Wineskins Archive

December 4, 2013

Shifting the Focus of Our Prayer (Nov 2012)

Filed under: — @ 9:58 pm and

By Craig Cottongim

I’m not sure where the motivation stems from, but in the “free world” I have heard in many locations a wrote prayer offered by both young and old alike. The prayer recited often time sounds like this, “Thank you Lord we can assemble here to worship, without fear of persecution – free from all harm.” The prayer is sincere, but how bold is it? And, it’s thankful for our religious freedoms including the safety we enjoy, but is this a healthy prayer? Is this a mature prayer, a prayer an early disciple would’ve voiced?

Disclaimer: I’m not interested in experiencing violence because of my faith anymore than you are. Neither am I romanticizing martyrdom. This is simply a comparison, i.e., cherishing our safe assemblies compared to the account of suffering in the early church as seen in the New Testament. There’s a discrepancy in our habit, one that never seems to be on the mind of the early believers.

This prayer revolving around our safety needs to be reexamined, not least since it is inward focused and self-centered. But, it has the dangerous ring of a 21st Century, Neo “Guide-guard-and-direct-us” styled prayer. Prayers like these have the feel of worn-out clichés. We are called to have thoughtful prayers, not ones that are on autopilot.

There’s an account where a few disciples in the Book of Acts are beaten for their confessional faith. They do not offer a prayer asking for protection or one of thankfulness at their release as if they are out of the woods. Instead, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41 ESV). This is a 180-degree different perspective than the prayer we share today.

Also, when it comes to expanding the Kingdom, security is not synonymous with faithfulness nor the key to effectiveness. The Church began its first major expansion past Jerusalem solely because of the persecution it faced, “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4 ESV).

Taking this back a step, keep in mind Jesus never once said, “Play it safe.” Neither did He promise physical/bodily safety for any follower. Jesus warns His disciples at great lengths they would be persecuted, exiled, betrayed, chased from town to town and even killed on His account. Jesus clearly states if the world hated Him, it would hate us. Jesus makes it sound as if we should actually expect to be tortured or murdered just for our allegiance to Him… Skimming through the Gospels you’ll find a common expectation that believers would suffer (see Matthew 24:9, Mark 13:13, Luke 6:22-23, John 15:18-21).

What about Jesus’ prayer for our safety? “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15 ESV). That isn’t a prayer for physical safety, but for spiritual endurance, His concern was would we stay faithful. Would we give up and flee, or would we stand strong – that was Jesus’ focus.

Jesus doesn’t remove us from the struggle, instead somehow His cause thrives in a threatening milieu. For example, the church’s evangelistic fervor is flourishing in places like China, yet weekly in the States churches are closing their doors. Perhaps there’s an “either/or” here. Either we can idolize safety and comfort, or we can take a risk and stick our necks out.

Has our focus on safety become a contributing factor to a lethargic “Christian Nation”? Apparently our focus has shifted from taking risks to being comfortable. Our common prayer sounds as if our primary goal as believers is maintaining comfort. This affinity to being insulated has a corollary, perhaps it has led to our isolation from those who need transformation most.

Consider this too, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12 ESV). I don’t claim to understand fully what Jesus means here, but one thing is clear, there’s a tangible tension between the world and the Kingdom of God. Here’s another passage I don’t claim to have my mind wrapped around, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV). Paul seems to suggest an evidence of living godly lives, is to suffer persecution.

What can we do differently, other than praying about our security? We could start by shifting the focus off of our comfort and safety, which though they help us feel secure do not in and of themselves insure the Kingdom will expand. Then, perhaps praying for God to watch over our persecuted brethren around the world and ask Him to use us however He sees fit — more than we thank Him for the blessings we have of being able to assemble peacefully.

The Christian faith insults, offends, and it should occasionally get us into trouble in this world.

Shifting our focus more inline with the early Church, calls for a renewal of our vision of reality. Since the Garden of Eden and until the final Restoration at the end of time, we will have trials and tribulations in this world. Perhaps we have as North American Christians lost sight of the battle of Good vs Evil, a battle we are smack dab in the middle of. Keeping this battle in mind would be a good place to start if we are striving to emulate the faith we see lived out in the New Testament.

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