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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Prayer and Faith.
Consider this prayer:
Father in Heaven,

You know the situation before me; You know how I lack grace and patience. Please bless your servant with the grace to be patient and content through this ordeal,

for Your name's sake,
and to the glory of your praise,
In Christ's name,
Amen.
I mean, it will sound pretty good to most evangelical Christians, and few, if any, would find much wrong with it. It seems a good prayer to pray, and has the aroma (if you will) of piety, given that it looks to God, and not self for supply, and given that there is that little flourish of seemingly selfless praise in the closing vamp. All in all, most of us would not think twice about such a prayer, and if any thought were given at all to the matter, we might simply echo the thought - yes Lord, please give that person patience and contentment, and glorify your name through doing so.


The problem with that prayer is that theologically speaking, it makes God a liar, the believer a victimized "hoper", and probably is only paying lip service to God's glory.

Postmodernism has taught many to shy away from putting too fine an edge on anything. Our culture has trained us not to define anything in strong absolutes because that leads to the sort of extremism that causes not only division, but fanaticism and sociopathy. Postmodernism also teaches us that the odds of us actually landing close to the "real truth" are so small, that it arrogant to even pursue the possibility.

Few of us escape passing all that we see and do through our unconscious postmodern strainers.

That is largely because public schools and television share the same social agenda - training us from the very cradle to think and act in harmony with an ideal that depends upon the goodness of man for its success. Anyone who has had their eyes open to the very real corruption that sin has brought into this world, cannot long suffer this wonderfully altruistic, but ultimately and critically flawed world view. Notwithstanding, I say, we are raised from infancy to think that certainty and precision cannot penetrate much deeper than a very shallow surface, so that we can pour scorn and ridicule (at best) upon anyone who thinks that we ought to pursue clarity with any hope of achieving it.

I mention this up front because if you read that prayer and saw nothing wrong with it, the reason is likely because your Pomo-Filter™ kept everything light and fluffy for you. But let's chew on this and see what comes of our dutiful mastication.

Now, we could rip this prayer up ten ways to Sunday - comparing it against the Lord's prayer, for instance, we might note that it isn't following the "formula" of hallowing God's name, followed by a petition that God's will be done, etc. etc. But not every prayer Christ ever prayed followed the formula - and I don't think the intent of His prayer was to give us the correct "structure" so much as the correct "Object" of our prayer - God's glory.

We can likewise, and our Pomo-Filter™ definitely inclines us in this direction, brush aside certain flaws in the prayer as acceptable, since we don't want to be overly critical, lest we turn prayer into something bloated, complex, and artificial, but that is a presumption we will not entertain today. Let us not, for the sake of this post at least, allow ourselves to wave away anything in presumptuous disdain, but engage ourselves with a simple, but pernicious and narrow goal: to examine something closely, and see what we find.

First of all, let's outline what is correct about the prayer. We want to do this because we want to take instruction from this truth: a lie is more believable when mixed with truth; that is, what is wrong with this prayer can be hidden by what is right with it - so we want to be certain that we identify the oil of "what is right" up front, in order that it may be separate from the water of "what is wrong" when we discuss it.

"Father in Heaven"

Correct. It is good and right to recognize God as our Father, and again to recognize that He is in heaven. The profound theological depth of those three words put together like that would take years to exhaust. It is unrealistic to expect that anyone will ever again be able to impart into those words anything that even approaches the infinite depth of their meaning - I say "again" because when Christ spoke in this fashion, I expect He alone could impart the fullest sense of all that these words hold in them into their use. The invocation is correct in word, but more often than not, it is merely a formality; We recite the words because that is a proper form of address.

I am reminded of those big doors with the little doors built right into them at eye level - so that you can open the little door and see who is out there before you open the big door and let them in.

A man can prop a corpse up and knock on the door, but it is not very likely to gain him entry - yet for most of us our salutation is not unlike that corpse - a lifeless formality - a platitude served cold before the King of Kings upon whose forbearance we have, by longstanding habit continuously imposed unimpeded, so that we now regard our liberty in this area as a right, and the notion of thinking any deeper on the matter as a labor beneath our contempt. Surely God isn't concerned about such formalities.

Flowers are so beautiful in bloom, but let them die and their buds, and leaves fall away - all that life produced in them - and offer the kindling of their stalks in a bouquet and you will find that few will accept such a gift. Yet how many of us are routinely in our prayer life offering the same to God?

I say, this part was correct, but only if we imparted in those words the reality of their worth. We can offer God our lip service, but it is our heart service that He regards.

"You know the situation before me; "

Correct, even flawlessly so. God does know the situation. I am reminded here about God's words to Israel supplied many times through various prophets, which, paraphrased basically says that God promises to cause Israel to seek Him even when they have played the whore, that is, even when they turn to something other than God - God promises to make them seek Him earnestly. How? Here I prefer not to paraphrase, but to cite, because God's word is more convicting than any man's paraphrase. Consider what God says To Israel through the prophet Hosea in Hosea 5:15, "I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me." I hope the significance of that isn't lost on you. God is basically saying, I will depart from you and make you needy in order that in the vacuum to follow you will see your genuine need of me - and so seek me, not as you are now - all fluffy and half hearted, filled with your own ways - no, I will make you earnestly seek me by showing you your desperate need of me.

Listen: God does know everything, but His knowledge is not like that of some divine fortune teller who merely knows what is going on - God is a living God, and as Christ testified, He is working still, and continues to work - consider again whether your situation is something that God merely has knowledge of, or whether in fact God is chastising you because you are a legitimate child, or whether God is blessing you with some struggle because that very struggle is going to purify your faith. Do you imagine that faith drops out of the sky out of nowhere and squeezed out of nothing? Does it fall from the sky into your lap Christian? No. Faith is planted into plowed up soil, not fallow ground - and the plowing is often the thing we beg God to deliver us from, rather than walk with us through.

Notwithstanding, there is nothing wrong with assenting to God's omnipotence, even if for the most part we are doing so in a horribly shallow way. It is the next part that starts to get slippery.

"Please bless your servant with the grace to be patient and content through this ordeal"

Not right.

First Ephesians 1:3 tells us that we have already been blessed with every spiritual blessing. I mean, if God emptied all there is on us, then it stands to reason that there is no more, and that calling God to bless further is to suggest that God has held something back.

Right about there the pomo-filter usually kicks back in. What? Are you saying it is wrong to ask God to bless us?

No, I am saying it is wrong to ask God to bless you again, there is a difference.

Okay, you think as you step back from the original feather-ruffling, clearly it is just an argument about word choice and semantics - you mean that it is wrong to ask God to bless you, mentally putting the word "bless" in quotes as though by doing so it now means something else. Listen, it isn't a matter of language or word choice - it is a matter of vague theology being scrutinized under the microscope, and found wanting. Do not dismiss it - examine it. We do not pursue sound doctrine to win doctrinal debates - we pursue sound doctrine because sound doctrine instructs us in correct practice (orthopraxy).

You don't ask God to do what He has already done unless you don't understand that God has done it already. If you believe that God has done it already, and you are still asking for it - then get to the heart of the matter - you don't really believe that God has blessed you.

Follow the prayer again... asking for patience? Patience is not a prayer request it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit! Asking God for patience is tantamount to asking God to give you the Holy Spirit all over again.

POMO FILTER ALERT.

Don't give into the idea that I am being too critical, or too rough, here. Don't suggest to yourself that I should be more sensitive, maybe not for you, but for those baby Christians who might read this, or for those who don't know the Lord who might get the wrong impression about faith. I tell you that though I take no joy in anyone being stung by a bee, I take great joy when something true convicts, because it is no man's work, but God's work, and I rejoice in it. How much less, do I care then if someone has so misconstrued Christ's ministry to this world that they take offense when their imitation is exposed.

No, I say, take it all in. I may be abrupt and even heavy handed with the truth here, but don't take that out on the truth, it isn't the truth's fault if I deliver it all ham-fisted like.

Seriously think this one through then, before you dismiss it, if dismissing it is your natural inclination. Yes, it is holy and humble to acknowledge our desperate need. But it is not holy or humble to ask for a thing we already have. It may be genuine ignorance and it may be seasoned a good bit by unchecked immaturity - but there is nothing noble about ignorance or immaturity. It is only excusable once, after that you are responsible for what you know.

The problem here, I say is not ignorance or immaturity, but something far more earthshaking considering the scope of those who suffer from, and because of it. The problem is unbelief.

Don't brush this off as a teaching for the next person either.

When a person asks for something they already have, it is because they either [1] don't believe that they have it, or [2] don't believe that what they have is what it is supposed to be, or alternately [2a] they don't believe it "works" or that they are [2b] doing it right.

Ordeals will come (and do come) to Christians and when they do, they always serve a purpose that is, and must remain, in accord with God's purpose. God's purpose is often obscure in what He allows His saints to endure - but His purpose is never simply to make you ask Him again for what He has already given. Rather all that God has given has been given to serve this one purpose - to strengthen and grow your reliance on God - to take you to the place where your reliance is entirely on God - as is proper for any creature.

Can I ask God for grace? For blessings? For patience? For love? For joy? They are mine already.

But, objects the sinister man in the top hat as he twists the tip of his mustache in one hand, if these things are truly mine already, why is it that I cannot make use of them? Why if I have patience am I not patient? Do I, or must I brainwash myself? Is that what I am to do? Do I pretend that I am really patient, when all evidence screams to me that I am by no means patient? Am I truly expected, in the name of Christian faith to act what I am not, and tell myself that I am something that I am not, and hope that eventually what I practice in my self imposed delusion becomes actual at some point? Is the strength of Christianity reduced to a beggarly intellectual dishonesty whereby I convince myself of something that is neither true or beneficial, and experience bliss only when I can no longer discern what is real of myself?

We all worry about that, I mean if we are thoughtful enough, and sincere enough. We don't want to pretend to be something we are not. We do not become good Christians by pretending to be good Christians - or said in biblical language, we do not actually clean the cup by polishing the outside of it.

This is the part of the conversation where eyes roll because we know the garden path so well by now. We can't do it, God has to do it... yeah, yeah, the leopard cannot change its own spots - we have heard this before, and all that knowledge did was make us feel even more hopeless - since if we cannot do it, it must mean that God is supposed to but isn't doing it for some reason. It doesn't help the eye rollers to know that God does it, because they can't figure out how to make God do it, and therein lies the problem.

You see unbelief is often veiled by our I-am-a-victim complex. It's not -my- fault things aren't working. I regard myself as sincere, and I presume to know myself well enough to say that if I could do something about it, I would - but since nothing is being done, I am left to conclude that I must be doing something "wrong" because God is not providing for me what scripture clearly says He will provide.

Do you see the victimization? I am a victim of my own ignorance, it isn't my fault I don't understand, if I understood, I would do it right. Tell me how to get patience, and I will get patience in the right way...

The myopia is pricelessly ironic. You have all you need right now.

No I don't.

Yes you do, you just don't believe that you do.

Ah - we are back to word games, or the power of positive thinking; you want me to start telling myself a thing is true until I believe its true - one of those "unicorns have to be believed in order to be seen" lines of (faulty) reasoning?

No, no, a thousand times no. That is the way a heart that lacks faith processes things. It refuses to see itself as lacking faith, even in the face of plain and naked evidence.

Listen, if God says that He has blessed you with every blessing - you have all there is. If the Holy Spirit is in you, you have His patience in you. You don't need any more.

Ah - see, I knew it was just a word game. You meant that I personally don't have patience, but that God (the Holy Spirit) has patience in me, such that you can say that "I" have patience, but you mean God in me. Still no help.

NO! That is not what I am saying. That is unbelief looking for justification, looking to paint failure in terms of someone else and not self. Look, I am spelling it out in plain terms, the reason you don't see it is not because it isn't simple or straight forward - you don't see it because if for a moment you loosen that death grip you have on your false hope - exposing something so dreadful you dare not even think it: that in spite of your profession, you are truly faithless.

If I am talking to you, get over yourself. Stop denying what you know is true. Are you going to tell me that you truly believe that Jesus is going to save you, but you doubt that He is sanctifying you in any meaningful way? Are you saying that you have had a profound experience - being transferred out of the kingdom of darkness, and into the kingdom of light by God Himself - and yet now God has left you clueless?

No, listen. There is a place for immaturity. We were all babes once upon a time, and surely we are all childish in many ways to this day. But unbelief is not on par with teething pain - it is the very opposite of faith.

How did Isaiah say it, "Who has believed our report?" - Christians, as one, answer, "us, we heard it!" - but is that true of you? Do you really believe all that God has said, or just the part about you getting saved?

Consider the queerness of your faith if it is able to grasp and hold onto something as profound as justification for every sin you have ever, or will ever commit - but finds itself impotent when it comes to believing that you have every blessing already, or refuses to believe that it has any sort of victory in the arena of sin.

Ah, we are such victims, who hold our own unbelief as though it were virtuous to possess it so long as you feel bad about it, and would change it if you could...

The truth is that your flesh isn't going to get any better, it will always spit up temptations, it will always be impatient, and lustful. That isn't going away, and if you ask God to take it away, you are asking God to kill you on the spot, for until your flesh dies, it will always be a fountain of wickedness. But the "you" that is in that flesh are not enslaved by it, you are in fact set free from its dominion if you are in Christ - and if free, then free indeed (that is, free in deeds as well as in words).

How then is it that I am impatient? I am impatient because I am in the flesh, where I choose to be, for I have the strength of God Almighty at hand, provided by God, intended by God for my sustenance, and given in full measure already - all waiting on me to employ, and when I fail to do so, I blame it on everything but my own lack of faith.

That's what's wrong with praying for patience or asking for blessings. It not as simply as saying God, I don't believe I have these things - it is like saying, these things you have given are clumsy and useless - I don't want to suffer in my sinful flesh relying on your sustaining grace for all - I don't want to believe you, or turn to you because I don't believe You, Jehovah Jireh, will provide. I don't believe you will answer me, because I am such a wretch, I don't believe, because of all these very good and justifiable reasons.... I don't believe because.

Listen, there is no excuse for unbelief, and when we ask God for what we have, it boils down to unbelief. Don't call yourself a believer if you are an unbeliever, just because you said a salvation prayer once and someone told you that you are a Christian - if you think that you believe God for your salvation, but can't believe him for anything else - let me warn you, you are probably so self deceived that you are beyond all hope - excepting that God is ALL mighty, and can derail the train to hell you are riding, even now.

But moving on, in my light hearted way, we get to the final, bloated closing phrase:

for Your name's sake,
and to the glory of your praise,
In Christ's name,
Amen.


How poetic. Is it really for the sake of God's name that you are asking Him to redo what He has already done? Dear God, please for your names sake, accept my unbelief, nay - act upon it - come down from heaven and reward it - for your names sake.

What about the glory of Your praise eh? What's that? Does that mean that God is glorious when He praises someone, or does it mean that praising God gives God glory?

I suspect the latter - that praising God gives Him glory - but can I really call my prayer of unbelief an act of praise that will bring God's glory? Dear God, be glorified by the praise I am going to give you when you provide me with special sin stopping "power", so that instead of needing you moment by moment, to the glory of your praise, now I can ignore you all the time and praise you once... for the momentary glory?


Listen, I didn't grab that prayer from somewhere. I made it up - using the sort of pretty words one often hears employed by practiced public prayer persons. A prayer like that can be said in a single breath, it can sound like Shakespeare, but that doesn't make it a good prayer.

I am reminded of a remarkable incident involving George Meuller, which many of you will already be familiar with. Here it is, in the words of Charles Inglis:

When I first came to America thirty-one years ago, I crossed the Atlantic with the captain of a steamer who was one of the most devoted men I ever knew; and when we were off the banks of Newfoundland he said to me: ‘Mr. Inglis, the last time I crossed there, five weeks ago, one of the most extraordinary things happened that has completely revolutionized the whole of my Christian life. Up to that time I was one of your ordinary Christians. We had a man of God on board, George Mueller, of Bristol. I had been on that bridge for twenty-two hours and never left it. I was startled by someone tapping me on the shoulder. It was George Mueller. “ ‘Captain,’said he, ‘I have come to tell you that I must be in Quebec on Saturday afternoon. ’This was Wednesday. “‘It is impossible, ’I said. “‘Very well, if your ship can’t take me God will find some other means of locomotion to take me. I have never broken an engagement in fifty-seven years.’

“‘I would willingly help you, but how can I? I am helpless.’“‘Let us go down to the chart room and pray, ’he said. “I looked at this man and I thought to myself, ‘What lunatic asylum could the man have come from? I never heard of such a thing.’“‘Mr. Mueller, ’I said, ‘do you know how dense this fog is?’ “‘No, ’he replied, ‘my eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God, who controls every circumstance of my life.’“‘He went down on his knees, and he prayed one of the most simple prayers.

I thought to myself, ‘That would suit a children’s class, where the children were not more than eight or nine years of age. ’The burden of his prayer was something like this: ‘O Lord, if it is consistent with Thy will, please remove this fog in five minutes. You know the engagement You made for me in Quebec for Saturday. I believe it is Your will.’“When he had finished, I was going to pray, but he put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to pray. “ ‘First,’he said, ‘you do not believe God will do it; and, second, I believe He has done it. And there is no need whatever for you to pray about it.’ “I looked at him, and George Mueller said this: ‘Captain, I have known my Lord for fifty-seven years and there has never been a single day that I have failed to gain an audience with the King. Get up, Captain and open the door, and you will find the fog is gone.’I got up, and the fog was gone. On Saturday afternoon George Mueller was in Quebec.


You see, faith is not the same as hope - hope says, I sure hope God will do such and such - and this sort of hope is pretty much impotent and useless - it is not faith, but is allowed to masquerade as such in many circles. Faith says that almighty God will do this, period.

Faith isn't a muscle that we exercise as though there was some sort of make-it-happen power in positive thinking - there isn't. God doesn't answer our prayers merely because we have convinced ourself that He will. A call to faith -is not- a call to force yourself to believe something. It is a specific call, to a specific task: believe that God is whom He claims to be and will do what He has promised to do.

You see, the one who comes to God must not only believe that He is, but also that He rewards those who diligently seek Him. It believes that God is truly for us, and not against us, it believes that God is with us and hasn't forsaken us, it believes that God's almighty power - the power that raised Christ from the dead is resident in every believer who is in Christ (through the Holy Spirit), and it acts in a way that is consistent and not contrary to that belief.

Here is the same prayer as in the beginning, see if you catch the difference:

Oh great God; the Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, through whom you have called me to yourself, thank you.

I thank you lord for this present ordeal. Not because I cherish suffering, but because I know that my suffering serves this good purpose: it is used by you to draw me to out of all my carnal pretensions, and into an earnest seeking of your face. I have set You aside and set my affections upon myself, I know this because I find myself lacking the fruit of your Spirit, lacking patience and contentment, and my heart cries out for these things apart from you - as though I want them in order to avoid the very thing you are using this ordeal to bring about - my being drawn closer to you. Though you are merciful, and your mercies endure forever, yet I feel in my heart that I am forever trying your patience, so much so that I am driven by the fear of what you could do, rather than the love shown in what you are doing.

I want to thank you therefore God, that the moment I turn from my sin you are there to accept me, and here I am now Lord, not with empty platitudes, but seeing your work in me anew, I worship you - not to make you like me, but because I see how deeply you are invested in me - and I see your glory in the contrast between my lack of worth, and that great investment - your mercy on display before my own eyes, and yet will I ever speak of it? Will I not just hide it away in me - buried like a gift in the soil - hidden because I regard it as my secret - oh, let me share it all, let me praise you with my heart, soul, and lips - as I confess my sin, let the joy of what you are doing daily on my behalf - the joy of you tender care and love -soak me through.

Haven't I abused you, and you have given me every blessing. Haven't I fought you every step of the way, yet you are leading me to the still waters. Have I not refused to bow before you, even as you are placing a crown of infinite worth upon my brow. I don't have to pretend to sing your praises, or to glorify you - I need only say what is true, and you are glorified - oh that I had a thousand eyes to look upon your glory, and a mind that could take it all in, for you are food and drink to my soul Lord, you are bread indeed.

How can I leave the throne? I shall stay in your house forever - thank you for your continued grace, for supplying my every need, against my protests and shouts. This you have done, to put your glory on display, for your own names sake, sending your Son for me, through whom I gladly praise you.

Amen.


Anyway - the point is, that prayer requires faith, and faith is more than hope. If you don't believe God in prayer, you don't believe God period. Deal with whatever that teaches you.

Labels:

posted by Daniel @ 10:35 AM  
7 Comments:
  • At 4:21 PM, December 16, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    I don't know for sure, but I think there is some sort of blogging rule that if you can't say what you mean in 5000 words or less, you probably should write a book...

    Either way, 5100+ words is still doable - just print it off, and sit down for an afternoon of delight!

     
  • At 9:23 AM, December 17, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    If you didn't have time to read the whole post, let me sum it up for you. The inevitable outcome of knowing God, is faith. The more we see who God is, the more "faith" we have. When we fail to trust God we are denying who God is - and while this shows in all aspects of our walk, it shows itself most keenly in our prayers - what we ask and expect from God tells us what we think of God.

    Those who pooh-pooh theology, or serious religious study, condemn themselves to a vague God, which in turn produces in them a beggarly vague faith.

    Pursue therefore, Christ.

     
  • At 11:07 AM, December 17, 2008, Blogger ThirstyDavid said…

    I thought the rule was 1000 words. Of course, those wereAmerican words. I don't know what the exchange rate is for Canadian words.

    In any case, I feel really inadequate now.

    Word verification: redlea. I redlea agree with this post.

     
  • At 12:08 PM, December 17, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    David, don't you recall your calculus? 1000 = 5000 (for very large values of 1000).

     
  • At 6:06 PM, December 17, 2008, Blogger ThirstyDavid said…

    Sorry, I don't have your education.

     
  • At 9:43 PM, December 22, 2008, Blogger Strong Tower said…

    Daniel,

    Pray for me oh man of faith. You know Elijah was a man like us. Oh my... And he was heard. What's that say? God does make it simple, doesn't he?

    But really, pray for me, you'll be blessing the world a great blessing.

    And by the way, it is only a rule that comments cannot excede 10,000 characters. See Centurion's blog, the rule is there. And Frank will let you know that you're windy even if you don't get close to the mark.

    And, I think you have a book or so in you.

     
  • At 7:29 AM, December 23, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    Tom, I -will- pray for you. Grace and peace.

     
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