.” I figure if I get everything else wrong about prayer, THAT prayer’s intention has just GOT to be right! 🙂

      Has anyone ever seen a bonafide miraculous healing occur? I am talking about healings the way Jesus did it: guy blind since birth can instantaneously see; crazy people immediately sane; brings child back to life (and no, I am not talking about through medical means).

      • I guess it depends on what you’re definition of the word bonafide is, but I’ve seen a number of things that I know were miracles. A few that come to mind right away involve my wife. From before we got married, my wife had been suffering with fibromyalgia. As anyone who’s had that can tell you, it can be debilitating. Well, I think two or three years after we were married we were at an evening service at our church. My wife had just gone up to pray. One of the elders went and prayed with her – it wasn’t even for anything related to fibromyalgia. Anyway, she woke up the next day completely pain-free. That was like seven years ago. It’s just gone.

        My mom tells the story that when I was 2, I fell and bit my tongue to the point that the tip was literally hanging by a thread. We lived in a rather rural area at the time, and my dad was out, so she was kind of stuck. Not knowing what else to do, she prayed, and she claims she saw my tongue being healed. I didn’t get stitches or anything – it just quit bleeding, and became whole again. I know that’s secondhand, but I think she’s a reliable source. 🙂

        • Those are great stories of healings, Phil! I call them both “bonafide.” Your mom must have been so relieved to have you instantly healed like that. The difficulty for so many people is not understanding why some are healed and others are not. It’s very sad when sick people are made to feel they don’t have enough faith and that’s why they are not being healed. Jesus prayed to have his future changed if at all possible, but he still had to suffer on the cross. So even in his case, praying did not bring the desired results. Though of course we know that Jesus desired what the Father desired even more than he wanted to avoid the pain.

          • Great point!

            Paul’s hankies could heal others, but he had a chronic condition God refused to take away. Sometimes being incurably sick is the ministry location he has called us to.

    • Tim Becker says:

      Jim that was an awesome post. I don’t have many answers myself, and the ones I do have are getting fewer all the time, therefore, I like anything that makes those who think they have the answers to scratch their head.

  27. Ben Meyer says:

    Luther’s preface to the Lord’s Prayer in the Large Catechism is wonderful in answering the question raised. I’ll quote a small portion…
    “But where there is to be a true prayer, there must be seriousness. People must feel their distress, and such distress presses them and compels them to call and cry out. Then prayer will be made willingly, as it ought to be.”

    I highly recommend reading this if you want a serious answer to a serious question.
    http://bookofconcord.org/lc-5-ourfather.php

  28. 2 Cor3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

    Prayer is part of doing the beholding… intentionally coming before God, and looking at him. We consider and praise him for his attributes, which in turns shows us our lack of them and induces humility. We are struck by his holiness and the darkness of the world, and plead with him to light that dark place, and to remove our dark places. The offenses we have received grow smaller in that beholding, and the offenses we have caused to man and God alike grow larger. We understand the seriousness of sin, as all of our rationalizations fade away. We are then amazed all anew by Jesus’ sacrifice, his love, and his patience. The absurdity and ridiculousness of some of our speech and deeds becomes evident, and our lives are pointed again onto the path to God, our “wobbling knees” straightened. We are literally obeying the first few verses of Heb 12.

    And the amazing thing, is that this is entirely opposite of earthly pleasures. The first candy, the first hit of a new drug, etc is always better than what comes after. Novelty fades, and we can’t find that first experience again, the second bite is always duller. But prayer, delving deep into God, is different. I think it is because he is infinite. Every time of prayer tastes better than the last, there is always greater understanding of God to explore. It is marvelous!

    It is hard, too. I find it exhausting, and I’m not sure how “without ceasing” is supposed to work! But Paul set a lot of goals he was still working on, so I hope this was one.

    So with Peter in the introduction to both of his epistles I would with you all “more and more grace and peace”.

  29. I’m very aware of the power and value of prayer. I’m alive today in no small part because of people’s prayers. But I’m reluctant to join in times of collective/group prayer in most evangelical settings for a number of reasons, which I admit probably have a varying degree of validity depending on the group. I worry that it will be shallow, like so much else is. I worry that it will be hijacked by the loquacious and extroverted, neither of which I am. I worry that it will become yet another form of theatre, like so much worship is. In short, I’m worried that something that has incredible spiritual intimacy to it and requires deep relationship and thought will be done entirely too casually and flippantly.

    And even if none of those happen, I’m increasingly less comfortable saying prayers out loud in front of others; it’s hard enough — sometimes impossible — to articulate in my own mind what I mean to say or what I need to express; I depend on God to understand it anyway.

    I like the idea of written/liturgical prayers as part of corporate worship (though the church we sometimes go to now doesn’t do anything liturgical), and I think very small group prayer can be great with the right group. And I like the idea of silent centering prayer that the quakers and others use.

  30. Where do you live? We’ve square danced for years, and the activity is nearly dead most places. There are rumors that there are a few places where it is thriving, but no one here has yet met the person who can name a place. Perhaps you would have needed to push back the tables in 70’s, but not now. Even the toddler Sunday school room would probably be more than enough.

  31. I’m a post-Evangelical who converted to Orthodox Christianity this year. Before we were Orthodox, my husband was an Evangelical pastor. Our evangelical church prayed a lot. We prayed during service, after service, mid-week and sometimes would schedule a whole “week of prayer.” We went on prayer walks, prayed with each other over the phone and at home gatherings. I can’t say it deepened my relationship with God. It felt like I was trying to arm wrestle a giant.

    I now have a rule of prayer that is given to me by my priest. I pray (ideally) morning and evening a set list of prayers which is slightly shorter than what I feel I can handle. We do it this way so we don’t become proud about how much we are praying. We also pray short prayers as we go about our day, even just saying “Lord have mercy” “amen” or simply making the sign of the cross, as these are all good prayers.

    Even just getting to the point of praying is a huge battle; I think our prayers should remain humble, sober and reverent with the understanding that the best prayer is the silence of profound faith in God’s love and mercy.

    As for prayer during church, our entire liturgy is filled with prayer and is basically one long prayer. As we live out our lives liturgically and sacramentally, we find we are moving within a great prayer to God. This is a tremendous gift. When we understand how much God has given us and when we also understand our own sinful state, we will be driven to pray the simple and pure prayers that please God. God grant that our churches will truly be houses of prayer where we can learn by example.

  32. “The Lord gave me to know how displeased He is with a talkative soul. He said,’I find no rest in such a soul. The constant din tires Me, and in the midst of it the soul cannot discern My voice.’ ” – Saint Faustina.