Sunday, July 29, 2012

Why Pray When You Can Worry?

We live in times when apprehension is in the air.  The direction of our country, high unemployment, the state of our economy, the mortgage meltdown, the volatility of the stock market and whether we will have enough income to sustain us through our retirement years all cause us concern.  Added to these are concerns about the global economy, turmoil in the Middle East and global terrorism.  As parents, we are concerned about our children.  Will they turn out ok, will they be successful in life, and will they continue to follow God, etc?  In our present job market, those with jobs wonder if they might lose their jobs, and those without wonder will they ever obtain one again.  It seems that we live in a fragile world.  It is no wonder that people living in today’s world are apprehensive.
            We face the danger at such times that our concerns will be transformed into worry.  There is a vast difference between the two, especially from a spiritual dimension.  Concern leads us to call out to God, believing that he is in control and is directing the purpose of the world for his own glory and purpose.  It leads us to prayer.  Worry implies that he is an impotent God, unable to control the human events that we see marching across the panorama of the world’s stage.  It takes us away from prayer.  Concern leads us to faith, worry to doubt.  A chapel talk I once heard, titled “Why pray when you can worry?” dealt with this issue. 
            Excessive worry is dysfunctional as it can become an anxiety disorder where a person’s fears become crippling.  Both imply a total lack of faith in God.  Without faith, prayer becomes futile, as though merely talking to a blank wall.  Why go thought the motion of attempting to talk to a God who is powerless?  Active prayer requires an active faith in an active God.  The Apostle Paul deals with this in his letter to the church at Philippi which was experiencing suffering for the sake of the gospel.  He tells them that prayer will lead to a peace that, though difficult to understand, is the opposite of anxiety.
            Reading through the Psalms and Old Testament prophets points out that they had many concerns that they wrestled and struggled with.  Despite the deplorable situations they experienced and wrote about, things we could hardly even imagine ever happening to us, they never lost faith.  Their concerns and heart felt angst were genuine.  Even when questioning God, their faith that he was in control seldom wavered.  Even when not understanding him, they still confidently followed him. 
At issue is our view of God.  Is he big enough to be able to control the outcome of events or are we left on our own to struggle along as best we can.  Worry implies that he is not.  We then live by the rule of “Que Sera Sera. Whatever will be, will be.  The future’s not ours to see. Que Sera Sera.”   The hopelessness and despair found in worry are faith killers.  They rob us of our intimate relationship with God.  Bit by bit our trust in him is diminished until we no longer believe in his capabilities.  Our claims of faith are belied by our actions.  While from time to time we all worry, it is its continual pattern that is most destructive to our life of faith.  In the times we do worry it is worthwhile examining our prayer life.  Are we going to God with our concerns, confident in him, or are we paralyzed with fear? 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Why We Shouldn't Pray

Why We Shouldn’t Pray

            There are many books on prayer.  A book search on prayer on Amazon brings up a large number of them, from how to books to the value of prayer.  They range from intercessory prayer for others to the more personal aspect of how prayer affects us.  Some speak of prayer as a power source, others focus on piety.  It seems that whatever aspect anyone desires to seek about prayer, it is available.  They all seem to focus on prayer as something we do.  But I wonder if this current emphasis on prayer may not be detrimental to our spiritual lives, for it suggests that prayer is something that is outside of ourselves.
            Many people find prayer intimidating, especially public prayer.  As a young man, I felt very inadequate praying in prayer meetings, especially if the person who prayed before me delivered a very eloquent prayer.  He knew how to pray and I didn’t   Unfortunately, in such situations prayer can become a kind of showmanship – who is the better prayer.  We can become more concerned with how our prayers measure up than in being in touch with God. In so doing, we lose the essence of what prayer is – an intimate personal relationship with the living God.
In an interview reproduced in his book Subversive Spirituality Eugene Peterson has an interesting comment on prayer.  As a young teenager, he asked an elderly missionary who was staying with his family while on sabbatical how he prayed.  The elderly man told him “I haven’t prayed in forty years!”  Holding this missionary in high esteem, Peterson was quite confused.  He said it took him several years to understand the wisdom of what had been told him. He concluded “You see, anything he had told me I would have imitated.  I would have done what he said he did and thought that what’s prayer is.  He risked something to teach me what prayer was, and I’m glad he did..  Prayer wasn’t something he did – it was something he was.  He lived a life of prayer.”  Peterson came to realize that there was more to prayer than technique.  It is not something we do from time to time.  It is who we are.  It is part of our spiritual DNA. 
Looking at prayer in this light helps us understand St Paul’s statement that we are to pray without ceasing, and the Psalmist’s that we are to meditate day and night.  Neither is suggesting that we stop all other activities to live a kind of “holier than thou” life of prayer.  Both view prayer as part of ordinary living that is carried on throughout the day.  Whether we are at church or at home, at work or at play, prayer should be a part of our life, for it is through prayer that we are in constant communion with God.
Behind the viewpoint that prayer is something we do is the assumption that these are the times we are in touch with God and that there are other times when we are not.  When not at prayer we are living on our own, as though our spiritual cell phone has no signal.  Living out of touch with God leads to many of the condemnations of the church as being hypocritical.
God desires that we be in constant communion with him.  An attitude of prayer should pervade our lives.  Prayer should define who we are. It should be part of the essence of our being.   It is worthwhile examining our thoughts on prayer. Are we too concerned with technique?   Is it something we do or something we are living?