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Written by: C. W. Booth

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Prayers Do Not Work…really

A prayer is a communication from you to God. It can take the form of a praise, a petition, a thanksgiving, a plea, a question, or a heart-dump of all that you think and feel. But when you pray to request something from God, that prayer never works.

By use of the word “works” I mean that God is not a vending machine into which we place currency (i.e. tithes, prayers, promises, demands, service, delight) and from out of which we get back whatever wish our whimsical heart dreamed up. Soda machines work. Coffee machines work. They are lifeless programmed contrivances that do exactly what we tell them to do.

But God is our Lord. We have a relationship with Him. We serve Him. We are slaves to Him. We obey Him. God’s role in the covenant relationship is to be God, Savior, Lord, Redeemer, Comforter, Helper, and Counselor to us. We pray, He listens--Counselor. We pray, He acts for His best interests and secondarily to make us more like Christ--Helper and Lord.

When God gives us the thing we asked for (because we are asking with motives of love and not motives of pleasure) it is not that our prayer “worked.” It is because we have spoken with our Father who only desires to make us holy, and He has determined that our request will advance His kingdom.

Prayers always “work” in so much that God hears them. There is no magic formula to getting things from God. Whatever we ask for must be from a pure motive (not from selfish pleasure-seeking), must be aimed at furthering the work of the kingdom, and must be explicitly in conformance with the Will of Jesus.

Prayers do not work. We work for God and He provides the power, means, salvation, and tools to help us get that work done. Prayers do not work for us, we work for God as He works for His glory and His kingdom.

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This essay was originally posted as a blog and was subject to comments from the public. Those comments which advance the dialogue are included below.

Booth Responded to a Comment from the Public (public comment not shown)

Quite right, it is about attitude and maturity. God is not a vending machine dispensing our pleasures on demand if only we push the right buttons. God is our Master, Savior, Lord, and Father.

To our human fathers in our youth we used to say, “Daddy gimme! Daddy gimme! Daddy gimme!” In our teens we used to say, “Dad, what can I do to help out around here?” In our maturity we say, “Father, I understand it is my responsibility to take on the work load here…can you give me some wisdom and guidance?”

A Comment from the Public is Posted Below

I don't totally agree--so what's new? I do understand that God is not a vending machine. But He allows prayer to work, by asking us to take part in His work and using our prayers to stay in communication with Him as we follow where He leads. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16)--it works! The believers praying for Peter to be released from prison(Acts 12)--prayer works! That's my two cents.

Booth Responded to the Above Comment

Greetings Denise. I doubt we really much disagree, but I understand your emotional discomfort and your penchant for precise wording.

You stated, "God allows prayer to work." I think that is inaccurate. Prayers are just words, powerless of themselves. God is the one who works, who takes action because we have humbled ourselves and prayed according to His will. The prayers do not work, God does. If prayers "worked" then the prayers of unbelievers would be effective, and they are not.

You wrote, "God asks us to take part in His work and use prayers..." To be more precise, we are commanded to do so, not asked or invited by God. Moreover, God informs us that if we will not pray we will often not receive those things that we desire by which to do what we want to do for Him (James 4:2).

You wrote, "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16)--it works!" Since prayer is communication to God, and ONLY the righteous can communicate with God, it is not prayer that "works" so much as it is that communication with God is powerful and effective. But powerful and effective to do what? Power in the New Testament almost always means "power to become righteous and live a holy life." Your partial citation of 5:16 overlooks that prayer is powerful and effective with regard to God healing one from sins! Prayer does not heal one from sins, God does. God works. Prayer is powerful because it is the means by which God has decided He will act, even to forgive sins, on our behalf.

You wrote, "The believers praying for Peter to be released from prison(Acts 12)--prayer works!" Of course a thing called prayer did not come down to the prison, talk to Peter, and use its might to open the prison doors. An angel of the Lord did all that. God heard the prayer (in that narrow sense the prayers worked), and then God worked by granting the prayer requests and using His power and authority to accomplish what man could not.

Again, I do not think we are saying opposite things, we are rather far closer in our mutual understanding than it might seem. My problem is with Christians treating prayer as a magic spell which of itself is thought to have power. God is the one with the power and authority. Prayer petitions Him, and only if the petition is in accord with His will does He act; He will work for His kingdom and for us as we also work for His kingdom.

Prayer is a means of communication. God is the one who does it all. God does all the work.

A Public Comment Was Posted by an Atheist--Shown Below

As an atheist, I can sort of relate. Most of my love letters go unreturned.

Booth Responded to the Atheist's Comment

Interesting comment. I understand you do not believe in God, but your sentiment is intriguing when also applied to God. In other words, think of the Bible as God's love letters to humanity, and often His love letters go unanswered. Blessings.

Below is a Response from Booth to a Comment which Is Not Shown

Thanksgiving, plea for mercy, and petition for daily provisions are certainly the heart of worship and the core of biblical prayer. Jesus told several parables to remind us to persevere in prayer and to not grow weary in petitioning God. Thanks for the good comment.

A Public Comment Is Shown Below

Coming to the discussion late, I apologize. I think that prayers work on one level - to allow us to verbalize our thoughts, concerns, worries, praise, whatever. Anytime that we have the opportunity to express things, we also have the opportunity to examine them. Examination is often the beginning of solution. One other comment: in your last paragraph, you state "We work for God and He provides the power, means, salvation, and tools to help us get that work done". I would also add to that list, blessings. God as the paramount of all creation is alone in His ability to bless us beyond measure.






Thursday, August 05, 2010

Magic Spell Prayers

In the last blog I noted my discomfort with treating prayers as if they were magic spells to get us our wishes. A brief elaboration is needed, I think.

Prayer, and the words a prayer contains, is not inherently powerful. Prayer “makes” nothing happen of itself. Surely this is readily obvious by looking at pagan prayers. Pagan prayers are empty words spoken into the wind that have no ability to make anything happen. Similarly, the prayers of unsaved persons carry no capacity to cause anything to occur (in fact, God does not pay attention to such prayers).

Prayer is only powerful and effective because God is alive, listening, and willing to act. He only grants petitions that are prayed with the right heart motive by a born again individual who asks only for those things that are in accord with His will.

Why did Peter get out of jail? Not because he “wanted to” or because jail was uncomfortable and depressing. Rather, Peter was determined to spread the gospel and viewed jail as a barrier to that goal.

As we mature as Christians we begin to see that we used to pray in the selfish and childish “gimme” mode. But growth causes us to recognize that we must pray in the “Lord, grant me the strength and wisdom to die in your service” mode.

In our youth we used to say, “Daddy gimme! Daddy gimme! Daddy gimme!” In our teens we used to say, “Dad, what can I do to help out around here?” In our maturity we say, “Father, I understand it is my responsibility to take on the work load here…can you give me some wisdom and guidance?”

The “Daddy give me” type of immaturity leads to magic spell prayers. These are recognizable via the frustrated person who says to himself “why is my prayer not working?” So he keeps changing the words hoping to find just the right mix of verbs and nouns, the right oral formula that will bring his wish about. Such people see prayers as magic spells that can be practiced and improved to the point where they imagine one day they can mostly get what they want.

Others resort to volume instead of better formulas. They think the spell will improve or become more efficaciously powerful with many words. Magic spell prayers.

Such prayers are not designed to accomplish God’s tasks and to further His kingdom, but to get us what we desire.

The power is not in the prayer, the words, the language, or the vocabulary. The power is in the fact that God is listening and is able to take action.

Have you ever heard someone say, “I can make that important and expensive thing happen with one phone call to the governor”? But the power is not in the phone, the telecommunication network, the caller, or the words spoken on the phone. In fact, if a passerby were to pick up the same phone, place a call, and speak the same words, he would not get the same result. The “power” was in the fact that the caller was a friend of the governor; and the governor has the authority to take authoritative useful action. Yet, the governor will not act if the request is not in the best interest of his state.

Prayer is not a magic spell. It is a mode of communication between God’s children and the Lord. It brings us into God’s presence and allows us to bow before Him humbly. It acknowledges that we can do nothing of ourselves. It also acknowledges that He will act only for His own best interest, in accord with His will. Communication with God is powerful and effective because God is all powerful and is ruler over all creation.

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This essay was originally posted as a blog and was subject to comments from the public. Those comments which advance the dialogue are included below.

Below is a Comment Posted by Someone from the Public

I agree it's not a magic spell. Magic deals with evil doing or something against the will of someone and prayer if giving thanks, asking for forgiveness and asking for God to shed light in our way...

"He only grants petitions that are prayed with the right heart motive by a born again individual who asks only for those things that are in accord with His will." What do you mean "..by a born again individual"?

Booth Responded to the Above Comment with the Following Post

You asked, "What do you mean by a born again individual?" Great question.

The short answer is: For many people they come to recognize that their own good works and good efforts cannot earn them sufficient favor with God such that God will ever say to them, "OK, you have done enough good things on earth so I will forget about the bad things and sins you have done, come on into heaven." In fact, no one can ever do enough good things to counterbalance even one bad thing. God demands perfection. God never "overlooks" or "ignores" a sin; every sin must be "paid for." That is why Jesus died as a sacrifice, to wash away all the penalty for our sins. We call that act of Jesus "free grace" or the free gift of salvation. Forgiveness of sins is free. Something free cannot be earned or worked for.

But while the free gift comes without a pricetag (it really is free), it does come with a condition. The condition is that we confess our sins (ask God to forgive us) and profess that Jesus is the only God and the only Savior. The first time we realize this and confess that we have sinned against God and that we cannot earn our own salvation and also profess that Jesus is God and Savior, at that moment when we place ourselves into His godly control for the first time, we become washed, regenerated, or as some people say, born a second time from out of heaven (born again). At that moment God forgives us of every sin, He adopts us as sons and daughters, and He gives us a guarantee of salvation by causing the Holy Spirit to live inside us. All of that forgiving is invisible and cannot be felt, and it is accepted as a matter of faith; but for those who confess their sins and profess Jesus as Savior, they also obtain an inexplicable assurance of salvation that endures for a lifetime.

Please feel free to send me a message if you have more questions. Also, here is a link to an article I wrote that provides more clarification http://thefaithfulword.org/salvation.html (note, you can also email me at that same website if you like--I am always happy to talk). Blessings to you in Christ.






Monday, August 09, 2010

Prayer Works -- “I Got What I Wanted” or perhaps “God Got What He Wanted”

In a previous blog I lamented how Christians emphasize “the prayer that works” instead of seeing prayer as a part of our relationship with the living God. Prayers are not magic spells that work on their own.

At its worst the “prayer works” attitude manifests itself as follows: “Sure prayer works, I got what I wanted didn’t I?”

Or perhaps, if one is honest, the thought is: “Yes, my prayers work because I can get God to do what I want Him to do.”

Abraham (trying to talk God into sparing Sodom-Gomorrah) and Job (“give me a fair hearing and I will prove I am suffering unjustly”) both seemed to have this warped conception of talking with God. Yet, bad attitude and all, their prayers were heard by God. Of course, God rejected their petitions: Sodom-Gomorrah was destroyed after all, and Job was strongly rebuked by God for not understanding his humble estate as a servant of the almighty sovereign Creator (Job eventually repented).

It all comes down to what the word “works” means. As a means of communication to God, prayer works. As a wrestling-hold by which to strong-arm God into doing what we want Him to do, forget about it; prayer does not work that way.

From God’s perspective, as explained in the Scriptures, prayer “works” in the following way: God gets what He wants FROM us via prayer.

  • God makes us humble by making us ask in prayer for what we cannot do ourselves
  • God gets us to spend time with Him when we pray
  • God makes us realize our dependence on Him because we must pray
  • God requires us to empty ourselves of sin every time we pray
  • God receives gratitude, praise, and thanksgiving from us via prayer
  • God reminds us that everything we want must be according to His will
  • God brings to us the thought that we are His servants during prayer
  • God causes us to think about the needs and interests of others when we pray for them
  • God forces us to examine our motives and to eject pleasure-seeking so that our prayer may be valid
  • God gets to respond powerfully to prayer, demonstrating His mercy, wisdom, forgiveness, and love

Even when our petitions are granted by God, He gets what He wanted all along. We do not change God’s mind (as if we could ever successfully give Him counsel) nor can we give Him information that He did not have already. We simply become humble enough to call on Him with the motives He requires (for the sake of: others, the kingdom, and personal holiness). When we are so humbled, He gives us abundantly what is needed for us to grow and to serve Him.

Yes, prayer works. But not to get us what we want, but to cause us to be humble and to bring us back to the service of the Lord.






Friday, August 20, 2010

The Type of Sabbath Rest

I was reading in Hebrews 4 today. It struck me odd that I had never noticed before that the Old Testament Law of a Sabbath day of rest was a “type” (a living symbol previously performed in real human history) for salvation in Christ. The Sabbath Law symbolically demonstrated the following:

  • God did all the work of salvation (God rested from all His work)
  • Those who do not believe do not receive salvation but the punishment of death
  • The gospel (good news) must be united with faith to obtain this rest
  • Salvation is a rest (a Sabbath rest) from human works erroneously thought to earn salvific merit via human effort

The danger of thinking that the Sabbath Law (the day of Saturday rest) is the one piece of the Law that is still to be enforced on Gentiles today is that we can miss the point entirely. Focusing on the Saturday rest as a Law to be perpetually performed prevents us from seeing it as the symbol of a future rest from the Law when the Messiah was to come the first time, as He did in Jesus.

In the Old Covenant they had a symbol of salvation. While the Law is obsolete the reality of rest in Christ continues. May we not miss this salvation, this rest, by hardness of heart or lack of faith.

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This essay was originally posted as a blog and was subject to comments from the public. Those comments which advance the dialogue are included below.

Below is a Response Booth Posted to a Public Comment (public comment is not shown)

You wrote, "sabbath means sunday dont it?" No, the word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word for "an intermission of rest."

You wrote, "why do we go to church on sunday?" The Law defines every Saturday as the Sabbath. The Law was quite clear, it required the death penalty to be administered to everyone who broke the Saturday Sabbath. When the early church recognized that the Law had been fulfilled in Christ, they recognized that they were no longer "bound" to the Law, including the Law of the Sabbath. Therefore, to honor the day of the week on which Christ arose, and to show they were no longer under the Law, they began meeting on Sunday. However, they never thought of Sunday as "the Sabbath" and never taught anyone to treat it like the Sabbath.

The Law required that no work be done on the genuine Sabbath (Saturday), not even cooking food, building a fire, or gathering fire wood. It was illegal to buy gorceries or sell any product. Since the Gentiles never honored Sunday in this way, it is clear that Law of the Sabbath had been fulfilled in Christ just as had the rest of the Law. It is for this reason that the church can assemble on any day of the week it chooses, or every day of the week. Tradition has given us Sunday as a matter of global convenience, however, there is no Law requiring meeting on that particular day.






Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Complications for Gentiles If Sunday Really Were the Sabbath of the Law

Complicating the whole idea of imposing Moses’ Sabbath Law on Gentiles is the reality that Moses did not call for a public worship gathering every Saturday. Most scholars of the Law and Jewish culture will remind you the Law only called for a public worship gathering three distinct times during the year that involved the Sabbath. Weekly worship meetings apparently began as a tradition during the Babylonian exile, but were not a demand of the actual Law.

If the Jewish Sabbath Law (as recorded in Scripture) is to become the Gentile Sabbath Law then weekly communal worship gatherings need not be a part of the Sabbath; the Sabbath was a day of rest and reflection, not a day of obligatory community worship. Would pastors or the church at large be pleased to have the congregation attend services just three times in the year, and would they be content with the explanation, “I am simply keeping Moses’ Law of the Sabbath”?

Further complicating the Gentile adoption of the Sabbath Law were the many prohibitions in the Saturday Sabbath Law whose breaking required the death penalty: moving household goods into or out of your personal home, buying or selling goods of any kind, making a cook fire, cooking food, going on a trip, practicing one’s profession, etc. The fact that Gentile Christians ignore all or most of these prohibitions is indicative that in their hearts they no longer consider the Saturday Sabbath Law as binding and that Sunday has not “somehow” literally replaced Saturday in the Law.

Yet, there is one more Saturday Law that would drive Gentiles to distraction if the Law were in force today. Leviticus 15:18 indicates that ordinary marital relations made the husband and wife ceremonially unclean until the next evening (i.e. about 24 hours). While the Law did not call for any kind of sin sacrifice (for marital relations are never a sin) it did call for the couple to bathe and to be excluded from community worship (and other community activities) until the next evening.

Pragmatically this would have meant that anyone who had engaged in marital relations the night before would be ineligible to enter the temple or to participate in public gatherings and public worship services. IF the Sabbath Law is now to apply to Gentile Christians, and IF Saturday is to be replaced by Sunday, then surely this has significant implications for the married Christians’ traditional Saturday date night. How many Christian couples would be required to excuse themselves from entering the church for worship on Sunday morning because they were ceremonially unclean until Sunday evening?

We should rejoice, for so very many reasons, that we are no longer under the Law.

Addendum to Article

It should be kept in mind that the temple sacrifices ran throughout the entire week, not only on Saturday. Moreover, only those residents living in Jerusalem were actually close enough to visit the temple on the Sabbath because those living beyond "a Sabbath day's walk" would not have been able to attend.

While I do believe in meeting often / weekly, as the New Testament indicates is ideal, I do not believe the Gentiles are under the Law or under the Law of the Sabbath. I cannot see myself taking up stones by which to execute the deacons when I see them stop on the way home to eat lunch at the local Asian restaurant.

For those who do believe we are under some kind of Old Testament Sabbath Law, I would invite them to post the parts of the Law they feel still apply and why it is that the rest of the Law does not apply.

Blessings.






Saturday, August 28, 2010

Why Were You Saved?

Why?

For what purpose did the Lord give you salvation, to you, a human?

Some would say, “To have a relationship with Christ.”

Someone else might say, “To seek pleasure in Christ.”

Yet another might say, “For but one purpose: to evangelize the world.”

And still someone else would say, “To make me holy.”

There is a degree of truth in all these responses. But they are also all quite incomplete. We were created in Christ, born again, to do good works. That is our spiritual duty of worship.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

No good works, at all, ever? Absurd!

It has been presented to me that the above passage, or its interpretation, is mistaken because both James 2:17 and 1 Corinthians 3:15 argue against it. That assertion states that James and Paul actually gave Christians the viable option of becoming saved by faith but then to do nothing further “in faith” for Christ, ever. However, such a proposition is to misrepresent what both James and Paul have written.

Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (James 2:17, 26)

The root assumption that results in a misreading of James 2:17 is this: if a passage says something (e.g. faith without works is dead) then it must be possible for that thing to actually happen. That root assumption is not always true and is an invalid way to interpret some segments of Scripture.

Sometimes things are written in absurd contrasts on purpose to show how impossible it is for a thing to be true. For example, a camel cannot go through the eye of a needle--it is an absurd contrast--so there is no reason to try to prove that a camel can work its own way through a needle's eye. The greater the absurdity of the comparison the more one is supposed to be able to see the impossibility of the one thing happening.

Similarly, James is showing how absurd it is for a person to say, "I have saving faith" and yet for that same boaster to have no desire to do deeds of righteousness in faith. Such a boast is hollow and may well point to a pretender of the faith. By a person's fruits (their works) you will know whether they are a fellow believer instead of a false prophet (Matthew 7:20-21).

What is dead decays into destruction while what is alive grows

It is for this reason (when one says they have faith but they have no works) that James compares their "saving" faith to a dead corpse. It is a comparison of absurdity. What could be more absurd than to say that a thing is both alive and dead at the same time? How can a living faith bring a person to the point of regeneration and then instantly die so as to be unable to change the person the very next second, or to grow the person, or even to endure until death?

If it did not endure until death, was it saving faith? Faith being alive and dead at the same time is nonsense and therefore makes the perfect illustration that genuine Christians will bear fruits of the Spirit and good works. Faith is a living and vital thing, and God brings us to maturity when He begins that good work of faith in us--He does not save us to bring us immediately into corpse-hood.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

Scriptures overtly state that God will lose pleasure in and “destroy” the one who claims to be righteous but who “shrinks back” (or literally “withdraws from”) living faithfully. A person cannot have living faith and dead faith at the same time.

But my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. (Hebrews 10:38-39)

Of this same thing I am also confident, that no one's saving faith would ever also be concurrently a dead faith. Nonetheless, if (IF) it were possible for a real Christian to have no desire to do anything for the Savior, and IF he were to die having never done anything for Christ (such an absurdity is hard to contemplate), then, yes, he would be saved as if he had barely managed to walk through the very fires of Hell itself to safety (1 Corinthians 3:15). Those who have been born again on their death beds may well be those persons who will have no good deeds to survive them but will be saved “as if through fire.”

Dead faith did not love, overcome, or endure

It is for the very purpose of performing good works that God has saved us. Without good works our faith is but a dead corpse unable to accomplish the very purpose for which Christ saved us. An absurdity too nonsensical to grasp.

"If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:10)

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith. (1 John 5:3-4)

Though they all say it in different ways, all these passages (along with all of Hebrews 11) present the truth that saving faith always results in works of obedience. Dead faith cannot overcome the world because it has itself been overcome by the world and has not endured to the end. Yet we have already overcome the world because we have been born of God. No work can merit salvation, but neither can saving faith not yield works of obedience. Dead faith (with no desire to perform good works) in a living person has not overcome and has not endured, has it?

'He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS; (Revelation 2:26)

'He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. (Revelation 3:5)

'Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent. (Revelation 2:5)

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)


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