Thinking Out Loud

November 4, 2017

Inching Toward the Slippery Slope

Filed under: Christianity, family, marriage, prayer — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:09 am

Just three short months before they asked him to consider being on the short list for appointment as a church deacon at the Baptist Church, Ray got into a habit of dropping into McGinn’s Wings on the way home from work. Although he had a more liberal attitude toward drinking than some in the church, it wasn’t about the alcohol. On about half of the days he went with a bottled grapefruit drink they served that was non alcoholic. It was more about having a buffer zone between work and home, though during the process his Sunday morning church attendance was starting to wane.

McGinn’s customers tended to walk around more than sit. There were some novelty pool tables, one sized extra long and the other extra square; not to mention some vintage pinball machines, foozball, and a prototype of a Wii-type game that never made it to market. There was also a red-haired woman who said her name was Blaine.

Short Stories“Isn’t that a man’s name?” Ray asked.

“I’m all girl;” she replied, “Want me to prove it?”

Ray made a fist with his left hand and aimed it toward her. “See that? That’s a wedding ring. Don’t forget that.”

And then, two days later they would repeat the same dialog, almost word-for-word.

Ray’s wife Kallie was aware of all this. What was obvious by the smell of his jacket when he came home after 30 minutes at McGinn’s — a mixture of the hot sauce served with the chicken wings and the smell of beer — was also confirmed by Ray. He made no attempt to hide what he called his “new hobby.”

“What happens,” asked Kallie, “If someone from North Hills Baptist sees you coming out of there?”

Ray didn’t care. The pastor arranged for a joint meeting of the current deacon’s board along with all six people on the short list for serving the following year. Only three of those would be chosen, but they got to see an actual functioning meeting which dealt with a couple of budget issues, a few room rental requests, and the issue of a member who had written a rather strange letter to the editor of the local newspaper which, while it was mostly political, had the potential to do some damage.

Ray enjoyed the meeting and even made what all considered some good suggestions during a time when the prospective members could make comments; but the next morning he called Pastor Clements to ask that his name be removed from the short list and curiously, the pastor didn’t ask for a reason.

Ray made some friends at McGinn’s. He helped one guy move on the condition that it not involve a piano, and another was a mechanic and did some electrical repairs to his passenger side car window for free. They told him that Blaine was harmless, she actually had a different birth name which she hated, and every few years she came up with a new identity that she field-tested on bar patrons. Still, her flirting messed with his head, and she wasn’t the only woman at the bar who enjoyed playing mind games.

But several months down the road, McGinn’s closed. They were facing three civil lawsuits, there was a threat of a sexual harassment charge by a former waitress, some health code issues, and the proprietor was dealing with charges of federal tax evasion; though it must be said that the last item — the tax dispute — got cleared up really quickly when the owner sold the property to a condo developer for what everyone felt was far above market value.

Ray spent a week visiting other bars in town, but found them “shallow” and decided to go back to driving straight home from work. At that point he also resumed a more regular pattern of church attendance.

Ray’s employer had a deal where if there were five Fridays in a month, they got the last one as a day off. So he was enjoying an extra hour’s sleep when Kallie informed him that she needed him to drive Claire Gibbons from her house to a florist shop to order the decorations for the women’s fall banquet.

“Why can’t you do it?” Ray asked.

“I’m on a writing deadline for one of the magazines.”

“The fashion one or the cooking one?”

“The parenting one. And I have some bad news, you have to take my car.”

“I can’t drive your car, my knees start killing me after two minutes in that thing. Did you tell Scott he could take the SUV?”

“No, you did.”

“Your car is too low.

Claire Gibbons was a weird blend of hipster and 1950s Baptist and you never knew which version of her you were getting at any given moment. Her contrasting themes ran through everything from her opinions on church matters to what she wore. Ray thought Kallie should be giving her some of the complimentary copies of the fashion magazine that were delivered each month, because her fashion style could best be described as contradictory.

The route to the florist shop from Claire’s house went by the former home of McGinn’s Wings. The windows were boarded up and there was a large ‘For Sale’ sign in the parking lot, even though the locals knew about the property selling to the condo company.

“Glad to see the end of that place;” Claire said.

Ray gulped. “How’s that?”

“Our Bible study group was praying that place would close.”

Ray took a slow, deep breath and asked, “Is that the group Kallie’s in?”

“No;” Claire offered, “She goes to Tuesday, I lead the one on Thursday.”

Ray kept his eyes on the road.

They were praying against the bar.

They were praying against the place where I was starting to spend more of my time.

A few minutes later the route took them by the home of a longtime member of North Hills Church.

“Look over there;” Claire said with much excitement, “Alan Richards got his car back.”

“I didn’t hear this story,” Ray responded, “What happened?”

“Alan got his license pulled when the eye doctor told him he couldn’t drive anymore until he got glasses, and the frames he wanted took six days to come in. In the meantime, his son borrowed the car and immediately heard and felt something not right. The mechanic found some kind of brake issue that could have been disastrous. I forget what they called it, something about –“

Ray had to slam on his own brakes when a dog ran out from nowhere, retrieved something from the road, and disappeared again.

Claire didn’t finish her sentence and Ray’s mind went back to Alan and his car.

His six day inconvenience prevented him from driving a broken car.

His inconvenience meant he was prevented from something worse.

Buds, Bulbs and Blooms, the florist shop was now in sight. Ray wasn’t sure where the women were getting the money to decorate the church multi-purpose room with expensive flowers, but the $28 they were charging the women for tickets offered a clue.

For her part, Claire noticed a silence had descended inside the car, and felt she should say something or do something, but she wasn’t sure what.

“Ray…” she began. But then she stopped unsure where she was going with this.

She started up again, “…We’ve been praying for you. Kallie told me about…” but then she suddenly seemed distracted as Ray pulled in the lot.

“Yeah;” Ray began, “I don’t know; I guess–“

Claire interrupted, “We’ve been praying since Kallie mentioned the thing about your knees. I really appreciate you doing this even though your son had your SUV. I don’t need a ride back, but you should park and walk around if they’re hurting.”

With that Claire hopped out and shut the car door.

They were praying for me.

They were praying for my healing.

Ray was deciding on where he could walk nearby while Claire paid for everything, and was just getting ready to shut off the engine when he noticed something.

His knees weren’t hurting at all.

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October 26, 2017

The Relevance of the Christian Narrative

Filed under: children, Christianity, prayer — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:04 am

Yesterday I had a conversation with a woman who teaches a pre-school class on Sundays and wants the kids to learn The Lord’s Prayer, preferably as she learned it in the King James Version. While she’s not hardline KJV-only (unless she wasn’t playing her hand) she made the case that if kids can start learning a second language by age 3, they should have no problem with a variance on the English they already know.

I am in two minds on this. To her credit:

  • Bible memorization is at an all time low in many Evangelical churches. She’s committed to a worthy goal.
  • Call God “Thee” or referring to “Thou” is a reminder that God is transcendent or “wholly other.”
  • The KJV, with its unique voice, can be quite easily committed to memory.
  • Going off a single script means kids may choose a translation randomly; each learning something different.

And yet as I pondered this I had some other concerns:

  • The obvious one is that this is a prayer guide; Jesus clearly prefaced this with the caution to avoid repeating the same prayers over and over. (That does not preclude memorizing it however. It can be a helpful prayer in times of extreme stress when other words won’t come.)
  • The flowery and ornate language of the KJV simply isn’t how people communicate in today’s world; it detaches the words from the 21st Century.
  • The formality flies in the face of the warmth of the use of the opening Abba (Daddy) in the original language.

We wrestled with this for years. My own church was an early adopter of the seeker sensitive evangelism strategy at one of our three Sunday services. Debates usually went something like this, “Do we make the gospel relevant or communicate the relevance it already has?”

Of course, a generation raised on the KJV version of The Lord’s Prayer is not the generation that’s dropping, like flies, out of church. There are dones and nones in my cohort, but they are a distinct minority. While I still insist that it’s time to move on, that version served us well.

In the end, whether she uses the KJV, The Voice or anything in between; I hope she teaches the meaning behind the prayer; I hope the kids can take ownership of what it really means to pray for the advancement of God’s Kingdom agenda and the carrying out of his will; to petition him for daily provision; to confess the areas where we have missed the mark and seek his help in avoiding them in future. To affirm at the end that it’s all his.

But more important, I hope they don’t miss the intimacy and communion that Jesus intended for his disciples when he taught them what was then a very radical approach to prayer.

 

July 10, 2017

If I Pray It But Don’t Live It

Yesterday and today we’re featuring the better writer in the family, my loving wife Ruth Wilkinson. This is a liturgical type of reading she wrote for our church service last week.

If I pray “Our Father”
and then fail to come to you as a child, trusting and learning –
Forgive me.

If I pray “who art in Heaven”
and then spend all my energy on earthly things –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Holy is your name”
and then, carrying your name, live unholy –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done”
and then fail to listen for and obey your voice on Earth –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Give us our daily bread”
and then ignore the immediate and desperate needs of others –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”
and then choose to go where I know I’ll be tempted –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Yours is the kingdom”
and then fight for my own rights and my own way –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Yours is the power”
and then live according to what my neighbours or friends or society might say or do –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Forgive me”
and then hold grudges and dig in my heels –
Lead me in your way.
Give me your strength, your grace and your love for those around me.

So that I can pray “Amen”.

“So be it.”

“Cost what it may, this is my prayer.”

Forever.

Amen.

May 7, 2017

Making Your Prayers More Specific

Praying the ScripturesI think sometimes our prayers seem to be ineffectual because we don’t really specify what it is we’re asking for. We remember people in prayer, but it’s more like reciting a list than it is standing in the gap on their behalf or interceding, that is, coming between them and God. I picture God wishing we would engage him more on the particulars.

“So Lord, please be with Mike and Darla.”

“I’m always with them; I will never leave them or forsake them.”

“But Lord, just be in their marriage.”

“Their marriage is wholly committed to me.”

“Yes, Lord, but help them to reach out to you.”

“They speak to me as a couple each morning and evening and throughout the day.”

“Well, just be with them this week.”

“What would you like me to do?”

“Well, they’re going through a rough time right now.”

“Yes, what things specifically are you wanting to bring forward.”

“Mike’s job at the warehouse is looking unsure, and Darla’s job ends next week.”

“Okay, that’s a specific.”

“And the kids are really stressing them out.”

“Yes, parenting is like that.”

“And they need to fix the roof this spring and the money’s not there.”

“Yes, and there’s a section over the end that’s going to get worse really soon.”

“Wait, you know that?”

“Of course I do.”

“Then Lord, I pray you’ll send them the money, or someone willing to repair the roof.”

“Isn’t your brother-in-law a roofing contractor?”

“Yes, but he lives three states away and he doesn’t know these people.”

“Well, you’ve ruled out that possibility. Which part of the prayer request do you think I should deal with first?”

“Isn’t that your job?”

“Yes, but what would you do if you were me?”

“I guess I would…”

“…Yes?”

“I guess I pray you’ll help them both realize that there aren’t really any jobs in their field anymore, that technology is shifting and they need to look for a different kind of work.”

“Now that’s a really specific prayer request I can work with.”

“How are you going to answer that one?”

“I’m going to send you to talk to them about the job market.”

“Oh.”

“Anything else?”

“No, I guess I’ve got some work to do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

January 1, 2017

Opening Prayer

Filed under: Christianity, prayer — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:00 am

lords-prayerLet’s kick off a new year by opening in prayer…

…For many of us the school day began with the playing or singing of the national anthem followed by reciting The Lord’s Prayer, the prayer taught by Jesus to his disciples in The Sermon on the Mount, also referred to by Roman Catholics as the Our Father. In the longer, commonly used version we recited, I found it interesting to observe that there are three words repeated twice, two are nouns and one is a verb.

The first word is heaven. It’s interesting to note that absolutely without exception, in Matthew 6:9 all the English translations kept the same word. You could say that in Christianity, the concept of heaven is a given. Like the cross and resurrection, there is no substitution of terms required. Jesus is shaking up the prayer paradigm with Abba or Father, a form of address with unprecedented familiarity, but then we’re reminded that God dwells in eternity, that he is wholly other. He exists beyond what we can see, beyond what we can know, even beyond what we can process. One theological dictionary states, “the vastness and inaccessibility of heaven are visual reminders of God’s transcendence, God’s otherworldliness.” Solomon wrote, “The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you.” (I Kings 8:27)

The prayer forces us to look upward.

The second word is kingdom which somewhat bookends the prayer in the commonly-recited version. Standing before Pilate, a crown of thorns on his head, beaten, mocked and ridiculed, it probably didn’t look like Jesus was establishing a kingdom. But this was the heart of his message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”(Matthew 4:17); we’re reminded that “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom…” (Matthew 9:35) and the word is reminiscent of this Old Testament text, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.” (I Chronicles 29:11).

He is establishing an invisible kingdom. But we, the gathered assembly of believers and followers are the visible representation of that kingdom here on earth.

The prayer forces us to look outward.

The final repeated word, the verb, is forgive. Elsewhere, also speaking on prayer, Jesus taught, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25) It’s interesting that in a prayer describing the infinitude of God’s dwelling place and the vastness of his kingdom we see a petition for forgiveness, tied to the way we forgive others. It reminds me of Isaiah who is confronted by the majesty of God only to realize the contrast to his own sinfulness. “For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)

The prayer forces us to look inward.

What better way to begin a new year than to forgive those who have hurt us, offended us, or trespassed against us.


For a longer, 3-part version of these thoughts, click this link.

 

August 25, 2016

Intercessory Prayer: A Different Type of Prayer Meeting

Intercessory PrayerWhen I am given books to read, unless it is a proven author, I often wonder how the title will fare in the marketplace. Will it sell? So it was a bit unusual to receive a copy of something with a cover that reads, “Over 600,000 sold.”

Intercessory Prayer by Dutch Sheets is a book I’ve always known about but never had taken the opportunity to crack the pages. Its arrival in my mail this time is because of a re-launch of the title, acquired from Regal Books, by Bethany House, a division of Baker Books. I was a little unclear as to the reason for this. Although the cover changed, the price did not, and in comparing the two versions, the book seems to be entirely the same. The page numbers vary only because of differences in typesetting. Nowhere do we find the words “Revised Edition” or “Updated Edition.” I won’t complain; I wanted to read this!

Dutch Sheets is a rather remarkable individual whose unusual and many times miraculous adventures in prayer are most inspiring. In many ways, the language and tenor of this book make it a very charismatic-friendly title, so similar to other such books I read early in my Christian life.

But the book is strangely cessationist-friendly at the same time, which may account for its sales over the years. Sheets makes it clear that he believes in praying in tongues, but says he will refer throughout the balance of the book to praying in the Spirit. That terminology may still ring of Pentecostalism for many, but it represents an attempt to reach a broader audience.

The book is really half testimonies and half teaching, and the Hebrew and Greek roots of familiar Bible passages are examined. Sheets says that a meeting takes place in prayer as we stand before God on behalf of situations or others in need of God’s intervention. Some of the exhaustive catalog of scripture verses won’t be looked seen in the same way after reading this.

Perhaps in moments of desperate or anxious prayer, we all become a little more Pentecostal; trying to see the hand of God move in the situation which presents itself. We want a miracle. Could it be that there are no cessationists in fox holes?

First published in 1996, this book has endured two decades and is a contemporary classic worthy of my recommendation.


If you think you've seen this title before, you have!

If you think you’ve seen this title before, you have!

The full title is Intercessory Prayer: How God Can Use Your Prayers to Move Heaven and Earth. (Bethany House, 304 page paperback, $14.99 US.) Discussion/reflection questions follow each chapter and there is a short leader’s guide at the back of the book. Also sold separately is a study guide which has also been recently repackaged. A repackaged eight-session DVD is releasing in a few days, with each segment containing 30 minutes of teaching. Finally, a youth edition is also available.

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc

 

 

August 22, 2016

Rolling the Dice on Grace

Mealtime Prayer Cube

I promised we’d come back to this image, and here we are.  The Mealtime Prayer Cube offers options to family prayer before eating. You “say the grace” that comes up when you roll. Only $1.99 US.

As a child, “saying grace” was the same at every meal:

Our Father in heaven, we thank and praise Thee for this food. We pray that Thou wilt bless it to our bodies’ use, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Every single meal.

For years.

When we started our own family, I was determined that it be different each time. It doesn’t vary a great deal, but there is room for special requests or anything else that we want to pray corporately at that time, provided the food isn’t getting cold.

I have two horror stories connected to this.

One is the way Christian camps make a mess of the mealtime prayer. What a great opportunity to model for the unchurched kids what Christian prayer looks like in a family setting. But we squander it with “Johnny Appleseed” and “the Superman Grace” and probably several you know that I don’t. A great teaching moment is lost.

Some camps redeem this by doing both however. Once the sung version is over, there is a moment of calm and someone genuinely give thanks to God for the provision of food and the health to enjoy it.

The other is a story about the outreach ministry my wife co-founded. It was decided not to do a prayer before the meal, at least not at first. The reason was that these were people who had previously been fed only in a Salvation Army-styled setting where, “you had to have the sermon before the soup.” On the one or two occasions that I became the person to announce that dinner was ready and they could line up, I think I said something like, “We’re here to share our food tonight because of the love Christ shared with us.” Short and simple, albeit mildly preachy.

But the organization, while it drifted away from its Christian roots to the point where my wife resigned, opted to use a book of prayers which came from a variety of religious perspectives. The person who is to “ask the blessing” simply flips through the book and chooses one. So we went from no prayer to having a spiritually vague prayer.

Better to roll a six-side cube, in that case.

 

Marmaduke - Saying Grace

July 29, 2016

Specific Prayers for Your Children

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
Psalm 103:13 NIV

praying boy and dogEven if you’re not a parent, you might be a grandparent, Godparent, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, teacher, Children’s ministry leader, etc. Or perhaps you can use this as a checklist to see how you measure up yourself! This first appeared at Into The King’s Garden by Angel Koerner Bohon. Click the title below to get the source for this and think of someone who has children in their sphere of influence you can send it to. Also remember, if your kids are in their 30s or 40s, it’s not too late to pray these prayers. (The reference in each section alludes strongly to scripture passages you will recognize, but if you want to study them further, copy and paste into BibleGateway.com)

Virtues to Pray for Your Children

1. Salvation — “Lord, let salvation spring up within my children, that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” (Isa. 45:8; 2 Tim. 2:10)

2. Growth in Grace — “I pray that my children may grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 3:18)

3. Love — “Grant, Lord, that my children may learn to live a life of love, through the Spirit who dwells in them.” (Gal. 5:25; Eph. 5:2)

4. Honesty and Integrity — “May integrity and honesty be their virtue and their protection.” (Ps. 25:21)

5. Self-Control — “Father, help my children not to be like many others around them, but let them be alert and self-controlled in all they do.” (1 Thess. 5:6)

6. Love for God’s Word — “May my children grow to find Your Word more precious than much pure gold and sweeter than honey from the comb.” (Ps. 19:10)

7. Justice — “God, help my children to love justice as You do and act justly in all they do.” (Ps. 11:7; Mic. 6:8)

8. Mercy — “May my children always be merciful, just as their Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

9. Respect (for self, others, and authority) — “Father, grant that my children may show proper respect to everyone, as Your Word commands.” (1 Pet. 2:17)

10. Biblical Self-Esteem — “Help my children develop a strong self-esteem that is rooted in the realization that they are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:10)

11. Faithfulness — “Let love and faithfulness never leave my children, but bind these twin virtues around their necks and write them on the tablet of their hearts.” (Prov. 3:3)

12. Courage — “May my children always be strong and courageous in their character and in their actions.” (Deut. 31:6)

13. Purity — “Create in them a pure heart, O God, and let that purity of heart be shown in their actions.” (Ps. 51:10)

14. Kindness — “Lord, may my children always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” (1 Thess. 5:15)

15. Generosity — “Grant that my children may be generous and willing to share, and so lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age.” (1 Tim. 6:18-19)

16. Peace-Loving — “Father, let my children make every effort to do what leads to peace.” (Rom. 14:19)

17. Joy — “May my children be filled with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Thes. 1:6)

18. Perseverance — “Lord, teach my children perseverance in all they do, and help them especially to run with perseverance the race marked out for them.” (Heb. 12:1)

19. Humility — “God, please cultivate in my children the ability to show true humility toward all.” (Titus 3:2)

20. Compassion — “Lord, please clothe my children with the virtue of compassion.” (Col. 3:12)

21. Responsibility — “Grant that my children may learn responsibility, for each one should carry his own load.” (Gal. 6:5)

22. Contentment — “Father, teach my children the secret of being content in any and every situation, through Him who gives them strength.” (Phil. 4:12-13)

23. Faith — “I pray that faith will find root and grow in my children’s hearts, that by faith they may gain what has been promised to them.” (Luke 17:5-6; Heb. 11:1-40)

24. A Servant’s Heart — “God, please help my children develop servant’s hearts, that they may serve wholeheartedly, as if they were serving the Lord, not men.” (Eph. 6:7)

25. Hope — “May the God of hope grant that my children may overflow with hope and hopefulness by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 15:13)

26. Willingness and Ability to Work — “Teach my children, Lord, to value work and to work at it with all their heart, as working for the Lord and not for men.” (Col. 3:23)

27. Passion for God — “Lord, please instill in my children a soul that ‘followeth hard after thee,’ one that clings passionately to You.” (Ps. 63:8)

28. Self-Discipline — “Father, I pray that my children may acquire a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair.” (Prov. 1:3)

29. Prayerfulness — “Grant, Lord, that my children’s lives may be marked by prayerfulness, that they may learn to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers.” (1 Thess. 5:17)

30. Gratitude — “Help my children to live lives that are always overflowing with thankfulness and always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph. 5:20; Col. 2:7)

31. A Heart for Missions — “Lord, please help my children to develop a desire to see Your glory declared among the nations, Your marvelous deeds among the peoples.” (Ps. 96:3)

 

July 16, 2016

Intercessors for Hire

Filed under: Christianity, prayer — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:08 am
Need prayer? Just give us your credit card information and we'll be happy to do that.*

Need prayer? Just give us your credit card information and we’ll be happy to do that.*

It all started 7 years ago when a guy named Joel wrote and asked if I would promote his now defunct website on my blog. These requests increased as the readership grew, as well as people wanting me to promote books.

I took one look at prayer-helpers.com and frankly I was appalled at the idea of people setting up a commercial enterprise to “prey” on those who wanted someone to pray for them. Without questioning the authenticity of whether any prayer would ever actually happen, I was concerned that this site would simply exploit people who were disconnected from a local church, or from friends or family who would pray for them.

“Generally,” my wife said, “You pray for people you are in relationship with.” I agree with that sentiment; though I have done several shifts at a prayer counseling center. But we didn’t charge people. The “pray-ers” didn’t get paid, either. Probably 90% of the people I’ve prayed for have been people who I knew more than superficially.

First, here is part of Joel’s letter to me:

…I was hoping that you might be willing to consider reviewing my new Christian website, prayer-helpers.com on your site. I think the concept of pay-for-prayer may be controversial and interesting for your audience. My goal is to bring easily accessible prayer partners to people who may not have them available. I would happily answer any interview questions you might have.

Interesting, yes. Controversial, definitely. Deeply disturbing, incredibly. Maybe somewhat guilty-by-association. I wrote back:

Yes it is controversial.
Too controversial.
This is why people need to belong to a local church.

That left Joel wanting more. He replied:

Why do you say it is too controversial? Also, some people are either too far from a local church (alaskans, etc) or for some reason are physically disabled and unable to go so the online community needs to be there for them.

I’m sure Sarah Palin would get a chuckle out of the (small ‘a’) Alaskan stereotype. This is the closest I came to thinking I was being “had” in this entire exchange, except the website was real. I wrote back:

“Freely you have received, now freely give.”

The example of Jesus driving out the profiteers from the temple is sufficient evidence for me that we can’t exploit a person’s spiritual quest for the sake of deriving income. (Trust me, being in the Christian bookstore business, I’ve spent countless hours working through that whole situation.) I know that pastors are paid, and spend some of their time in prayer, but the idea of taking a need for prayer and the clicking “add to cart” is crossing a line, I think. And it’s reminiscent of the Catholic church asking people to pay for indulgences before the Reformation. Or televangelists asking people to send in their prayer requests on a special form, and then there is suspicion as to whether any prayer was offered or if the forms just went out to the dumpster, where the network TV crews found them.

Plus, we’re supposed to pray with as much as possible, not just pray for.

I just don’t see the convergence of internet technology and prayer being best applied here.

Joel ended our dialog with:

Thank you for your response. I respectfully must disagree with you. I see no difference between your christian bookstore and the prayer-helpers.com website.

And for me, that response clinched it. I wrestle on a daily basis with what I do vocationally and the things done by the Christian bookstore industry in general. Some of the marketing, the branding, the excesses, etc. are downright shameful. At the end of the day though, people are taking home a resource, be it a CD, DVD, Book or something they place on a table or on the wall to remind them of their Christian identity.

Prayer is somewhat of an intangible in that sense. Furthermore, when I pray for people in the bookstore, I never charge extra.

Joel saw no difference.

Also, we need to remind ourselves that while the local church solicits donations, they are never for a specific service offered to a specific person, but one is contributing to the overall work of the pastoral staff. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul saying, “Okay, I’ll lay hands on you and pray, but that will be 20 shekels.”

The church should never operate on a fee-for-service basis, and if you see that happening, you need to find another church.


*No, Thinking Out Loud does not accept credit cards for prayers.

February 26, 2016

Book Makes Praying for the World More Intimate, More Personal

Today I want to recommend a book to you that was not given to me for review nor do I have a copy in front of me as I write this; but it’s one in a book genre that I feel is essential reading for any individual or family who wants to expand their prayer focus farther than their own immediate family and friends; beyond their own city or town.

Brian StillerBrian Stiller is what I would call a Christian statesman, a phrase which I take to mean a person who is both well-versed and widely-traveled and thereby is unusually forthright when it comes to the political,  economic and spiritual conditions and issues in various parts of the world. As Global Ambassador with the World Evangelical Alliance he is also the former President of Youth for Christ Canada, former President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (the Canadian equivalent of NAE) and former President of Tyndale College and Seminary in Toronto.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting with Brian at each of these stages and he was gracious enough to allow me to interview him for a magazine when he was at EFC, and there were things he said that day which I can still quote verbatim.

His book, An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World (Bethany House, 2016, paper) would fall into the same category as the popular Operation World which is an exhaustive index of the countries of the world and the particular challenges each presents in terms of the spread of the gospel.

However, where Operation World is exhaustive, Praying for the World is personal. Brian Stiller shares from his own experiences, having visited the various countries covered in the book. The book is thereby somewhat autobiographical, but I would argue that Stiller’s write-ups for each are both subjective and objective at the same time.

Of the 52 chapters, not every one is about a unique nation:

  • 3 deal with prison ministries
  • 1 is a general perspective
  • 1 is about global prayer initiatives
  • 1 looks at The Pope
  • 1 looks at a religion rather than a nation, in this case Islam
  • 2 repeat a country; Vietnam and Rwanda each have two chapters

By my calculations, that means 43 countries remain; countries that most of us will never visit at all, but in this one book we’re afforded the opportunity to see these nations and their needs through Brian Stiller’s eyes. The 52 chapters may be read in any order, or consulted for reference. 

Each section contains:

  • an overview of that country
  • Brian’s ‘dispatch’ from that nation; the main essay
  • a key Bible verse
  • specific items for prayer
  • a suggested guided prayer

The potential uses for Praying for the World are many, but would include everything from your family prayer time, to giving to your missions committee, to having a copy in your church library.

Brian C Stiller - An Insider's Guide to Praying for the World

 

 

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