Prayer in culture

Bethany Keeley-Jonker

Kevin Shorter
September 21, 2009

Came across your article here. Thank's for pointing out the NYT article. I will definitely check it out. Prayer mechanics are as different and varied as people, because of the point you made... it's relational. I made a recent comment on blog along the same lines recently that you might enjoy: http://praytel.net/blog/. You have to get by the title of the post, but the reasoning is similar.

September 21, 2009

My late Pastor was always urging us to pray out loud at our Wednesday night prayer meetings as we got down on our knees. Not loud enough to overhear the specifics of everyone’s private prayers, but loud enough to put a stake in the ground and witness that both you and God heard. Or if you were agreeing in prayer with a friend you were both able to say amen to the content of your prayer. Unfortunately he died six years ago and the new Pastor doesn’t have that same understanding. So now Wednesday nights, when people are called to prayer there is a rustle as they drop to their knees and then it is completely silent. Minds drift, thinking of a hundred other things, and there is an awkward period when people try to decide if enough time has passed to rise and sing a song.

I appreciate this New York Times article. I especially enjoyed the unfeigned sincerity and directness of the children at the end. “They prayed to a God with whom they were on a first-name basis, and they believed their prayers gave them power, which they used on behalf of their asthmatic sisters and infirm grandparents and a kid they knew with burns on his body.”

I want to pray because I really want to know God. I want to pray like Elijah did; “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain.” I want to pray out of my heart privately like Paul did “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.” I want to pray like David did with all his directness and candor. I want to pray the regal and humble prayers of Solomon. Or the desperate prayers of Hezekiah. I want to pray like Jesus taught. Sometimes Jesus spent all night in the mountains talking to His Father.

So this last year I’ve been getting up earlier to pray. I own a business have a busy professional life but I try to carve out an hour and a half to pray in the Spirit and pray in my understanding each morning. Then I read the Bible while I eat breakfast. And what are the results? I’m not aiming for results. I just like getting to know the Lord better. Sometimes the Holy Spirit may speak quietly during or after prayer, sometimes He may speak softly to me during the day, or sometimes even at night as I sleep. Often He’ll highlight a scripture, or give me a song in the morning or a theme for the day. Our culture is obsessed with techniques, performance measurements and results. I think prayer is only a technique when you don’t know the Lord well enough or don’t spend enough time in prayer. I love it.

September 21, 2009

For there to be any truth to the notion of scientific method for prayer, or even method that has anything to do with results, one would have to assume that there are spiritual laws, binding upon God, which guarantee a certain result for a certain action. There is some truth to Ambrose Bierce's definition of prayer as a petition that the laws of the universe be temporarily suspended for the benefit of an individual petitioner, admittedly unworthy. Not only is prayer relational, but it is entirely discretionary, a matter of grace, if measured in terms of beneficial results for the individual praying. C.S. Lewis's response, when an atheist fellow professor asked whether he really believed wishes would be granted in response to prayer, was "Of course not. I don't pray to change God, I pray to change me." If we pray in expectation of getting gifts, then we have already tainted the prayer. It may be that God will bless us, but its not because we hit the right lever or the ball hit the right number. And that is one reason I have never devoted time to reading Norman Vincent Peale.

September 21, 2009

I'm curious what parts of Norman Peale's discussion of prayer were troubling. In the paragraph that follows the quotation pulled for this article, he cites Matthew 18:19 with a suggestion that prayer can be more effective and focused when done in groups of two or three. Rather than suggesting "older forms are less effective" he is re-enforcing methods based on God's word.

For other readers unfamiliar with Norman Peale, he coined the phrase "When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade" and during his life he was one of New York's most famous preachers. Billy Graham said, "I don't know of anyone who had done more for the kingdom of God than Norman and Ruth Peale or have meant anymore in my life for the encouragement they have given me." For his contributions to the field of theology, President Ronald Reagan awarded Peale the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian honor in the United States) on March 26, 1984. When he passed away Bill Clinton spoke very highly of Peale's life and faith.

September 21, 2009

I was thinking about that Lewis quotation too, but couldn't find a place to fit it in. I'm glad you brought it up. I don't recommend the Peale, I read it for research and not devotional reasons.

September 21, 2009

These are great comments. I find a lot of books in Christian bookstores are actually written about why God doesn’t answer prayer, especially prayer for physical needs. Prayer becomes spiritualized, an exercise in self-improvement or an act of worship. I understand what CS Lewis is saying but I don’t completely agree. The Bible is full of petitions, requests and urgent needs. The Lord’s prayer is very specific about our physical daily needs. I agree with Siarly, there is no magic formula to get God to do something. God is a person, we are in a relationship just as we are in any earthly family. However, he has invited us to ask and we know His character.

Old Testament saints bargained with God, pleaded with God, cajoled, attempted to change God’s mind, sometimes with success. Whether its food for our family, healing for our body, healing for someone else, mercy for our city, a job, boldness in preaching, signs and wonders for the purpose of evangelism, wisdom, revelation or even mercy on our enemies, God loves to answer prayer. Answered petitions make our joy complete and brings glory to the Father. We can pray in expectation. Here are a few examples:

Give us this day our daily bread.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."

And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.

I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well;

“Finally, Abraham said, “Lord, please don’t be angry with me if I speak one more time. Suppose only ten are found there?” And the Lord replied, “Then I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.”

September 22, 2009

The fact that Clinton spoke well of him would give me pause.

September 23, 2009

Lewis also talks about prayers being answered. Whenever a prayer is answered, there is an observable chain of physical events that are part of the fulfillment of what was asked for. A cynical observer can point to these physical events and say, "See, it would have happened anyway." Therefore, in the hands of Screwtape and his brothers below, an answered prayer is as good a proof that prayer doesn't work as an unanswered prayer. There is also the joke, told in many forms, about the man praying that if God will only open up a parking space for him he will give up drinking and whatever other vices he loves, then, when a parking space miraculously appears, he says "Oh, there's one, never mind."

To depend upon getting what we ask for sets us up to deny God when, as sometimes happens, we don't get our wish. We can't test God by whether God fulfills our requests -- which is another problem with Peale, as it is with WordFaith and prosperity preaching. If the petition brings us closer to God, its fine, and if we are blessed with what we seek, that is good, but if we don't, God is still God.

September 26, 2009

Today I was researching apostasy for a Sunday school lesson and found a reference to Norman Peale as an apostate: "...apostate thoughts were mouthed by Norman Vincent Peale in 1984 on the Phil Donahue program. Peale announced, 'It's not necessary to be born-again. You have your way to God; I have mine. I found eternal peace in a Shinto shrine... I've been to Shinto shrines, and God is everywhere.'
Phil Donahue was so shocked that he actually came to the defense of Christianity. "But you're a Christian minister," he retorted, "and you're suppose to tell me that Christ is the way and the truth and the life, aren't you?"
Peale replied, "Christ is one of the ways. God is everywhere."2
Source: http://www.lamblion.com/articl...
footnote: 2 Dave Hunt, "Revival or Apostasy," The Berean Call, October 1997, p. 2.

Even more nowadays, prayer and religion are topics where confusion, and surprises, abound. It is so important that we learn from the pages of the bible the matters of our faith. There is much to lead us astray and to muddy our faith lives.

September 28, 2009

Peale is correct that God is everywhere. That is fundamental to belief in an omnipresent, omnipotent God. The question, in my seldom humble opinion, is what exactly did Peale find in that Shinto shrine? The presence of God? Or the presence of the Yamamoto clan's ancestors as deities? I don't accept that all those who do not profess faith in Christ are doomed. If that is what God ordained, then my opinion is without effect, but I believe somewhere in all the cross-currents of Scripture as it is quoted, there is something more than "confess and be saved." We don't really know what Christ as God is. That is precisely what he was telling his disciples in John 14. They had not asked him "Can the gentiles be saved?" They asked him "how do we know they way," and "show us the Father." He essentially told them, I am as close as you're ever going to get. (Moses was told "No man can see my faxe and live.") So, whatever aspect of God was represented in human form by Jesus is indeed the Way , the Truth and the Life. But, faith in a specific church or teaching is not necessarily prerequisite. Jesus himself told us in Matthew 25:31 to end of chapter that many who call upon his name will be damned, and many who do not know him at all will be saved. Silly Phil Donohue was just trying to come off with a one-liner. We shouldn't follow that example.

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