When Prayer Doesn’t Work

Many people over the years have felt like prayer is a waste of time.

Many people over the years have felt like prayer is a waste of time.

[This is the third installment in a series entitled, “When Faith Doesn’t Work.” Read the series from the beginning here.]

“National Day of Wishful Thinking”

A well-known YouTube atheist used this phrase to rename the National Day of Prayer. And protested said demonstration at his state’s capitol.

“Nothing Fails like Prayer”

Signs held outside the building showed just as much skepticism.

Christians hear arguments like this all the time and, if you are not a believer, you can probably sympathize with such sentiments.

Even believers have doubted the power of prayer. We struggle to “be good about prayer” in our own lives.

I know I do. So here are my thoughts as to why we might feel this way. These are the causes that lead to thinking prayer is broken, I see these mindsets in the arguments of non-believers (PLEASE COMMENT if you feel I miss the mark, forget something, etc.) but, sadly, I see just all of these as prevalent problems in the church as well. It’s no wonder prayer doesn’t “work.”

A Change In Our Definition

What do we mean, “prayer doesn’t work?”

Typically it means that we pray and bad things still happen. We pray and don’t “hear anything.” We may even pray for deliverance from sin and yet continue to be tempted.

Could it be that we are defining effective prayer wrong?

Even John the Baptist (who Jesus called the greatest man to ever live – Matt 11:11) questioned whether all his faith was “working” as he sat in prison and even questioned Jesus. He thought that because he was faithfully following God, prison should have been an impossible outcome.

Spoiler alert: He was later beheaded because of his ministry.

Prayer is not just some “magic trick” to fix all your problems. Prayer is an opportunity to grow in a personal relationship with the God that created the universe. It is an opportunity to share your heart with him, to tell him where your hang-ups and frustrations are, and to align yourself to his will for you. 

Prayer might not “work” because we expect something from it that is not promised in Scripture.

A Change In Our Request

Check out these popular verses about Prayer.

It would seem that Scripture paints a picture of prayer being answered. These passages definitely look that way. Didn’t Jesus say that if we truly believe, we could command a mountain to throw itself into the sea? When was the last time that happened?

There is an important caveat in passages like these though: “Whatever you ask in my name.” When we pray, we are often focused on ourselves. This was John the Baptist’s problem. “In my name” is a statement of submission to his mission above our mission.

We pray for God to heal people that we can’t bear the thought of living without. We pray for safe travel. We pray for a promotion. A job. The bid on that dream home to be accepted. Very seldom do we follow these things with, if it is your will.”

The above-mentioned list isn’t bad in itself, but they are self-focused. Comfort-focused.

Praying “Jesus, let your will be done” will usually follow with Jesus saying, “This is my will. Go let it be done.” A response is implied.

It could seem prayer doesn’t “work” because our requests are not “in Jesus’ name.”

A Change In Our Hearts

A heart that harbors hatred won’t hear Jesus.

1 Peter 4:17 – “Be self-controlled so that you can pray.”

Matthew 5:23-24 – “If you are coming to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gifte there in front of the altar. FIRST, go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and worship.”

James 5:16 – “Confess your sins to one another and pray…”

Harboring sin in our hearts shows a lack of understanding of the Gospel. Being angry with someone that has wronged you shows that you don’t understand what Jesus has already done for you. Keeping secrets and hiding hangups in shame shows that you have a performance-based view of his love for you.

1 Peter says to stay self-controlled, because when we have sinned and feel ashamed, the last thing we want to do is pray. We don’t want God to see us in our imperfection. Sin separates us from God because of US. It makes us want to hide.

This is one of the reasons that we need to preach obedience. It is through obedience that we grow closer and closer to God.

It could be that prayer doesn’t seem to “work” because you are harboring sin, resentment or bitterness in your heart that is causing your heart to avoid God.

What have you noticed about prayer in your own life? Leave a comment below.

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823 Years?!?

I recently saw the following pop up on facebook:

Supposedly we are experiencing a once-in-a-millenium month in March 2013

Supposedly we are experiencing a once-in-a-millenium month in March 2013

If you read the caption, it claims that a March with FIVE Fridays, FIVE Saturdays and FIVE Sundays only happens once every 823 years.

This is clearly ridiculous.

March always has 31 days, so it will always be such a situation any time the month starts on a Friday. Depending on leap years, it happens every 5-6 years. The next time it will happen is 2019.

Even if a leap year skipped a March 1, Friday (as it will in 2036), you will only go 12 years without a March like this.

And don’t get me started on the completely arbitrary and incorrect use of “Feng Shui” for the purpose of sounding mystical.

BUT WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

I lost count of the number of times I have seen this on facebook. It’s spreading like wildfire. Are we really so gullible?

This got me thinking about the church.

How much do we just accept whatever we see on the internet?

As believers, do we listen critically to the sermons being preached on Sundays?

When a new-age thinker is being interviewed on TV, do we nod and say, “well that kind of makes sense” or do we take the world’s wisdom and test it against Scripture?

When media can circulate so quickly and be completely inaccurate, critical analysis is critically important (especially of truth claims — even simple ones like the facebook meme above).

Are we thinking about what we believe any more?

Just a thought.

What other false information have you seen floating around the internet?

Not What Our Forefathers Had In Mind [Video]

There is nothing wrong with being wealthy.

There is nothing wrong with making a really great living.

But it feels like there is something wrong with a system that has allowed this:

Here are just a few thoughts that struck me as I watched this video.

Christians should find this unsettling

I would HOPE that this would make even the most conservative, capitalist, free-market Christian uncomfortable. I’m not a socialist by any means, and I think competition in an open market brings out better products. But to anyone claiming allegiance to Jesus, the disparity illustrated here should be unsettling. Our primary citizenship should be as members of the Kingdom of God, not Americans. We do hold citizenship in both realms, but check out what Luke 14 says:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who doesn’t carry his cross and follow my cannot be my disciple.

By comparison, Jesus’ disciples must put their love and allegiance in Him above all else. Jesus followers have a higher calling to view people with an extremely high regard. Seeing such a disparity should tug at our heartstrings, especially because the God we worship cares so much for the “least of these.”

The “next step up” never feels extravagant

Think about it. The level of the “top 1%” seems extravagant to those trying to “scrape by.” But they didn’t get there overnight. They just reached for the next income level, and then the next one. It only seem extravagant because it’s way out of your reach, but when you are knocking on the door of the next income level above you, does it seem extravagant?

To the person in a squalid hut in Africa, an apartment with running water is extravagant.

But to the person renting that apartment, owning a home (probably looking for more space) doesn’t seem extravagant at all.

It just seems like the next step.

No one thinks they are rich. The American Dream, that anyone in America can get as rich as possible any way possible is a sham. Greed drives this “next step up” mentality and causes us to be discontented with what we have. Studies have shown that we are living so far outside of our means that nearly everyone in America describes the perfect salary as about 40% more than what they currently make.

“If only I could afford _____________, then I would be able to relax.”

This is the dangling carrot that you’ll never catch.

To someone else, you are the one with “more”

There is always someone with more, but that means there is always someone with less. It is easy to sit on your high horse and say, “shame on all those rich people.” But here’s the real deal:

You are [almost certainly] not the lowest person on this chart.

There is someone with less than you. All of us can point to where the problem is and it never seems to be with us. Because we don’t think we have enough. We strive for that “comfortable” level, but it never comes. The way this cycle breaks is that we all need to work to break the strangle-hold possessions and money have on our hearts.

Give generously!

And when it starts to hurt, when we start to feel the pinch of giving, we need to give just a little more.

It’s time to debunk the lie that we are poor, and that we don’t have any flexibility in our income. It’s time to start looking out for those that have less than ourselves.

It’s time to let Christ make us generous people and let that be one of the things that sets us apart from the rest of the world.

What stood out in this video to you?

What do you mean “Faith Doesn’t Work?”

Many people in our country look at the pain and suffering around us and feel like faith is a useless factor in life's equation.

Many people in our country look at the pain and suffering around us and feel like faith is a useless factor in life’s equation.

This post is the second in a series entitled, When Faith Doesn’t WorkIf you haven’t read the first post, I encourage you to go back and read it first.

If you have been around the church enough in your life, you know that people attack faith often. Much of the time, there is some kind of connection to suffering in their attack.

“Your faith did you a lot of good when you got diagnosed with _________.”

“Where’s God in the natural disasters that are killing thousands?”

“If God is real and the Bible is true, why can’t I stop __________?”

What is typically meant by these is that a given person thinks faith “Doesn’t Work.” Something about it is broken, because any belief in an all knowing, all loving God can clearly leave no room for human suffering. I can totally understand why these people are frustrated, and maybe you can, too. Maybe you hold this view. It is, in essence, saying, “There’s no point in believing in God.”

I can sympathize with on a human level, but my answer to the question is that we may need to rethink what the goal of our faith is.

America, the land of the ME

Let’s face it, we live in a land that teaches us to focus on ourselves. Everything from Personal Pan Pizza (because Heaven forbid we all eat the same thing) to the recent emphasis on boosting self-esteem tells us that we get what we want. Even the founders of our country have been distorted; the foundation they forged with the nation’s best interest in mind has now been reduced to, “if I want to drink a 147-oz soda every day for lunch, I should be free to do that.” I love personal freedom, I’m just saying I don’t think that’s what they had in mind. We are a people of ME.

History tells us that humans are communal, that they are collective in nature. We are social creatures. And so we need to stop and reconsider — and at the very least be honest about and aware of — our tendencies to look after ourself. If we aren’t careful, the gospel becomes about Jesus loves ME, not Jesus loves US. Faith becomes about going to heaven and what God will do for ME. My prayers are about God fixing what’s stressing me out in MY life from illness to travels to exams to relationships). When we do pray for others, it is — again — about reducing stress level. We expect God to fix all the discomfort in our personal lives.

It’s no wonder we get so offended when that God would allow pain and suffering.

The Young Bold and the Restless

The early church was relentlessly unified in their mission. Paul celebrated the success of other churches even while he was in prison (Phil  1:3-11). He prayed for them and asked them to pray for him. And what did he ask them to for? It wasn’t “Pray that God would deliver me from prison, since I’m here on false charges.” His request was that they would pray for him to be bold (Col 4:2-4)! After Peter and John received the beating of their lives from the Sanhedrin and were told not to preach, the disciples gathered and said,

“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with Great BOLDNESS (Acts 4:29)!

When we lose sight of the mission we gain sight of ourselves. We need to raise our vision to Christ and his mission, rather than focusing on what troubles we have right in front of us.

Redefine what a “WIN” is

It is especially tempting to think that God’s goal is to bless us. We’ll talk about pain and suffering later in this series, but take a look at just a few verses to describe what the “purpose” of faith is:

  • “In this world you will have trouble, but TAKE HEART! I have overcome the world!” -John 16:33
  • “You are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:9
  • “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” -Galatians 5:1
  • “Imitate God, as dearly loved Children.” -Ephesians 5:1

God’s goals are not necessarily here and now, but eternal and big-picture. We should come to the table not saying, “Christ what will you do for me?” That reflects an unappreciative perspective toward what he has already done for us. Instead, we should come to him offering, “Jesus, what would you have me do for you?” out of appreciation and gratitude for the life he has given us.

Maybe faith “doesn’t work,” and maybe we are using the wrong metrics to measure it.

How do you hear people making this argument? Leave a comment in the section below!

When Faith Doesn’t Work

Have you been through a time when you felt like your faith was "broken?"

Have you been through a time when you felt like your faith was “broken?”

Life is tough.

It gives you lemons.

It throws you curve balls.

<Insert your own unpleasant life metaphor here>

Sometimes even the strongest Christian can look around at his or her life and wonder, “How in the world did I get here?” or “This is not what I had planned.” In some cases, there may be a pretty valid answer. In others, it would seem like simply bad luck. Regardless, when bad things happen to good people, the question is always raised, “Why do bad things keep happening to good people?”

The world seems to be broken. On first appearance faith (especially what we experience in American Christianity) doesn’t seem to be working to fix it.

This is the first post in a series where I hope to answer this question in a biblical and understandable way. Disappointment can be a stumbling block, a hurdle to faith and a reason to justify unbelief, which makes it just the kind of question that the ChurchlessPastor wants to take on!

Here are the topics we’ll discuss (These will become links as the series continues):

  1. What do you mean, “doesn’t work?”
  2. When Prayer doesn’t work
  3. When Playing by the Rules doesn’t work
  4. When Going to Church doesn’t work. 
  5. When Baptism seems to be broken.
  6. Buried Alive (Baptism #2)
  7. Why it doesn’t “work”
  8. Fixing what’s broken

Did I leave something out? What question would you like answered? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

“The Bible” on the History Channel

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The Bible is a 10-hour epic miniseries on History Channel that portrays the Biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation. It premieres March 3 at 8pm EST.

You don’t want to miss this.

In the weeks following this post, a good portion of America might actually be engaging in conversation about the Bible. Let that sink in. Your coworkers may watch. Conversation started. Maybe your kids may tune in. Ice broken. Maybe you even invite someone over to watch, or just invite them to watch. groundwork laid.

I’m talking, of course, about History Channel’s new miniseries on the Bible, produced by Reality TV mogul Mark Burnett, and his wife, Roma Downey. There has been a lot of press around this miniseries, hitting from all angles, to be sure. Without going into the critical analyses (especially having not seen it yet, myself), suffice it to say you cannot produce a 10-hour epic portrayal of the Bible without some push back.

God’s Word, The Greatly Abridged Version

But what should Christians think about such a series?

Glad for the conversation

As Christians, we ought to be very glad whenever discussions are started around what we believe. Heck, we ought to be thankful for conversations about the opposite of what we believe as well! People are about to watch the story of God’s chosen nation, Israel, and his loving provision for them. They will watch and learn about not just Jesus’ crucifixion but his resurrection. They may get a visual of what it means to be a disciple.

It’s time we just got excited about the conversation.

But what if it’s all “Hollywood?”

This is probably true. There will probably be inaccuracies. I’m sure there were some “punches pulled” so that various people groups wouldn’t be offended by the content (see this CNN writeup). But the real question is why are we trying to “punch” people with the Gospel?

It’s Hollywood! Ultimately, Burnett and Downey, as well as the History Channel and the A&E family of networks are after ratings! Liberties will be taken, stories that you and I might consider “crucial” will probably be left out. It is possible that this will be one big 2nd-grade Sunday School lesson, just portraying the biblical stories.

But they’re still portraying biblical stories.

So what do Christians do?

We embrace this, full force. This will be 10x more visually engaging than any sermon, and we live in a visual culture. We live in a world that loves story. To prove it, complete the following quotes:

  • Go Ahead, _____ ______ _____.
  • You had me at _________.
  • Life is like a _____ __ _________.

Most likely, you don’t just know the rest of the quote, but you can picture the scene, context and dialogue surrounding the quote. This is great for our culture.

When we do have conversations, we must “have an answer for anyone that may ask” about the Hope we have, the faith we claim. And we need to “do it with gentleness and respect.”

Let’s embrace this advancement of God’s Kingdom and use it to point people to Christ!