Shuck and Jive

Monday, January 07, 2008

Another Thought on Prayer

My father likes the tell the story of an adult Sunday School class experience. It was a men's class and there was discussion over some theological point. The teacher was not successful in convincing one of the members of his position. He finally said in exasperation, "I'll pray for you, brother." The recalcitrant member shot back, "I'll pray for you, too!"

Obviously, neither of them was in a praying mood.

I believe that using the phrase, "I'll pray for you" when the subtext is, "You are wrong, and I am right" is actually a curse. It is using the sacred act of prayer in vain. I am fortunate to serve a congregation that takes prayer seriously. We do pray for one another, for our community, and for our world.

Prayer for discernment, prayer for peace, prayer for healing in mind, body, and spirit is a central part of our worship and is something we do individually and with others in smaller groups.

Much of the time this prayer is silent. Some times it is spoken. But it is real. I don't write this to brag on the congregation or to suggest that we are super holy. Far from it. We are not. But those who think we are misguided, lacking spiritual depth, or that we need to be "prayed for" to get right with their version of God, obviously have not been part of who we are. I would say the same for our friends at the UU church.

One of my literature professors in college described prayer in this way: "When a person happens to cross my mind, I try to remember to think about that person and wish them well."

My friend, Bill K., who leads our Wednesday meditation has taught me a wonderful prayer that I often use in worship:

"Great Spirit, you know what the world needs more than we do. Bring it swiftly, surely, and most harmoniously into the lives of every living being.

Great Spirit, you know what each of us needs more than we do. Bring it swiftly, surely, and most harmoniously into each of our lives."

The serenity prayer is also a beautiful prayer that we use on occasion:

grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference."

We will use the Lord's prayer on occasion, too.

Prayer comes out of the experience of love and care. Prayer is respectful of others whoever they are and wherever they are on their journey.

I hesitate to write about these things, as I don't want to cheapen them by making them public. My point is that prayer is a sacred act in which we seek to open ourselves to God rather than have God do what we want for someone else.


  1. Well, I think this a difficult one. It's true we should never use prayer as a weapon, or something done out of anger. We should be humble. No one of us has it altogether, or knows all the answers.

    But, what if the other person really is wrong, or doing something to harm themselves or others, spiritually, or otherwise.

    To give an example that folks here might relate to better, I've shared already with people who are ensnared in homphobia that I think they are wrong, doing harm, and I'm praying that God will open their hearts and minds.

    I'm truly sincere about this, and not meaning any disrespect or personal attack at all. But, I can see how it might be perceived otherwise. It's not easy to hear that maybe we're wrong, and heading in the wrong direction. It's bound to come across as judgemental no matter what.

    Maybe it's best not to mention that we're praying for someone if they may misunderstand or be offended. But, then that doesn't seem honest or transparent either.
    What to do?

    John, I think that part of the problem with sharing on these blogs is that we're not really incarnational to each other. There's not a real life involvement in one another's lives. It's hard to discern the other person's motives, and spirit, and so even more easy to misunderstand or become offended.

    It's harder to build common ground, be affirming, and express these concerns at the sametime.

    I know that I fall short, and I certainly have plenty of issues in my life where people could be praying, that's for sure.

    But, the bottom line for me is that I'm always going to be praying, whether I mention it or not, for people to truly hear the gospel, and to come to Christ.

    It's the prayer of my heart all the time. I can't even help it.

  2. I have always liked Bill K's prayer because it is so inclusive. It is relevant to all religions. I have long been quite uncomfortable when prayers at public events (sporting, etc) or meetings like Rotary, Lions clubs make specific reference to Jesus. A prayer to a greater power is fine, but to assume that everybody is (or should be) Christian is arrogant.

    As an aside, my mother used to get really upset some Sundays at lunch after church when this one man would be dining at the same restaurant. He would stand and in a stentorian voice give a somewhat lengthy blessing for all to hear. And my parents, actually my dad but Mother would prompt him, said grace at home but not in restaurants.

    Prayer, to me, should be between you and your higher being. A Quaker mealtime blessing was often a moment of silence when each could offer up their individual thanks.

  3. But, the bottom line for me is that I'm always going to be praying, whether I mention it or not, for people to truly hear the gospel, and to come to Christ.

    Of course you are.

  4. Prayer is to me, as Harold Kushner puts it, being in the presence of God.

    When people come to prayer with an arrogant tribalistic perspective--such as found among those Christians who cannot tolerate the idea of people having other faith systems and who "pray for you" if you don't believe what they believe--then it is really about something quite different. It isn't really listening to God so much as telling things to God, it is really about an "us" versus "them" mentality in which, of course, the one doing the praying is certain that they are on the winning team.

  5. Bill,
    You just do not seem to understand truth, by its very nature, it is exclusive. It says something is "this" but not "that." If something is "all-inclusive," then it is not true.

  6. OK, so let's be literalist for a bit. Say Alan or Grace out of deep concern and compassion, and I will grant that is the case, are praying for me or my congregation to change because we, in their view are wrong and misguided.

    And let's say that these prayers they shoot up to their gods are effective. In other words, their prayers motivate their gods to mess with us.

    Let's say we are pretty happy where we are and where we are headed, or least we don't want to become like them.

    Now, I have to get my church together to shoot up prayers to our gods to defend against their gods.

    It is simply a hassle.

  7. John,

    Who is your god? It's difficult to determine from your posts, because you quote from several different "sacred" texts.

    In Christ,

  8. Well, Lisa, I would assume it's the God of Abraham.

    In the context of John's sermon on Abraham himself, of course it is useful to compare the Genesis account with that of another holy text--especially from another Abrahamic religion.

    Is your objection to John's using the Quran to illustrate a point about our common spiritual ancestor that pastors should never mention any book other than the Bible in a sermon, lest the congregation become confused? That would disqualify most Presbyterian ministers in one fell swoop.

  9. Yes, flycandler, that is my objection. Christianity and Islam are mutually exclusive, and to use the Quran to support the Bible, or vice versa, is irrational.

    In Christ,

    PS My church, a Presbyterian church (PCA, not PC-USA) would never use a text in this way.

  10. So your pastor never, ever, ever quotes any book, play, movie, song or anything else in his sermons? That sounds incredibly dull and uninspiring.

    Why is it so horribly wrong for a Christian minister to say "here's what we Christians believe, here's what the Jews think, and here's what the Muslims think about the same story in Genesis"? The Protestant Bible and the Quran aren't mutually exclusive--they deal with just about the same cast of characters. It's not the job of a Minister of the Word & Sacrament to shield his/her congregation from knowledge.

    Oh, yeah, that's another difference between the PCA and the PC(USA): we ordain women who are called to the ministry.

  11. I've attended Taize services that include some novel translations of the Psalms as part of their readings. Occasionally, instead of psalms, they have used writings from the Quran. And the writings that they've used on those occasions were quite beautiful. I for one am thankful for that experience.

    People need to open their minds and their eyes a bit, to see the transcendent beauty that can be found in the profound expressions of faith in other religions. And by the same token, not everything found in the Bible is always that beautiful or wonderful--many of the psalms, for example, express a kind of hate filled revenge mentality towards one's enemies. There is good and bad to be found in many faiths. It can be a joy to discover passages of profound faith, regardless of the faith tradition from which they come.

  12. Flycandler,

    The Bible says Jesus is God. The Quran says Jesus is not God. How can you rationally say they are not mutually exclusive? If one is correct, the other cannot be.

    Your denomination may ordain women, but that does not mean those women are called to ministry. The Bible is clear that elders (of which the pastor is one) are only to be men, and God does not call someone to be something that goes against his Word.

    In Christ,

  13. Mystical Seeker,

    All I can say to you is a quote from Matthew 7:13-14:

    13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and hthe way is hard that leads to life, and ithose who find it are few.

    The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Mt 7:13-14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

  14. John,

    I'm truly sorry for your hurt. I can definitely agree that once we get into the battle of the Bible verses, or folks start getting upset and offended, the conversation tends not to be very fruitful, and certainly doesn't reflect the love of Christ.

    I'm backing away from discussion here, and letting it to God. We should hold each other in prayer, though.

    God's peace to you, and to everyone here.

  15. So, Lisa, if we're already headed down the path of destruction as a denomination due simply to the fact that, like Paul and Jesus, we allow women to answer the call from God and become ministers, why are you so concerned about a PC(USA) minister in Tennessee discussing the similarities and differences between the ways that Christians, Muslims and Jews talk about the same person?

    The Tanakh (Old Testament to us Protestants) does not say that Jesus is God. Does that mean that Judaism and Christianity are mutually exclusive? Since the Old Testament is part of our canon, does that mean that Christianity is mutually exclusive from itself?

  16. Grace,

    I don't think I am hurt. Just annoyed. But I get over it by posting about it!


  17. Lisa and Alan,

    Welcome. I think you will have a boatload to be offended about with this blog. Enjoy!

  18. Sigh


    Prayer is a wonderful thing. It is just one method by which we achieve inner peace. I have had prayers answered, and I am smart enough to know the difference between answered prayer and coincidence.

    Your point is clear and well received, John. Of course, I don't pray for these kooky fundi snake handlers because they're wrong. I pray for them because they're blind. The blindness comes before confusion. Thus, it prevents education and open mindedness and creates a disdain for logic and fact. Jesus was pure logic, the single smartest man that ever existed. To look at His teachings with anything other than logic is to waste His words and replace them with one's own.
    That's why they cherry-pick verses the way Alan does. Ignoring context allows for the cherry-picker to apply their own, personal ideology and imagine themselves in Jesus' seat and equal or superior to Him.
    It's a personal power trip. Nothing more.

    This is why we had the inquisitions and all the other atrocities that have been committed in the name of "God" right down to the war on Iraq. These people are just like Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell, Joseph and Evangaline Combs...manipulators, predators, deceivers.
    They're control freaks that thrive on keeping those that hear them dumbed down and easy to use.

    It's annoying I know, but these Taliban types are unfortunately a fact of Christian life just as it is with Islam, Judisim, and every other religion.
    Take them with the same grain of salt they take Jesus and his love with.

  19. Flycandler,

    Where in scripture does it say that women were ministers?


  20. tn420-
    Have you visited my blog? I challenge you to put the verses in context and find a different meaning than what was intended by the author. That's right I said it, it does not matter one whit what the text means to you, it matters what was intended by the author, there is a meaning in the text.

  21. **I challenge you to put the verses in context and find a different meaning than what was intended by the author. **

    And if the author meant that the Earth was literally flat? As it is, Judaism would say that Christianity takes the Tanakh extremely out of context, or just flat-out interprets wrong. Or what if Paul really meant that the second coming was to occur in his lifetime?

    No one person correctly knows how to interpret the Bible verses. We do the best we can, but it's ultimately left up to our subjective viewpoints, and experiences.

  22. one-
    That is simply not true. Hermeneutics is an art and a science. It is an art in that the more one practices it the better one becomes and a science in that there are rules that one must follow when practicing it. Choosing to ignore this does nothing but make one wrong.

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  24. Lisa G., thanks for passing along an irrelevant Bible quote. As if I thought that just because the Bible says something, then it must be true.

  25. Mystical Seeker,

    How do you decide what's true and what's not? What is your source of ultimate truth?


  26. John,

    This whole of idea of arrogantly praying some to come around to recognizing one’s so-called theological right beliefs reminds me of the parable Jesus offered to illustrate just such misuse of prayer:

    “Two men who went into the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself: `O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of men, extortioners, unlearned, unjust, adulterers, or even like this publican. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift his eyes to heaven but smote his breast, saying, `God be merciful to me a sinner.' I tell you that the publican went home with God's approval rather than the Pharisee, for every one who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14)

    This is an example of humans wanting to pretend to be the arbiters of salvation on their own arrogant theological terms. The Father gives salvation as a free gift to all who have the faith to recognize and receive their sonship and daughtership in the family of God with a wholehearted and sincere desire to do the Father’s will. We don’t earn our way into salvation by either works or right theological believes (these blind narrow minded conservative evangelicals understand the first “works” part, but fail to grasp they are like the Pharisees in the “beliefs” category). Works of self-righteousness cannot buy the favor of God, and much praying in public for others will not atone for lack of living faith in the heart or the fruits of the spirit in their lives. We may deceive by our pretentious words or deeds, but God looks into our souls.

  27. Lisa G. said... "How do you decide what's true and what's not? What is your source of ultimate truth?

    The Pharisees were confident they had the Torah, which they believed was delivered by Moses, and therefore, in their biblio-idolatry they rejected the truth when it was being lived and taught in front of their very eyes, saying "but as for this man Jesus, we know not whence he is"; today, Christians practice their own form of biblio-idolatry; they now claim the Old Testament (twisted and interpreted according to their interpretation) and the New Testament are the Word of God and like those who followed the religion of authority before them, the Pharisees, when they say, "but as for this new truth (evolution, other religious traditions, etc.), we know not when it comes"; and then ask "What is your source of ultimate truth?", when in reality there is no such thing as ultimate truth in human experience, only living truth, and Jesus told us this was the living truth revealed by the Spirit of Truth to the hearts and minds of those who love the truth and will follow it wherever it leads.

    "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you." (John 16:12-15)

    Those who follow the religions of authority seek to imprison truth in a creed, a dogma, a belief; Jesus released the Spirit of Truth to all those of sincere heart to who do what he teachings; love God with all our heart, all soul, and all our strength, and love our neighbor as oneself. And if we dare, to love even our enemies with such a love, and then we truly can call ourselves his disciples.

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  30. This is lovely- really beautiful. Thank you. And very thought provoking.jqpfra

  31. Lisa, here are some to get you started:

    Luke 8.1-3 (Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna)

    John 4.39-42 (woman at the well tells her fellow Samaritans about Jesus being Savior of the world)

    Romans 16.1 (Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae)

    Romans 16.3, 1 Cor 16.19 (Prisca, explicitly named as a leader of a house church)

    Colossians 4.15 (Nympha, another leader of a house church)

    Romans 16.6 (Mary)

    Romans 16.7 (Junia)

    Romans 16.12 (Persis)

    Romans 16.15 (Julia and Nereus' sister)

    Philemon 2 (Apphia)