I was really struck by something someone in my housegroup said last week, and I just thought I’d share some of those thoughts. The conversation had drifted onto prayer, and this person was paraphrasing Bill Johnson where the line of thought went something like this:
It is wrong to start your intercessory prayers, “God, if it’s your will….,” because we should be seeking God and trying to find work out what his will for us is. Then, once established, whatever we pray will be in God’s will anyway.
Now, I have a few reservations about such a line of thinking, but in the spirit of unity, I will lay those aside for now to carry on my main train of thought. This person went on to say that if we are given authority in our prayers, then we have no need to shout when we pray, because the Holy Spirit is the one with power, not our vocal chords.
It got me thinking about the cult of celebrity Christians and televangelists, etc. where you do see people putting on a performance. There was a very good show on faith healing hoaxes that Derren Brown did recently, which I would highly recommend you watch if you get the chance (though I do not know how to get hold of it on dvd, on-demand player, etc. – I’m no techno whizz, in spite of my bespectacled appearance). One aspect of the programme was to look at the theatrical over-exuberance of many so-called “faith healers” which I have always been highly sceptical about. The person in my housegroup managed to put into words what had previously been a half-formed thought in the back of my mind for some time.
I will not condemn anyone for shouting in their prayers, as that seems to me judgemental and potentially divisive and unnecessarily antagonistic. What I would like to do is to question why they do it, given that it seems completely illogical. It reminded me of 1 Kings 19, when Elijah was told to go and stand on a mountain. “And behold, JWH passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke the rocks before JWH. [But] JWH was not in the wind. After the wind, came an earthquake, [but] JWH was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake was a fire, [but] JWH was not in the fire. After the fire came a voice, a small whisper.”
Likewise, in Matthew 6, prior to Jesus giving the template for ‘The Lord’s Prayer,’ he said: “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues, and in the corners of the open streets, so that they may be seen by others. But you, when you pray, enter into your room, shut your door and pray to your Father in secret.“
There is also a motif that Jesus used about the words that someone speaks being the fruit of what is in their heart. So if Bill Johnson is right (and I’m not saying that he is), then to pray “if it is your will” demonstrates an uncertainty in one’s heart. And if you are to pray in line with the God’s will, then that means you already have God’s will in your heart. The trouble I have with this is the question, “what if I’m wrong?” What if I have misunderstood? Should I go about boldly declaring what God’s will is, if my own fallibility has gotten in the way? It is for this reason that I embrace doubt and try to be careful with what I say. I don’t always get it right. I, like every other Christian and other human being, makes mistakes.
I don’t usually go the prayer meetings at my church. That tends to be because they are scheduled for the busiest time of the month for me, workwise, so I am not physically able to get out of the office and do the ~1.5 hour commute to get there on time. On the few occasions I have made it (where I am usually only of two people to turn up in a suit) it has always struck me that about 20% of the people do 80% of the “out-loud” praying. These people tend to be the more outgoing and charismatic sort of personalities, which is the polar opposite of me. I find talking to people an intensely stressful experience, as I like to construct what I have to say before starting to talk. Usually, by the time I have put together a train of thought in a coherent manner, any conversation to which it may pertain will have moved on. This is largely why I prefer typing. I can do it at my own pace, am less likely to say something stupid (though that probability is >0%) and can make extensive use of the backspace key.
I know that’s not the most structured thing I’ve ever written. I was just putting some thoughts down. I hope they have some semblance of congruity.