Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Counter-Cultural Activity of Prayer

After a small gathering of prayer warriors this Wednesday, I fell to thinking about how prayer that shaped the Western world is completely against the values of our modern Western world:

  • Action - Prayer often feels useless because the activity is done by God.
  • Speed - There's no way to utilize any tool to speed up God's responses.
  • Temper - "The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God". 
  • Personal opinion - One of prayer's big goals is to focus you on hearing God and obeying God, and actively turning your back on your own desires and thoughts.
  • Individual achievement - This counts for nothing with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. They created the world in 6 days, and invested personal effort in saving children that weren't interested in obeying them.
  • Crowd approval - Jesus excoriated the Pharisees for making long prayers in the marketplace so that everyone could applaud their holiness. Daniel won a court case appeal (via lions) for his habit of keeping a window open while praying, while 120 satraps lost their lives. 
  • Rebellion - this is "as the sin of witchcraft", and hampers prayer. 
  • Anti-authoritarian - God is the authority. You're not. Submission is essential.
  • Self-actualization - Humility, begging for forgiveness, and admittance of sin are in complete opposition to "I can do it all myself" - especially since many Scriptural examples of prayer's power came with people in groups (Pentecost, Peter's release from prison, Solomon's dedication of the Temple)
  • Dialogue - God does answer, but He doesn't given an immediate verbal response, He often uses silence, or we have to figure out what He wants by (a) waiting, (b) listening, and (c) reading His Word. The whole book of Nehemiah shows individuals and groups repenting of sin, describing God's amazing attributes, and making respectful requests. Not once did God say "why yes, that's a good plan". They had to figure out His answer from what happened after the prayer.
  • Personality - God created it. See "individual achievement". 
  • Quick fixes - God let Abraham and Sarah sit on a promise of His (for a son) for 25 years. Also see the Parable of the Persistent Widow.
  • Aesthetics - Prayer can be heard in prison or at home. ("God, be merciful to me, a sinner.")
  • Positive thinking - Nehemiah's prayer for wall restoration and Hannah's prayer for a child were answered, along with Elisha's prayer for blindness of the Assyrians, Elijah's prayer to burn up a sacrifice to shame the priests of Baal, 
  • Cheap grace - Prayers won't be heard by unrighteous men, those with violent hands, or by men who treat their wives badly (1 Peter 3:7). Also, selfish motives (James 4:3), lack of attention to His commandments (Proverbs 28:9), unrepented sin (Psalm 66:18), lack of faith (James 1:5-7) and lack of forgiveness (Mark 11:25) are all hindrances to prayer. In fact, you may get curses instead of blessings for these abominations. 
Our King likes to be approached regularly with acknowledgements of His person, understanding of His grace, and attention to His will - before we make our requests known. At the same time, "Abba, Father" and spread-out hands can work, while the Holy Spirit makes intercession with groanings that cannot be uttered. He's always ready to hear a contrite heart.