Thinking Out Loud

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.

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July 12, 2010

Rock Music and Pornography: Parallels

The 1960s was a time of accelerated social change in Western Europe and North America.   No chronology of those times is complete without some reference to the role that popular music played in both reflecting and shaping those times.

As folk singers protested Vietnam and The Beatles sported longer hairstyles, the church began to establish its somewhat defensive posture; and by the end of the ’60s, the psychedelic branch of rock music combined with the message of free love to confirm all their worst fears.     Any band with guitars and drums was immediately caught in the line of fire.

The actual music form itself was no different than the modern worship that was played in the church service I attended yesterday.   The drums, bass guitar, electronic keyboards, lead guitars and rhythm guitars would later be regarded as morally neutral.

By the 1980s we began to hear a redefined meaning to the term “rock music;” it wasn’t the music itself, but the performers and their lifestyles and ideals; it was the attitude and the surrounding culture.   The music itself — the notes, the harmonies, the rests — were simply the wave which carried youth culture along; in fact it was the youth culture itself that the church had really been afraid of all along.

The eventual emergence of Christian rock wasn’t so oxymoronic.   It showed the spiritual neutrality of the musical forms, and showed that those forms could be used to carry a positive and even Biblical message.

Over two years ago, I posted a rough manuscript online of a short book titled The Pornography Effect:  Understanding for the Wives, Mothers, Daughters, Sisters and Girlfriends. Part of the reason that I’m still looking for a publisher for the print version is that some people disagree with the book’s basic assumption.

I believe that the visual images that one thinks of when they hear the term “pornography” are not the ultimate core issue.    I do believe that they are addictive, that they are exploitative and that they can be devastating to men (and women) and especially teens and pre-teens.

But like the music issue of the ’60s, I think we may be focused on the wrong target.   (The parallel ends there however; I don’t foresee those images appearing in our worship services 25 years from now the way that contemporary music styles are part of modern worship.)

Just as rock music is about lifestyles and ideals and attitudes, pornography changes the worldview of those who partake.   Again, I think that the point in my manuscript that some people can’t get past is the idea that text pornography — chats, forums, stories, blogs, etc. without pictures — is every bit as serious a threat as sites with various types of pictorial images. If not more so.

click image to orderThe Church’s response is to think in terms of pictures and videos (a concern not to be minimized) and think in terms of addiction (an issue to be taken seriously) but to neglect what exposure to porn does in terms of how men look at their wives and girlfriends, and even their sisters, daughters and mothers.   (The promotion of incest is a major agenda on many websites.)  Perhaps we’re more concerned with the physiological sexual response than the brain ‘wiring’ or brain conditioning that is at work here.   Perhaps it is easier to choose a target we can see than consider the more serious concern which is invisible.

Pornography has even changed the expectations men have as to what constitutes normal sexuality within marriage.   (And, as we’re seeing, increasingly changing the expectations of women also.)   The result is an increase in unusual requests and even demands in the bedroom.   But it also causes men to think nothing of considering an office affair; it causes boys to make advances toward their sisters; it causes heretofore straight individuals to nurture same-sex attraction.

It’s the 1960s all over again.   The “Summer of Love” of 1969 is back with its message of free sex without consequences, but aided by a new technology tailor-made to get that message to the widest audience.

It’s the escapism drug-of-choice; with each dosage customized to meet individual desires.   In online pornography nobody ever gets pregnant, no STDs are spread, no one is arrested for rape or indecent exposure, no small children are ever left without a daddy.

Hedonism is the reigning philosophy.

Jesus said He came so that we might experience life to the fullest; however the “abundant life” is also the “narrow way.”  Countering the ‘message’ of pornography isn’t about saying “don’t look” anymore than putting up a wet paint sign on a freshly whitewashed fence is going to accomplish “don’t touch.”    Pornographers, advertisers and fashion designers will continue to keep pushing the envelope.   Men’s thoughts will continue to stray.

So while we do need to tell the world that,

  • pornography is an addictive behavior;
  • as an addiction it is subject to the laws of diminishing returns; the addict is never satisfied;
  • with God’s help you can be set free;

we also need to be proclaiming,

  • the version(s) of sex depicted online does not generally represent God’s intention for sex;
  • many of the subjects in online images are being exploited or being forced to participate; it’s not true that “nobody is being hurt”;
  • the movies and stories are unbalanced; they don’t show disease, unwanted pregnancy, loss of self-respect, or ruined lives;
  • if you keep watching, the images are changing you; as you give more time to worship at the altar of porn, the pornography effect is a sacramental effect; as you receive it, you’re allowing it to shape you and define you;
  • those so exposed need to recognize, confess and confront how pornography has so changed their worldview; both in subtle and greater degrees;
  • the consequences of long term exposure to the larger society is that it places that society in a downhill spiral (what pilots call a ‘graveyard spiral’) from which there is no recovery apart from dramatic repentance followed by dramatic intervention from God (or what might be called “a turning” or “revival”)
  • because it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness; more energy needs to spent promoting models of modesty, purity and chastity; and less energy on appearing spiritual by simply “denouncing” porn;
  • in the end, pornography is not the problem; the human heart is deceitfully wicked; the core of the problem is human rebellion against God;
  • finally, we need to proclaim the omnipresence of God; men and women need to be reminded that God is constantly sitting next to us as we click the mouse, turn the scroll wheel and stare at the monitor; His Lordship has to extend to be Lord over the URLs we visit daily.

Allowing myself to be a spokesperson on this topic has had to involve some awareness of its magnitude, and I think the people who say there are 200,000 pornographic websites online are terribly low in their estimating.   I believe the person who suggests 1,000,000 might be more accurate.

This means that realistically, we’re not going to see an end to pornography any time soon.  (Although, I applaud those who faithfully file objections to blog hosts, internet service providers, and search engines; each day sites all over the world are shut down because of their counter-measures; and even some of the most liberal pornographers recognize a need for someone to be applying the brakes, though often for different reasons.)

What we can do is build resistance (not immunity) to it.   We can recognize that just as the music debate really wasn’t about the musical forms itself, the sexual ethics debate is not about this picture or that video.

It’s a battle for the mind.

It’s a battle for the heart.

Want to study more on this?  Here’s an article also posted today on the complications of leaving internet choices to filtering devices.


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