Prayer is Not for the McDonald’s Take-Out Line
By Jane Tawel
February 6, 2020
Today, in my country, is a day that is known for recognizing something called “The Annual National Prayer Breakfast”. The irony, not least among all the current ironies of this day, is that if anyone who actually claims to follow either Jesus Christ, as a Christian, or who claims to be a believer in YHWH God, as a believing Jew or Christian – if that person actually understood the Bible, they would know how very wrong this whole idea of “National Prayer” is, at least as practiced here. And not only is it wrong, but we who believe in prayer, should tremble if we do in fact believe that God commands us not to take His name in vain. Because prayer is only a type of self-vanity and more frighteningly, the abuse of God’s name if we pray for people who do not want to live into the truth, who do not love, who do not follow the commandments of God and the Golden Rule of Christ.
I read an article in the Washington Post today by Chris Coons, entitled “Why I pray for Donald Trump”. Coons obviously has a good heart here, obviously, but he is sadly, just another person who has jumped on the bandwagon of a religion that has been skewing south, at least since the days of the Roman Empire and Constantine. This article by Coons, is among a host of others trending by self-proclaimed followers of the God of Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. It reveals the current, rampant misunderstanding of prayer and tragically, does not follow the teachings of the person they claim to follow, in terms of what Christians’ chosen worldview illuminates prayer and faith to be.
If someone wants to claim to follow Christ, then one should understand the enormity of Jesus’ words when he says, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matt. 6)
Jesus goes on to teach his followers how to pray, and people have been memorizing this prayer for centuries now, and yet still do not seem able to follow through on the prayer’s requirements for how we should then live. It begins with our unwillingness to accept that prayer is rarely, only very occasionally, meant to change the will of God. We, as a matter of fact, are meant to change the will of other human beings, not God. Nor is prayer meant to get us out of the fixes and problems that are a result of our own actions, choices, and sins. The only thing we can pray for in those circumstances is grace. But we have with great gains in our own sense of power and entitlement, manufactured a false religion based on the cheap grace that Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Jesus both warn us against relying on. Prayer is meant to humble us into asking God for our greatest needs, the true needs that all human beings have always had since the beginning of time.
Our two great needs are: Firstly, the willingness to share and love others as we love ourselves; and secondly, the need for repentance, and change of heart. Christ’s own prayer, that he used as a template, is full of humble thankfulness that God has provided all of us with the means, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, to have enough to live, and to live fully and completely. The prayer is also full of humility, humble mea-culpa, and an aching need for God’s forgiveness every day for what we have done wrong. Remember, this prayer was being prayed by the sinless Son of God. And that is perhaps why Jesus strongly commands us to pray alone. Because true prayer is not only asking for what we need most but confessing to our most egregious sins against God and man. I don’t know about you, but I rarely have a desire to confess my sins in public prayer. I sincerely doubt anyone will be doing that at National Prayer Breakfasts today.
God’s intentional involvement with his created humans’ need for a king and a nation began with the Hebrews. In I Samuel 2:25, God gives his people this sobering word of Truth. “If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the LORD, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the LORD to put them to death” (I Sam. 2:25). Prayer is meant to ask God to help us with our problems with each other, because we are all failed, flawed creatures. Prayer is not meant to put some of us on a pedestal so high, that we have convinced ourselves they do not need to address their sins and change their ways. God hasn’t “chosen” any of us to not need forgiveness and grace from Him.
I spent a lot of years working for businesses that wanted to claim to be “Christian” and decades of going to churches that wanted to claim to have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about Christianity. And there were people in many of these institutions, who absolutely and truly loved God and tried to truly follow Jesus with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. I loved praying with them. I loved them and I felt loved by them. I would not be who I am today without the prayers and love and truth-telling of some people in my life who were as much like Jesus and as all-out for God as anyone could possibly be. I rely daily and deeply, on the prayers of even the most flawed of us, especially my own very flawed prayers and flawed self.
But today, when I read Mr. Coons call to pray for the president, I was reminded of a time when I was asked to join in prayer for the health and well-being and decision making of the top leader at one of these Christian institutions I worked at. We were also asked to do this rather trending thing in Christian circles today, and to lay hands on this man so that God might heal him and give him “power from above”. After all, God “chose him” for this position. The problem was, I knew for a fact that this man was a liar and was lying to all those good, “just-gotta-pray-about-this” folks. While they were praying for him to be healed and strengthened to do “God’s work”, he was lying about his situation, taking the money, and secretly sending out applications for jobs elsewhere. And I knew a couple others in that room of hands eager to lay some blessing on this leader, knew this man was lying too.
And I didn’t make a big deal of it – it was my job, after all, and I was a peon, a nobody; but I wasn’t going to be a liar myself. I stood quietly in the corner, while they all gathered around, laying on hands, and verbalizing to God, and since I was a nobody, no one noticed. But I always think no matter where I am, or what I do that there is One who sees. So I was not going pray to a God who I had to believe, considers my every word and deed as something He cares about. I have to believe in the type of God who cares about my needs, and cares about my wrong-doings. Otherwise, He’s not God; He’s just a lazy, missing in action, government official.
If you want to know how people who truly believe in the Bible or in the God of Jesus, Messiah, are supposed to pray for despots, dictators, Herods, Pharoahs, and certain presidents and senators, and for nations who like Babylon, entice the people of God into giving up God’s Kingdom for the kingdoms of human rulers, then start reading the stories of Moses in Exodus and don’t stop until you finish with the prophetic words of Malachi.
Read what the people who want to be known as God’s Chosen People pray, when they aren’t willing to pick and choose how to follow God. Be sobered, as I have been, on how we are to pray to change how we live, and not pray with a desire that our 401K’s will keep growing. We have lived so long as overly entitled self-sanctified wannabes, in this latest Babylon called America, that our prayers for others, along with our easy path to salvation, are not questioned. Read what the Bible actually says about those who walk the easy path, with flippant prayers. Don’t get mislead by the later teachings added to what we erroneously call a “New” Testament, and which were written as side-notes and today, are greatly misunderstood and misattributed to a man named Paul. Read some of the Psalms, instead, such as this prayer from Psalm 137: “Babylon, you are doomed! I pray the Lord’s blessings on anyone who punishes you for what you did to us. May the Lord bless everyone who beats your children against the rocks!” Try that one on for size the next time you are asked to pray at the National Prayer Breakfast.
We would do well, on this day of prayer to begin to treat it like every day. We don’t need the freedom to pray in schools, we need the freedom to pray in our most hidden places; praying for our hearts to be changed, not our nation to be enriched. We would do well to take a gander at the story of Jesus overturning the money lenders’ tables and his words on giving Caesar what is Caesar’s and God, what is God’s. And then we would do well to go into our most private space, and if we have humbled ourselves to the point of true repentance, humbly address the most holy, righteous Being, Who is nothing like me, but who allows me to say, “Dearest Parent, I need….”
People have confused their beliefs in a God with their beliefs in their own specialness, and their beliefs in a nation with their worship of an elected official. We would do well to listen when other writers compare that to Germany and Hitler, and to the Hebrews and Babylon. We would do well to listen to Jesus’ response to the oh-so-God-chosen ruler, Pilate, when Pilate asks Jesus to “pray for him” in his decisions, “Aren’t you one of the top-dogs of the God’s Chosen People, Jesus?”, Pilate asks.
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
Many of us seem more willing to follow our current Pilates, than we are willing to follow The Christ. Christ’s voice is never found in lies or liars, as he says, only those who “are of the truth” listen to his voice, and prayer is ultimately about listening, not just talking at God. I have spent far too much of my own share of lying to others, lying to myself, and lying to God, and it is sobering to remember that the one thing God hates more than anything, are liars. (Proverbs 12:22, Revelations 21:8, etc. etc. etc.) When we read our newspapers, when we read our Bibles, when we pray, we must look truthfully at ourselves and not be misled by those who like Pilate, give up trying to live in God’s Kingdom, who instead think that truth is flexible, and that we are the determiners of the world’s fate. Today far too many who would claim to pray to God in Christ, are in fact, sardonically or despairingly, asking, “What is truth?” And then choosing to have breakfast praying with liars, not bending a knee at Christ’s table.
The answer for those who claim to be praying in public today, should actually be rather easy: Jesus said, “I AM, the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, to the Kingdom, to everlasting life – except by me”(John 14:6)
By all means, have breakfast, lunch, and dinner with sinners and saints alike, today and every day. But when we pray, maybe it’s time to check-out of the fast food lines of public prayer consumption, and head into the private confines of our hearts, where we will rather than asking for more to consume, will be ourselves consumed by our need for repentance and forgiveness and more love..
Dallas Willard suggests that in order to re-learn how to pray, we should daily re-interpret in new words and new thoughts, and new heart-felt needs, the words that Jesus taught us as found in Matthew 6:9-13. Here are mine today.
Our Progenitor-Womb, and My Daddy/ Mommy,
You are truly “out there”, where I am not, somewhere, and You are real.
You have many names, and I seek You, the GreatI Am, in all of them.
Bring it on – Your Way of living on earth, in my life, and in the whole world.
May I do the things you want humans to do well, and stop doing the things that mess up my own life, the lives of others, and the planet. Because Earth, is not the only reality.
Help me stop being so greedy and wasteful, and share more with others, and trust I will always have enough.
I need Your forgiveness and I do not deserve it, so help me believe in Your grace and forgiveness by my own humbled forgiveness of others. Out our sins, so that we can change.
Please, don’t be so distant. There are too many temptations today, that without You, I will give-in to, if not being tempted to do complete evil, at least lazy gray areas of wrongdoing.
Save us! Help us! And when I say us, I mean everyone, not just me.
“For THINE, is the Kingdom (not this one), the Power (not America’s) and the Glory (not mine),
Forever. . . .
From my mouth, to Your ears, Amen.
“Prayer flags in Ruvanvalisaya, Maha Thupa, at Anuradhapura” by Jonybraker is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0