Abusing Prayer

I can often forget the weight of prayer. It is a aspect of the Christian life taken for granted. It is a tool incorrectly use by many. “Oh I will be praying for your situation.” This is a statement we can often run the risk of using to make sure an individual believes we were listening to their plight with sympathy. We might be lucky if we just pass off a brief one sentence prayer about the situation to check off the list.

“I gave this decision a lot of prayer before reaching my conclusion.” A statement often made to lessen the blow of an unfavorable decision, or something to defend a decision against criticism. I prayed about it therefore this is God ordained. How can you argue with God?

Prayer is a two way street. We can forget that. Psalms is filled with songs and prayers of individuals crying out to God. We can easily forget that God is often responding in those prayers. There are moments where a psalmist cries out to God that he feels distant. He is lost and feels alone. He changes his attitude and proclaims his trust in the Lord. What happened in that moment? Why the sudden change? Maybe the psalmist is reciting a prayer he had at one point. A prayer where God responded. Maybe he was reminded that it may feel in the moment that God is distant, but he is still faithful. The story isn’t over yet.

We let the word “prayer” do our dirty work. It is a way to protect us against any unpleasantness. We diminish the power involved in the process. Stop and think for a moment. We can come to God through prayer based off the intercessory work of Christ. Christ is our mediator, and has managed to create the only religion that is based on relationship. Yet we often use prayer as a name dropping moment. It becomes no different than an angry customer who mentions he had lunch with some executive of the company last week. It is resorted to either a bullying tactic, or a way to end a conversation we are done having.

I have been haunted lately by a question I have asked myself. If I stopped praying, would it make a difference? Is my prayer life so limited and based more off of talking about the act rather than performing it that the impact would really even change if I stopped?

I had a common phrase when being a student in a classroom. There was always someone who needed to talk about how intelligent they were. How smart they were in a subject. I would often respond by saying that if you need to spend time telling me how smart you are, then you probably are not all that smart. If I need to tell people how much I am praying, then I am probably not praying very well, or at least not even doing much praying at all.

People won’t know how much you are praying because you tell them. They will know when your soul is a deep well of grace and mercy filled with compassion that only comes from an intimate relationship with the Savior. They will know when those around you who are hurting receive comfort after they have expressed their burdens to you for you to take to the throne room of the King. They will know how much you listen through your prayer by the wisdom you express when life comes barreling down with a difficult circumstance. They will know how passionately you pray when you face the fears of the world that demand you to move, and your response is one of a child with access to his father as you boldly proclaim, “Here I stand.”

Focused Prayer

My oldest child is almost four years old. He is a fairly stereotypical child in his personality. He is full of energy, and keeps me running constantly. Lately he has been trying to learn how to maintain eye contact when asking for something. The other day he was asking for a game. Like any parent I wanted to ensure he was asking politely and clearly. We had to repeat the process multiple times because every time he got the first word of the question out he would instinctively move his eyes to the game instead of looking at me. “Look at me.” He would jerk his head up, and begin the whole process over and over again.

My son was so focused on keeping his eye on the object of his request rather than the person he was requesting it from. It may seem like a simple or trivial thing, but it was important to me that he maintained eye contact with me specifically to make the request. It was incredibly difficult for him, but he finally did it.

At the end of the ordeal I was hit with a realization like a ton of bricks. I do this in my prayer life all the time. I find myself focusing on the object of my prayers rather than on the one I am bringing my pleas to. It’s a real problem. People always talk about how prayer often becomes a wish list. People groan about how prayer is a chore. Countless people have written countless books on the secrets to a revolutionary prayer life.

Prayer is a worship filled act designed to focus on the creator rather than creation. It seems to me like the beginning to a healthy prayer life can at least be summarized in this statement. If I have left a period of prayer without seeing Christ then I have done something wrong. When I focus on the object of what I am praying for I am robbing myself of an opportunity to be filled up by merely experiencing the presence of God as he listens to me.

I shake my head at myself when I think of all the times I have come to God in prayer intently focused on the prayer itself all the while my father is simply saying “Would you please look at me?” I could stop there, but I don’t think that’s enough. Why is it so important to look at God in prayer? If all we did was go into prayer and look at the object of our prayer we would at best walk away with what we asked.

God focused prayer provides so much more. It provides nourishment. It gives us a richness in our relationship with him. It instills a connection that carries through the day. If we look at God in prayer we may not be surprised to find that our original purpose to coming to Him ends up feeling insignificant next to the power, majesty, and holiness of a God who cares for us. This is a God who works all things for good. He is the creator who is reaching out to his creation in order for them to experience His prescence.

Why Did We Stop Talking About Ashley Madison?

I have to be honest by saying there is something that has been bothering me a great deal. A while back there was the scandal of the Ashley Madison leak. This may sound like old news. You may have already forgotten about it in the midst of other hot topic points like the latest political debate or the Kim Davis situation. That is a bit of what is bothering me though.

It worries me how quickly we stop talking about such a pervasive issue in marriages the moment the hot button issue of gay marriage comes back up. Let me give this full disclaimer before someone goes to the comment section to start griping at me. I am not saying homosexuality is ok. I am not saying we should not talk about the Kim Davis situation. I realize I do not know everyone, and there may well be people who are still talking about this issue, but this post is simply out of a more general view from what I have seen form my admittedly limited perspective. However, within that limited perspective we sure forgot about a scandal that is literally affecting and trivializing countless marriages awfully quickly.

This simple truth is that peoples understanding is so incredibly broken, and I’m not sure we quite know how to help them fix it. We ump at the opportunity to condemn any post that speaks favorably of homosexuality, but no one seemed to pay attention to the posts that said the Ashley Madison was not a big deal, or even dared to say that it was a good thing.

There is one article I read that tried to say that people upset over the Ashley Madison scandal had to calm down. Sometimes having an affair is the best possible option. Sometimes a man or woman is stuck in a loveless/sexless marriage and needs to go to an outside source to meet those needs. This is what our younger generations are being taught. If something is no longer satisfying you then look for that satisfaction elsewhere.

Here is a different lesson that you may not like to hear. Sometimes marriage is just hard. There will be periods where it may not satisfy you in ways you hoped or expected in the moment. There may be dry periods. This is why I tell men they are fooling themselves when they say that marriage will fix their porn addiction. It wont! Pornography is built under the guise to attempt to portray the perfect mate for someone. Someone who can always meet every desire. Someone incapable of ever telling you no. Someone who will never do anything to upset you. It is a false perfection, but make no mistake that it strives to set itself up as perfection.

This is where it starts though. This is one of the first battle grounds in the fight for your marriage. So many affair stories have begun with the words, “I couldn’t stop looking at porn.” Why have we stopped talking about this! Because a lunatic trying to become president said something stupid again? Because a woman refused to hand out a marriage license?

If we stop talking about these issues then what can we expect on other areas? I realize there are other issues going on in the world that demand attention. I understand that, but we are great at multitasking on discussing a multitude of other areas. Why have we suddenly stopped talking about this? It strikes me that there are two potential main reasons.

The first is that is strikes to close to home. Let’s face the facts. It is highly unlikely everyone speaking out against homosexuality is at serious dangerous risk of waking up one morning and realizing they are gay. It just is. But this? Well this is all too common. Pornography in marriages is all too prevalent. Marriages that we know and thought healthy we have seen shatter over an affair. This problem just seems all too possible to affect us individually, and that is intimidating.

The second and even more disturbing reason is that we have become numb to it. Affairs and sex scandals are common. It is sad it happens, but it is just the way the world is. Why is this so disturbing? It is only a matter of time that any other issue goes down the same road. Culture will continue to make sin popular. That is something we can expect. If this is the attitude we hold towards it then it is only a matter of time that the issue you are currently passionate as well becomes treated as a numbness to the world. It will just be another bad thing that people do, but oh well. No point trying to hard when it is so prevalent.

Why are we not talking about these issues more? Why are we not calling for the nation to pray over this? I have had a lot of people saying how they hope to one day tell their children how they did everything they could to fight for God’s definition of marriage. Nowhere in the definition is their reference to the epidemic of unfaithfulness in marriages. Nowhere is their discussion on what they strive to do to protect the next generation form a world that is shoving sex and pornography down their throats.

I would ask of anyone reading this to stop and think, and reflect how this Ashley Madison scandal may be affecting you. Is it pornography? Struggles of happiness in your marriage? I then beg of you to pray and speak up regarding these issues. There are so many things our nation needs to be praying for, but I desperately do n want this to be forgotten in the shuffle.

The Defining Moment

I have written on Daniel and his boldness of prayer before. That post focused more on how we tend to highjack Daniel’s story, and convince ourselves that he was a bold zealot who fought against authority. His story has been making the rounds again lately as an example over various events taking place in our world today. I can understand the comparisons, and cannot say I know enough to say whether or not that comparison is even right or wrong. Daniel did not shy away from his commitment to God within his position in the local government. He remained firm to his convictions, and had an incredibly defining moment. A moment where he prayed to God when it was against the law. The consequence was to be thrown into a den of lions.

I think we still miss a lot when we just focus on Daniel’s defiance. I have said that before on this blog, but it seems important to repeat. It is so easy for us to look at Daniel in his one defining moment, but the simple truth is that this is incredibly misleading for us to view Daniel as an example. Growing up I would hear these stories, and wonder if I would be prepared to have that one big defining moment. Those moments in America are rare. We think they are prevalent, but not compared to the countless Christians around the world who are literally being killed for their faith every day.

Here is was the problem with my thinking, or at least one of the problems. Daniel did not have on big moment. Daniel’s story is about having a defining lifestyle. Daniel was consistent with his prayer. He prayed three times a day in the same way. It was not out of rebellion to the authority above him. Daniel was praying long before it was illegal to pray. That is the real trick. Daniel didn’t suddenly become a loyal believer of God after it was dangerous to do so. His consistency is what made it feasible to remain faithful when danger presented itself.

Our lives are filled with opportunities for small defining moments. These will be moments that will shape our character and faith. Daniel’s faith was seen to be so strong that his enemies needed to find a way to make it be a weakness. They still failed to succeed.

We often look at people who have one singular defining moment that gets them either in the media, quoted on the internet, or in some other way recognized for appearing daring for their faith. We are so obsessed with seeing these big moments, but often forget the little ones. It is the little moments that produce consistency, and point to a higher purpose.

Here is the simple truth, Daniel would have been perfectly fine to have never been caught for praying in his room, it would not have bothered him if his story was never recorded in Scripture, and it didn’t seem to bother him when it seemed a certainty that his story was going to end being eaten by a lion. Daniel wasn’t doing it to be recognized for the big moment. Daniel was remaining faithful because he was part of a people that had gotten into this mess for a disastrous level of unfaithfulness to God. His prayers were prayers of begging God for forgiveness and mercy. His defining moments were the ones that were never actually written about because those were the ones who made him who he was.

Acknowledging Self in Prayer for a Nation

I’ve been meaning to start posting again for a long time. I have a huge amount of ideas on what to post about, but I had trouble picking what I wanted to write about next. However, this has been one lingering thought that seems to push its way through my mind on a regular basis. It also strikes me that it may be appropriate based off the more fervent talk lately of how far gone our country is, and with all the hype of the next election coming up.

I want to give a background to this post, but I also feel I first need to give a disclaimer. This post is largely just me expressing some of my own thoughts on what God has been teaching me personally. Perhaps you may end up finding that He is trying to teach you the same thing after reading this, or perhaps not. I don’t think this post can apply to everyone universally, but it has certainly applied to me.

Many weeks ago my pastor was talking about our need to pray for our country and its leaders. It was a good sermon, and really hit me on my lack of prayers towards issues our country faces. At the end of the service he left time for us to practice this application and pray for our country. I began to go through my recycled prayer for our country. I prayed for God to bless it. I prayed for God to bless its leaders. I prayed for God to help this country turn back to Him, but then something peculiar happened. God began to ask me how I am having an impact on answering these prayers.

I was reminded of Nehemiah’s prayers when he heard of Israel’s suffering. He prayed a prayer of confession to God. He acknowledged how Israel had turned their back on him, but he took it a step further. He confessed the sins of his house, and even his own sins playing a part in that betrayal against God.

I was really convicted in that moment. I have prayed for God to revive this country so often, and I have even confessed my own sins in prayer, but I don’t think I had ever connected the two in my prayers. I wasn’t acknowledging when my sins of silence in the face of evil let it run rampant to harm this nation and the individuals in it. I was not confessing how my sins of anger and resentment towards others was hurting the country at a foundational level. I wasn’t acknowledging the moments where a fall short of God’s standard as a husband and a father hurt the family unit that any nation of God is a foundational building block for.

It just hit me incredibly hard. I also talked about how the only way this nation will turn around is by impacting the individual, but my prayers had been ignoring the most important individual for me in that process, that is, me specifically. I am the only individual that I can directly control to have an impact on this world.

When I pray confessing of the failures of this nation I lump myself into that now. That was something that had been missing for me. I think sometimes it is missing in those really public prayers as well. Maybe you have heard some of them before. It is those prayers about the people who are ripping this nation apart, and how God would heal those people so that we can bring this nation back to greatness without obstacles.

The truth is I may not be ripping this world nation apart as quick as the guy who walks into a school and slaughters children, or as quick as the activists who protect the right to kill children before they are born, or those who demand we take God out of everything in the public eyes, and leave him inside the homes of those who still care, but even my what are my little sins in the grand scheme of things are added onto an incredible large pile of issues.

This is not to say that I do not still speak out against those things. We should NEVER stop doing that. We need to continually speak truth into this world, but through that truth we must constantly use it as a light for personal reflection in our own lives as well.

So this has been my prayer lately. Lots of people who read this probably already do something similar, nor should anyone be pressured to pray a prayer like this, but this has given me a fresher perspective to bring what seems like a distant issue closer to home for me. It has been tweaked, and continues to be, but it has been loosely taken out of Nehemiah’s own prayer.

Father, thank you for your unconditional love and promises you have made to us. I know my actions don’t deserve it, but please listen to what I have to say. Please do not remind us of your promises through your mercy. We need your mercy because we have continually turned away from you. My actions have played a role in this as well. My sins has caused damage to my relationships with others, and has had the potential to affect how others relate to you as well.

I asked that you would still remember your promises you have made. I ask that you would help me to feel you draw near to me as I draw near to you now. I thank you that I can come to you like this because of your redemptive power, and I ask that you would continue to ignite a fire in me that can spread across this nation.

Lies About Sex and Porn: It’s Freedom

I have been thinking about this post for a while, but had trouble finding the right words to say what has been on my mind. It has been a process to write. It started out of a hunch and curiosity for where our world is. It’s a trend really, and it does not take long to find when you look at the headlines. “So and so has leaked sex tape. Turns misfortune into major profit.” Sex and porn. It’s just kind of everywhere isn’t it?

A look at Wikipedia will show you names of the most “famous” individuals who have had sex tapes out. This is a list of forty names. Wikipedia itself suggests the list of names is not exhaustive, and of that list of forty names there are many many videos to be applied to them. Sex sells, and leads to quick fame apparently.

Look at the list and you will find there are very few names you would actually recognize. Maybe a reality star or two, or a one hit wonder of some type. It is a common theme. It is a list filled with people who want their name known. They want to be recognized, and they have figured out how to do it in one of the quickest ways possible.

It’s gotten worse. The porn industry has crept into casual interaction with most of the world these days. There were two disturbing headlines within this past month that genuinely shocked me. One was a woman in the porn industry who was holding a Lego contest. She claimed that the person who could make her the coolest Lego creation to put in her house would win the prize of experiencing her personal services.

Another story form this month was about a woman in the porn industry who is about to turn 23, and to celebrate she was inviting 23 men to join her in a brand new video. Sex with 23 men. First come first serve.

The porn industry is reaching out to the average person. It has figured out the game. It knows it has its audience on the hook. It’s beyond viewing for satisfaction and has moved into participation. I look at all this, and begin to wonder how it ever really surprised me. This is the natural progression to it all because this is something that such a large part of our society worships.

They wouldn’t want you to see it that way of course. It is displayed as something that is natural. Do what feel right. Do what makes you happy. If it satisfies then it is acceptable. After all, it is the words oldest profession they say. A “profession” that is becoming a source of destruction to men and women. While the exact statistics are debated it is widely agreed that the Super Bowl is one of the biggest events for the sex trafficking industry. Women who have been forced into a life of prostitution.

Where am I going with this? What does sex trafficking have to do with the porn industry? What does it have to do with those celebrity sex tapes? What does it have to do with those headlines? Everything, it has to do with everything. We think that these celebrities and people who work I the porn industry are doing this out of complete freedom. Sex trafficking is heartbreaking because of its slavery nature, but those in the porn industry are just disgusting in our eyes. It is acceptable to view them as something less than human. Those who do not participate in the viewership of the content often treat those men and women in it the same way as the actual viewers do. We do this because we mistakenly believe they are doing this in freedom.

It’s not freedom. They are enslaved. They are enslaved to sin. They are so wrapped up in the lies of this world that they are stuck in their own sin. I’m not negating the element of free will. I understand that it is still a choice. Not every unbeliever does porn, but they are still a prisoner. That is part of what makes the indulgence of porn such an ugly affair. It is not just sinning. A life of porn addiction is a life of glorifying and worshipping someone else’s sin.

What does this mean? This is the first post on this topic where I am not just talking to those who are caught up in this struggle. This is a message for everyone. If you are caught up in this struggle then you need to understand it is not just about you. It is not just about your sin. You are indulging in the destructive sin of others. I’m not saying that this truth alone will get you to stop viewing it, but it is time for a perspective change.

It is also time for a perspective change for the average believer who is not caught up in this mess. We need to stop viewing those in the porn industry as a lost cause. We need to stop viewing them as the dirt unworthy of our attention, and start looking at them as sinner in needs of a savior. We pray a good deal for women enslaved in prostitution, and I think that is a wonderful thing. It is so incredible to see that issue receiving greater attention, but when will we start praying for those enslaved in the porn industry? Enslaved to their own sin.

I have to be honest. I haven’t been praying for them. I may have stopped myself from being a viewer, but my heart attitude has not changed in the right direction. The same view has been there, but with a different motivation. We are so afraid of getting wrapped up in the ugliness of porn and sex that we distance those who seem to willingly embrace it. We distance ourselves from them in every aspect of our lives including prayer. I’m glad I’m no longer someone who worships and glorifies the sin of others, but I want to be even something more now. I want to be an opportunity for hope. I want to be a guide towards real freedom.

Praying At

I take prayer seriously. Probably not even as serious as I should. Prayer is an important part in cultivating our relationship with God. It can be done communal, but it is also a deeply personal experience. This is why it saddens me when we cheapen prayer. We do it in plenty of ways. Sometimes we focus to much on using the “right words” rather than just communicating with God. We can care more about what others around us think rather than our own creator.

There is one bad habit of prayer that has become very heavy on my heart. It is the “praying at” style of prayer. It is the kind of prayer where you are raying at someone else rather than raying to God. It’s a bogus form that defeats the purpose of prayer. It has two major devastating effects. One is on the relation of the person you are praying at, and the other is on the relation with God.

Have you ever been prayed at? It’s not a very pleasant experience. Often the desired result of raying at is to make the victim feel guilty. It is saying that you feel the need to take over the conviction job of the Holy Spirit and add a few extra jabs to make sure that you hit close to home. This is bad for many reasons. First, you are trying to take over the job of the Holy Spirit. You are essentially saying that Gods conviction is not enough on this person. Let us be very clear, God does not need our help in conviction. Sometimes he compels us to confront someone on their sin, but God is the one who brings about true conviction.

Another danger is you might well be wrong. You might be dumping needless guilt through prayer for a bad reason. This happens because we once again have felt the need to take on God’s job in deciding what an individual needs to feel conviction about. Praying at is not lead by the hoy Spirit. it is lead by our own opinions and desires.

It breaks down the trust with the person you are praying at. It does not take a rocket scientist to know when they are being prayed at. I’m not talking abut the kind of prayer for someone where you ask for God to gives them strength and courage. I’m not talking about the prayer where you ask God to help someone be able to listen to His voice. I’m talking about the kind of prayer that demands the person follow strict standards developed by you in order for them to feel like they are listening to God himself. It’s the kind of prayer that when you take say all of the flowery speech says, “Dear God, help this person to realize that everything I am telling them is really coming from you.” You may truly have words of wisdom for the person. Those words may very well be form God, but you have now removed the opportunity of choice and personal discernment for the individual You have just told them that failure to agree with what you s a fallible human being say is direct disobedience to God.

There is one extra aspect to the personal relationship I wish to bring up. It is bout the type of prayer that intends to bring guilt to a person. That’s just wrong. When Christ gave examples on praying it was always so entirely focused on God. It was never used to bring about our own agenda. It was never used to test whether or not someone is being truthful. It was always meant to be a personal link in your relationship with God.

This brings as to the biggest problem with praying at prayer. We spit on God. We take an incredible gift of prayer and abuse it. We use prayer to pray at others, and in the process we ignore God. Doesn’t that just sound disrespectful? Whenever we use prayer for our own agenda on others we are disrespecting God. The irony of this is we often use it because we believe others have been disobedient to God by our own personal standards.

In honesty, this post is jumbled up. It really could be multiple posts. I felt the need to write on it because it has been on my mind now for months. I have been guilty of the praying at method. I never just realized how messed up it was until I found myself being the person being prayed at and saw it from an outside perspective as other feel victim to its practices. Since then I find it has become such a common practice that we often forget how damaging it really is. We think we are helping God along in His work. We have taken a gift form God and used it for a purpose it was never intended for. In the process we destroy the relationship with those we pray at. Is that really worth the potential reward?