Why I Pray

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My biggest obstacle to staying Christian is prayer. If God is all-powerful, all-knowing and compassionate, then why does he not answer the prayers of those who pray for others?

I have a long list of people I pray for on a daily basis. I don’t pray because I “have to” but because I love to help others and (seemingly) there is no better One to ask than God to give assistance with that. I will not paint the picture more bleak than it is. Sometimes things happen that could be an answer to prayer. But how do I know it is that and not just coincidence? Other times, when needs are desperate, there is nothing. No wind, no light, no movement. Just darkness and static existence. Silence from heaven.

On the other hand, I have explored my own questions so I don’t just ask them and then abandon all hope. If there is a God and if He is GOOD, then he MUST answer prayer. He cannot ignore the pleas of one who cries out to Him for help, and remain Good.

Something I have learned (it was a VERY hard thing to learn) is that God is so much bigger than we are, so glorious, so vital, so immense, that we cannot (literally) begin to comprehend his majesty. We are but dust and He is the Lord of the Universe. I visualize an image of Betelgeuse with a comparative image of our Sun and another image of our Earth. Then I consider myself in regards to them all and I am nothing. Yet this illustration is but a grain of sand compared to God. In one sense we cannot know God. How can we? He is wholly other and is ineffable…beyond possibility of comprehension. Yet, as a Christian, I believe that he is in the smallest things too and is personally present with me and makes himself known to me. How this is so is a mystery. I have no idea.

Another thing I have learned is that prayer is not exactly what we think it is. While it can be asking God for things (indeed, to ask is the meaning of the word, pray), what it really is, is communion, fellowship, union. Though no request is too small for God if asked from a sincere heart, who do we think we are to demand that God cater to our wants and desires? God works all things together for the good of those who love him, who are the called according to his purpose. If this is true, then oftentimes the difficulty of our prayer lives reveal more about ourselves than about God. We have wants. We have desires. We have needs. But do those wants, desires, and needs correspond to what God knows is best for us? Do they correspond to what He knows will work all things together for good?

And lastly, I am persuaded that God is never absent. Never. The reason we often feel alone and abandoned by God is very simply that we fail to realize that we have *never experienced the true absence of God*. He has always been there. Those times we feel alone? They are the result of our nature and our tendency to turn from God, even when we don’t want to, or realize that we are doing so.

God is so present with us that he is the very life source of our full existence and being. Think about that. Why then are we not more aware? The answer, I think, is much simpler than we might expect…and it has nothing to do with our “sinfulness”. Rather, it is because God is the foundation of our being, that he does his work at levels of depth in our person that do not often rise to consciousness. As Christians, we have a 2000 year history of saints and preachers, apostles and others who have told us of the glories of knowing God and how he can change one’s life. We all want that. The mistake comes when we expect God’s work to be done on a conscious level. God is working to change us from the inside out. He does this in the profound depths of our being, transforming us inside first. Of course, the ultimate goal of sanctification (theosis) is the full conscious communion with God. Face to Face as it were. But that is for the future for the most part. After all, *something* must be different after the resurrection! We do NOT have it all now. There must be something to hope for in the future.

So, though I sometimes doubt, even God’s existence, I remember that I am dust and that God is in me working in ways I cannot comprehend and I am comforted. I also remember that God is working in those for whom I pray as well. I rarely pray for anyone anymore for a short time. I pray for them for years. Some of them I will pray for until I or they die. I believe God is working. I believe not one word uttered in sincere prayer ever goes awry. I may never realize or see how it is answered, but that doesn’t matter. I trust the One who always answers and is always faithful to complete the work in us that he has begun in Jesus.

Becoming as Little Children

jesus-children.24174626_stdThe human person is incredibly complex. Exactly how human consciousness arises is a greatly debated issue and thus far no satisfactory theory has been presented.

Consciousness seems to develop alongside biological development. That is to say, a child does not have the integrated consciousness that is had by an adult. Exactly what factors bring this advanced consciousness to the fore is debatable, but I think, that it exists cannot be denied.

Now, consider the maxim by Jesus, “except you become as little children you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” I suggest what this means is that little children inherently trust. Trust is something foundational to the child psyche. Who ever heard of a child that did not trust it’s mother? Of course, not all mothers are trustworthy, but that’s quite beside the point.

I draw from this that what Jesus is saying is that we must retain, regain, develop, secure, maintain that primal trust but as we grow in maturity, to focus that trust on Him. Often, this trust becomes sidetracked or lost through the growing process. We get hurt, we begin to doubt, we start to recede into our selves, we stop trusting because the world is found to be untrustworthy.

This further suggests that the nature of our encounter with God is not usually on the conscious level, yet this is where we expect it to be. We expect God to interact in our lives in visible, tangible ways. How often are we disappointed to find this is not the case??? As C. S. Lewis said, “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes but when you look back, everything is different”? I’d suggest that our encounter with God is not a fleeting thing that happens occasionally, but is so foundational to our existence and being that it takes place in a profound depth of the human person in perpetual communion. The reason we do not easily grasp God’s presence is not because He is not there, but because we have never experienced life without it! The Divine-human encounter is a perpetual thing, not a rarity. Though it is true that it only rarely rises to the conscious level. This is why we can look back over our lives, even when filled with failure, and honestly say, God has been faithful. We see it even though we can’t understand it.

Let us seek and restore our inherent attitude of trust and let us turn it toward Jesus.

Christianity and The Kingdom

Is Christianity, as we have known it, Christianity? Or is Christianity something larger, something bigger than we have realized? Isn’t the name itself limiting, suggesting that Truth is confined to history rather than to the present and future as well?

Suppose Christianity has barely scratched the surface of the meaning of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Suppose that when Jesus said the kingdom is here that really is what he meant, and that His kingdom would grow just as other things grow. A seed is not apparently a tree, but after a long time that is what it can become. Do we really think that Christianity as historically defined is the Kingdom of God in all its fullness? Or that future generations will find themselves in no possession of truth beside that which we currently have?

If the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed then the fullness of the kingdom must be radically different in appearance than the humble beginnings. Who would ever deduce from appearances that a tree came from a seed? So it is with the Kingdom. To equate historic Christianity with the final and ultimate issue from the Seed, which is Christ, is foolishness. Eye has not seen, nor ear has heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for us. This refers not merely to the eschaton, but to the reality of the growth of the Kingdom in this world.

The Great Commandment

Life is not fair. From the human perspective, in which we live, life will never be fair. Did the Amish girls who were murdered a few years ago deserve to die? Who can name anyone who is more the image of chastity and innocence in our world than those children?

Holy Scripture speaks a lot about fairness and justice and equity. It is part and parcel of living the gospel life. We are to treat everyone as we would have ourselves treated by them. That is the second great commandment.

Some would argue that the second commandment is sometimes trumped by the First Great commandment, to Love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. They seem to believe that God’s honor is above or different from that of the people around us. Yet if we observe the way our Lord Jesus lived, we will see that the first Great commandment is kept *in the keeping* of the second. We love God by loving our neighbor who is made in God’s image. Say’s St John, “If any man says he loves God and hates his neighbor, he is a liar. How can the love of God dwell in him?”

What is fairness? Is fairness getting what we deserve? Certainly not. Justice would have us all in hell. We must get over this attachment to “Blind Justice”. Justice is NOT blind. It is precisely justice that SEES the plight of the poor, the sorrow of the oppressed, the need of widow and orphan, the disenfranchised, the lonely, the hurting and the weak. Without eyes to see the pain of the world, how can we possibly be fair? Fairness is love. To not love is to be unfair. IT’s that simple. Yes, yes, hate the sin but do not thereby neglect the sinner. We do not hate those who sin. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. So much “hating the sin” is in reality self righteousness and self-conceit. To “hate the sin” in truth, is to give oneself in love to the sinner.

Love is the essence of the law. Not man’s law, but God’s. If we do not love we are lawless. And love is not selective. Love itself is blind. It loves indiscriminately, without condition, without rules. It is free. And because it is free, it is the fulfillment of the Great Command to Love God, who alone is free and freely loves in and through us. Without this freely given love, we cannot know God and any pretense of love beside that is a lie.

Three Groups of Christians

In this post-evangelical wilderness in which I have found myself, there is a cacophony of voices all clamoring for attention and approval. I try to listen to those who are reasonable, and I do this in charity. I don’t want to write off someone simply because I don’t understand them. So I listen.

I have begun to realize there are three primary ways people think of their Christian faith. Each of these ways of thinking is characterized by common human characteristics. I will briefly describe each of these three groups as I see them and leave the judgement of their validity to you.

Those whom I call Traditionalists are classic Christians, or at least want to be and look to classic Christianity to answer their moral and theological questions. For them, the “Faith once delivered to the saints” is an inviolable thing that defines forever what the Church is to believe and how Christians are to behave. The Faith is statically defined in the Nicene Creed and as such it is considered the symbol of Faith. Traditionalists look within the Church itself for answers regarding itself as well as the world at large. Examples are Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Traditional Anglicans/Episcopalians. Christian Fundamentalists also fall in this camp, but their brothers, the Evangelical Protestants are a borderline between Traditionalists and the next group, the Progressives.

Progressives are often labeled as “modernists” or “liberals” by Traditionalists. But, in fact, this confuses the motivation present that places one in the Progressive camp as opposed to that of the “modernist” or “liberal”. Progressives begin with faith, as do their Traditionalist brothers, but Progressives employ the sciences as well as tradition to understand the world around them and to guide them in determining their faith and practice. On many issues Progressives and Traditionalists can agree. But they also sharply differ in other areas such as evolution and ethics.

The final group is the Modernist. Modernists or “Liberals” take doubt as their starting point concerning Christianity. If it cannot be proven or demonstrated, then it is to be rejected. There is little room for mystery and certainly no room for dogma. Science is the primary means of determining values, ethics, and belief. Modernists may be cultural Christians regarding worship and the visible trappings of religion, but in other things they tend to be secularists.

I cannot give concrete examples of Progressive or Modernists denominations, because no denomination that I am aware of has been founded on the principles each of these groups operates on. For the most part, individuals within most of the denominations fall into one of the two groups unless they are in a Traditionalist denomination or independent congregation.

These are just a few thoughts and observations and they are by no means my final thoughts on the matter. I reserve the right to alter my thoughts and opinions radically if need be. I am open to other viewpoints and encourage any reader to comment with your own thoughts.

A Thought or Two on the “Soul”

ImageIt seems that traditional Christian piety lends itself to the idea of the immaterial soul/spirit. The language of piety is such that it calls on and employes ‘spiritual’ language and metaphor. Detachment from the ‘world’ is a major theme in Christian Piety and seen through the lenses of immaterial soul/spirit seems to play into a gnostic view of the material world.

Some Orthodox and Catholic groups see the essence of sin as submission to the ‘passions’. Defined in a materialist sense the passions are but natural drives and emotions. However, defined from the standpoint of the immaterial soul, they are bound to be the so called ‘worldly attachments’ which Orthodox rail against. It seems to me the gnostic tendencies are obvious; the soul/spirit is good and the bodily passions/drives are evil.

The same principle is at work in classic Protestantism and even more so in some fringe groups such as Pentecostals.

Perhaps there is a need, even a very strong need, for elaboration on this issue. The practical and pastoral ramifications are great and are much needed to answer many of the pressing issues of our time. The dualist distinction of soul and body is no longer a viable option and does not prove to be helpful at all in solving pastoral issues. Indeed, insisting on it seems to only reinforce the existing problems and make them even more inextricable.

What Use is the Bible?

Christendom has come to see and use the Bible primarily and almost exclusively as a manual of morality. Exegesis nearly always has “practical” Christianity as it’s incipient goal. Homiletics too.

While i will not deny that scripture contains things that can help us live better, more holy lives, i believe treating it as a manual of morality is radically missing the point.

We are sinners. We know this deep in our bones. It doesn’t take scripture to make us aware of it. If we know we are sinners, then we are also aware of right and wrong. We know the difference and can tell the difference. We very simply do not need the Bible to tell us…we already know.

This ‘bent’ in Christian thought has a long pedigree beginning with Augustine. It goes something like “God broke into history to tell us we were lost sinners. He told gave us the law so we could see how we had fallen short. He then provided a way out in Jesus.” Seems to me, it is clear from the Genesis story that “Adam” and “Eve” knew immediately upon their “sin” that they were in trouble. It did not take Special Revelation to make this known to them. Rather, such knowledge is innate to human beings as sharing in the imago dei. In fact, one could say that this knowledge is one of the very particulars that causes us to be/share in the imago dei.

What then is the purpose of Scripture if not to tell us how to live? Scriptures primary purpose, far above all other uses it may have, is to demonstrate and show forth the love of God as the meta-narrative of salvation. It is a story from beginning to end of God’s gracious condescension to the dregs of man and of His provision for a world corrupted by sin and death. In a single word, the purpose of Scripture is HOPE. It is the story of Life from Death, Joy from Sadness, Hope from Despair, and so forth. As Jesus said of himself in John 3, “God did not send his Son into the world to Condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.” The Bible is neither the source of our condemnation, our knowledge of sin, our fear or anything else of the sort. It is simply God’s plan for salvation. That’s it. When we make scripture more than this we’re playing games that can’t be won.