Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Few Thoughts About Prayer

I hear or see something said often that has gotten me thinking over the past few months. When someone asks for prayer, people will say something like, “Prayers sent your way!” I know and understand that is meant to be encouraging, but I fear it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what prayer is. I don’t think I’m being nitpicky with this, either. I guess someone could argue it's just misuse of the phrase, like a grammar mistake, but somehow, I don't think so. I see it too often for it to be just an unintended error. 

See, I think for much of the pop culture of America, prayer has taken on a sort of pop spirituality definition that means little more than something along the lines of, “Good feelings, warm thoughts for you,” rather than realizing prayer is actually talking to Someone, and who that Someone really is. America is saturated in a kind of civil, sentimental religion, “God Bless America,” feel-good sentimentality that masquerades as spiritual that I think is becoming more and more pervasive. Less and less do people we rub shoulders with in our community really understand or actually believe in the real, true, almighty Creator God who has revealed Himself very specifically in His word and through Jesus Christ. What I’m noticing today is that when people talk about ‘God,' they really don’t have a clue about GOD, but they have in mind a kind of deistic god who is benevolent, but not really intricately involved in their lives except when some crisis comes along and they ask for ‘prayers’ but live pretty much without much thought for God any other time, and they certainly don’t seem to think much about what God may demand of them. He’s sort of like Santa Claus. He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good.....and you give him your list of wants/demands/wishes when you ‘pray,’ and if he doesn’t deliver or if your prayers aren’t answered the way you want or bad things happen to you, well, you get mad at him. This video says well, I think, how much of our culture has a wrong understanding of who God really is:

This sentimentalized spirituality that has so saturated our cultural dialogue is manifested in a number of ways. I think that’s one reason there’s so little discernment over books like “Heaven is for Real” and Joel Osteen’s feel-goodisms and Oprah and contemplative spirituality even in our evangelical churches and dialogues. We just don’t see the error for what it is because it’s so sweet and feels so nice and sounds so good. We were at a band competition once and the school band boosters of the sponsor school made an announcement before the awards that this competition had been dedicated to the memory of a girl from their band who had passed away. They said the family asked that instead of a moment of silence that we all cheer loud enough for her to hear us. There was an awkward moment of silence before the announcer came back on and said, “Come on, now, let’s hear it.” I am NOT mocking the pain of a family who lost their daughter much too young. NOT at all. My heart aches for them, truly, and while the stands awkwardly cheered, I prayed silently for the family. But that demonstrated, to me, some of the weird, sentimental spirituality so much of the culture around us embraces that breaks my heart when you see how very far it is from understanding the truth. In the end, it’s empty, wishful thinking, hoping for something better, faith in faith, but with nothing on which to rest that hope and faith. And my heart breaks for people who are burdening under that tyranny of hopeless hope.

Christian friends, we have the Something Better for which they hope. We know the gospel. We know the Savior. May we, may I, do a better job of articulating and sharing it with people we rub shoulders with. 

Anyway, back to prayer. The thing is, when I ask for prayer, I really and truly do not want prayers ‘sent my way.’ I can’t hear or answer prayers. Well wishes and kind thoughts are all well and good and very much appreciated. I am not knocking that at all. But they aren’t PRAYERS. Prayers, true prayers, are prayed to God. We pray to God for other people, we don't send prayers their way. God hears the prayers of those who come boldly before His throne through Jesus Christ, and, friends, that is the ONLY true way to pray to the God who created all that is. 

Words mean something. Prayer is talking to God. The only way to truly pray is to pray to the God who IS, and the only way to pray to the one true God is through His Son, Jesus, who shed His blood to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness and be our ONLY mediator with the Father. Jesus alone is our High Priest, and it is in relationship with Him alone, cleansed by His blood alone, dressed in His righteousness alone that we can stand before God and pray. And the wonder of it is that as believers in Jesus Christ, we have the awesome privilege and burden and responsibility TO pray! How wonderful is this!

So, send kind thoughts my way if you want, but prayers? They are only to be to God.Only God can hear and answer prayers. Sending them my way, or the way of anyone else won’t do anyone any good at all. 

Hebrews 4:14-16
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.


Kay said...

I so agree to all of this! When our son was ill (and dying), our daughter went to a Christian school. I had many parents come up to me and tell me how 'sweet' it was for them to hear their little Johnny praying for our son. Oddly, those same parents rarely if ever said THEY had prayed for our son and us. They were just sending a sentimental mushy thought 'my way' and thought I could receive it. Not to say that God doesn't hear childrens' prayers or anything.But in my darkest hour, it wasn't the most comforting know that a little kid was saying 'please help make him feel better'. I was put in the position of receiving their nice thought about praying for us when actually the warm fuzzy was for herself. And I had to smile and say 'thank you' and 'that is nice' and so on. UGH. Oh that believers could realize who God is and who we worship and who we pray to and see the error in their flippant ways. Just sad.

Rebekah said...

Oh, Kay, that is so sad. I wish people would realize how cold and selfish such comments really are,more a burden on the grief-stricken than a help. I had a pastor once who encouraged us not to flippantly say, "I'll pray for you," then feel warm and fuzzy and go on our way and promptly forget to pray. That stuck with me, and I've made it a habit to stop and actually pray when I say I will pray for someone. I agree with you, oh that believers would realize who God is. And oh that we would be much less selfish and sentimental and much more willing to really love each other. We are so flippant so much of the time. Thanks for sharing your experience.