For it is by grace you have been saved...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Cheapening of Prayer

One of the recent trends on social media has been the proliferation of prayer request sites/pages.  In principle, I’m all for this.  If my child is diagnosed with a serious health issue, asking brothers and sisters in Christ to pray is certainly in order, and the more the merrier.

Of course, there are some negatives here as well.  For one, it treats prayer as a magic mantra of sorts.  For another, it assumes that all “prayer” is equal, whether someone is a true follower of Christ with a genuine relationship to the God to whom we pray, etc.  Too often, it’s more like sending “best wishes”, which in the end means absolutely nothing. 

I recently saw a request on one of these prayer sites that highlights for me how as a culture in general we have cheapened what prayer is all about, or at the very least show that we don’t understand it.

The person was asking for prayer to “get out of” her current situation.  Seems she can’t deal with her husband any more, she needs less stress in her life, and so she wants others to pray for her to be able to leave so she can have “peace.”

Now, first let me say that I don’t know anything about this person or the situation.  I don’t know if actual physical violence is present, which I would never want to make light of.  But from what was shared it seems more like just a rather irresponsible, difficult to live with individual.  And so, we take to social media asking others to pray for “deliverance.”

Here’s what I found most troubling and heart breaking about this.  All sorts of people were “liking” the request, implying their agreement with the need, and many others were actually commenting, sharing their sympathy and their intention of praying for this “situation.” 

Call me cruel and heartless but I see all sorts of problems with this.  Let’s list some, shall we:

1.  Venting personal marital issues on social media is never a healthy approach.  A marriage is intended to be a one-flesh union between a man and a woman, with God at the center.  Taking concerns to God is certainly good and right and necessary.  Airing your grievances on social media in the form a “prayer request” is nothing more than gossip, slander, and a host of other things. 

2. This person is seeking prayer for an unbiblical result.  In essence, we are told to ask God to do something that God is opposed to.  Divorce, whether you like it or not, is frowned upon by the God of Scripture.  One man, one woman, forever.  That’s His plan.  This in and out, easy divorce, love ‘em and leave ‘em approach to marriage is a blemish on the church.  That’s right, I said the church.  We’ve lowered the standards and given in to the world’s ideas on this, and we’re just as guilty in most cases.  God intends marital permanence.  And here we are asking people to pray to God and ask Him to grant us something that He has declared opposition to.  And no one even blinks.

3. This whole thing highlights the fact that we are more concerned with personal happiness than with holiness.  If it doesn’t make me happy, then it can’t be God’s will, right?  God wants me to have “peace” and “rest” and a stress free life, so if my spouse stands in the way of that, then surely God wants me to get away from that spouse. 

Forget about the fact that maybe I should be seeking to be a better example of love and grace and selflessness and humility toward my spouse.  Forget that maybe I should be asking for God’s grace to be showered in my spouse’s life, as well as mine, so that our marriage can be an example of Christ’s relationship with His Church the way it was intended (that’s a whole other rant!).

4.  There is a huge lack of discernment in the church.  So many people liking this post and saying they will pray shows that they haven’t thought it through, haven’t subjected any of this to Biblical standards, etc.  We just go right along with the “you deserve to be happy, sweetie” mentality. 

5.  The overarching problem of not understanding prayer.  Prayer is a communion between a holy God and a redeemed humanity made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus the Christ.  His atoning death opened the way for us to have fellowship with God, and we ought to be using that fellowship to seek His will and His way for His glory.

Now, I’m as guilty as anyone for being selfish in my prayers.  As one who struggles with the sin of anxiety, I frequently find myself praying for some of the most inconsequential things simply to assuage my own fears.  As I said in my last post: nobody is perfect.  And God deals with me ever so graciously in this for which I am so very, very grateful.

But folks, prayer is not just a hotline to some divine bellhop in the sky who comes running to make us happy all the time.  It’s certainly not a means of changing God’s mind so that He does something, or gives something, that is in opposition to His stated will, as long as we get enough “likes” and “best wishes” from others. 

God deserves more reverence.  Prayer deserves more respect.  Situations deserve more reflection.  Don’t get me wrong.  I will indeed pray for this person.  I will pray that God shows her how her ongoing love for this unlovable person is an example of how a holy God can love us.  I will pray that God’s Spirit moves within both of them to draw them both to repentance and salvation.  I will pray that He brings healing to their marriage so that it indeed shines as an example of grace and humility and forgiveness which will draw others to Christ as well.  And I will pray that all of us, me included, will take more seriously the privilege and power of prayer.