A call to spiritual reformation in your prayer life…if you dare to!

Posted: November 12, 2010 in Ministry

Is it time to examine your prayer life?

Have you ever thought about doing that?

What are you praying for…and why are you praying for it?

A very good friend of mind, Pastor Jeremy Field of Park Forest Baptist Church in State College, PA wrote a paper for his grad work around D.A. Carson’s book, A Call to Spiritual Reformation. He graciously asked me to review it and during the reading of this, is resonated deeply within me…so much so I requested to publish this on my blog, in which he wholeheartedly agreed.

Please, take a moment and pray that the Lord would speak to you prior to reading this post. It got me thinking, and I pray it will get you thinking also…to the point that you would consider evaluating your prayer life in light of what the Scriptures teach.

If afterwards this article struck a nerve in your or got you thinking, I would LOVE to hear from you through the comment section at the bottom of the page.

So, go ahead, take a moment to pray, then read, and then send me your comment on this…

Trying my best to connect to Him…in a Biblical fashion…

Drew

D.A. Carson’s book, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, is a book that examines the priorities of Paul and his prayers. In his book he argues, “But by in large, our thanksgiving seems to be tied rather tightly to our material well-being and comfort. The unvarnished truth is that what we most frequently give thanks for betrays what we most highly value. If a large percentage of our thanksgiving is for material prosperity, it is because we value material prosperity proportionately” (Carson, pg 41). This issue under analysis in this paper is to examine various arenas of Christian life that help contribute to the formulation of the majority of prayers of thanksgiving to God based on material blessings and prosperity instead of the biblical pattern of signs of grace among the body of Christ found in Pauline prayers in Scripture. This will be achieved by drafting an analogy between the idolatrous culture of the Roman Empire to the excessive culture of America today as well as a lost sense of the Scriptural command to “Seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). In addition with a look at that command will be the idea that for the most part the American church has lost its sense of the imminent return of Christ and living with an eternal perspective which has contributed to the validity of Carson’s argument.

Carson postulates in the second chapter of his book that in the process of spiritual formation it is necessary for the believer to develop a framework of prayer. Included in that framework is a segment of bringing thanks to God. Carson references 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12 and notes specifically in verses 3-4 in which Paul gives thanks that his readers’ faith is growing, their love is increasing, and they are persevering under trial. All of which are noted signs of grace evident in the life of a Christian. Carson argues the necessity of the Christian developing a framework of prayer analogous to Paul’s and says that, “his elements of thanksgiving show the framework of values he brings to his intercession…” (Carson, pg 44). The key for Carson is the values that the believer brings in his worship to God as he offers his thanks. The question is, are they the values that God endears and have eternal significance, or are they more temporal and earthly in nature.

The author’s presumption that by and large our thanksgiving seems to be tied tightly to our material well-being and comfort is an issue of deep concern for the church today. In times of prayer with the body of Christ, prayers that offer thanksgiving for the signs of spiritual growth and maturity in other believers are not often heard or said. One argument to be made for the cause of this among believers today is the idolatrous culture in which the church finds itself today much like the idolatrous culture within the Roman Empire. In an article written by David Crump he notes that, “The complete absence of personal, idiosyncratic prayers…looms like a large black hole in the middle of (the N.T.).”[1] During the Period of transition out of the time of the law into the time of grace and the church age, among Jewish believers it was typical that prayers of thanks for everyday needs were viewed as such; “Definite guidelines were established to keep mundane requests in check. Personal concerns were only allowable after corporate prayer for the national interests.” [2] Crump notes historically that was a contrast to the Greco-Roman way of praying that included a multitude of prayers for everyday needs. Prayers of thanksgiving will always be directly related to that which our hearts and minds deem most valuable. Today America, like the Roman Empire, is the wealthiest most affluent country in the world. The lifestyle that comes along with that kind of wealth affects our view of life and faith. Our sense of consumerism, material prosperity and comfort has worked its way into our Christian worldview. W. Fred Graham writes, “The struggle between consumer religion and the Christian faith is a battle at least as old as that of the prophets against Baalism or the early church against the divinized Roman Empire.” [3] He states, “For the modern Christian who does not want to worship God and Mammon, the difficult thing is to recognize that our system has gradually taken on divinity. Note that it fits these characteristics of a religion: 1. A religion responds to basic human anxieties, such as feelings of guilt. Christians once called gluttony a sin, something to be guilty about. But our system of instant production, consumption and disposal makes us feel guilty if we do not consume. ‘I owe it to myself’, we are taught to say about vacationing in the south in winter or owning the latest gadgets, the right auto, the proper food supplements.” [4] Our culture of affluence has taught us to place a high value on material possessions and comfort. Therefore, these things work their way into our prayers. Specifically, that which we will ask for as believers and what we will give thanks for. It is worthy to note that the Apostle Paul would not completely abandon the idea of giving thanks for material blessings or needs. He himself wrote in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”. Paul did say that we should bring everything to God. And as Crump notes, “Jesus explicitly endorsed petitions for worldly needs when he taught the disciples to ask for ‘daily bread’ in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:11, Luke 11:3).” [5] The problem becomes when these things dominate our prayers of thanks. In a survey on prayer about how prayers are focused, one result reads a follows, “Health and CashMy prayers are always based on blessing God and thanking God for things; frequently, someone needed help to pay the bills, and answered prayers came in the form of cash. Someone else ‘suffered from severe depression, and without prayer for strength to go on, I would not have made it’.”[6] Instead of believers being caught up in the system of American culture and perceiving our needs and thanks within it, we ought to align ourselves with the values of Scripture. We find in Scripture the example for us of what ought to be the focus of our thanksgiving. Paul prays in Eph 1:15-23 and thanks God for the believers faith in the Lord and the love for all the saints and this influences his intercession for them. He then goes on to pray that the Father would give them a Spirit of wisdom and revelation to know him better. The value in understanding what Paul gives thanks for is directly tied to what the core values are in his life. His core values are of eternal worth. Terry Wolfer writes, “Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus emphasizes the spiritual wisdom of a deepening relationship with God. ‘When it comes to prayer, there is always so much to learn….The One we are chasing after has already found us, but that only makes us eager to know God more.”[7] Of most importance to Paul was what God was doing in the lives of believers and how they were growing. This is a missing element in the prayers of thanks in believers today and we need to be challenged to realign our values with those of Scripture.

Another reason that it seems that believers more articulate prayers of thanks for material blessings as opposed to signs of grace evidenced in brother and sisters in Christ is because in part we do not practice the teaching of Matthew 6:33 and we have lost the sense of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. “Here too Paul could find precedent in Jesus teaching, for true disciples ‘sought first the Father’s kingdom and his righteousness, so that all these other(mundane) things would be added to them as well’. “[8] There is a sense in which many believers today seek first themselves and our own kingdom and we add all things. When this is the case, we find ourselves praying for things related to our own material comfort. This is directly tied to the previous argument made about the culture of American comfort. As well it is tied to a lost sense of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. During the time of Paul and the apostles, they believed that Christ was going to return during their lifetime. This belief affected their worldview and their actions. It affected their prayers. But since Christ has delayed his coming for a period in the church age, Christians seem to have lost the personal passion for the return of Christ and the mission Christ gave to the church until He returns. “It could also be argued that the NT’s apocalyptic vision inhibited mundane prayer. If the early church understood itself primarily as an end-time community awaiting the Lord’s imminent return, prayers for the mundane would be a distraction from, even superfluous to, the higher priorities to of spiritual preparedness.”[9] Paul wrote in Romans 13:11, “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed”. John MacArthur writes, “It sometimes seems as if the entire church today is in an even worse state of spiritual drowsiness. There is widespread indifference concerning the Lord’s return. Where is the sense of expectation that characterized the early church? The sad legacy history will record about the church of our generation is that as we neared the dawn of a new millennium, most Christians were far more concerned about the arrival of a computer glitch known as the “millennium bug” than they were with the arrival of the millennial King!.”[10] Today, many believers prayers of thanks are prosperity motivated instead of offered up as a thanksgiving for God’s active work of grace in believers.

In the Scriptures God teaches us that we are to set our hearts and minds on things above (Col 3). We are told not to store up treasures for ourselves on earth but rather in heaven (Matt 6:19-21). We are exhorted not to love the world or the things of the world (I John 2:15-17). By examining and thinking about the idolatrous nature of American culture today, the churches general lack of seeking God first and His kingdom, and a lack of zeal for the personal imminent return of Jesus Christ we can see why many prayers of thanks offered by believers today would be directed toward material prosperity and comfort instead of signs of grace active in the life of the body of Christ. This issue is important for believers today because if we are overly concerned about the material things of life then we have missed Jesus heart and the values of the kingdom. The effect of this will be a missed opportunity to be an impact on the world around us because we will be too focused on the temporal instead of the eternal. Our lives will be lived more inward and for self than upward and for Him.

Bibliography

Crump, David. “Are Practical Prayers Pagan Prayers?.” Expository Times 120.5 (2009): 231-235. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web.8. Nov 2010

Graham, W. Fred. “America’s Other Religion”. Christian Century, March 17, 1982, p.306. Google Custom Search: Theological Journal Search

MacArthur, F. John. IS CHRIST’S RETURN IMMINENT?. TMSJ. 11/1. (Spring 2000). 7-18. Google Custom Search: Theological Journal Search.

Szegedy-Maszak, Marianne, and Caroline Hsu. “HOW WE TALK TO GOD. (Cover Story).” U.S. News & World Report 137.22 (2004): 55-62. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 8 Nov. 2010.

Wolfer, T..(2008). Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals. Social Work and Christianity, 35(4), 501-503. Retrieved November 8, 2010, from ProQuest Religion. (Document ID: 1611306401)

Footnotes:

[1] David, Crump. Are Practical Prayers Pagan Prayers?. Expository Times. Volume 120. Number 5 Pages 231-235. 2009 SAGE Publications. (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC)

[2] Are Practical Prayers Pagan Prayers?. Expository Times. Volume 120. Number 5 Pages 231-235. 2009 SAGE Publications. (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC)

[3] W. Fred Graham. America’s Other Religion. Christian Century, March 17, 1982, p 306.

[4] W. Fred Graham. America’s Other Religion. Christian Century, March 17, 1982, p 306.

[5] David, Crump. Are Practical Prayers Pagan Prayers?. Expository Times. Volume 120. Number 5 Pages 231-235. 2009 SAGE Publications. (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC)

[6] Szegedy-Maszak, Marianne, Hsu, Caroline. HOW WE TALK TO GOD. U.S. News & World Report, 00415537. 12/20/2004, Vol. 137, Issue 22.

[7] Terry A Wolfer. Social Work and Christianity. Botsford. Winter 2008. Vol 35, Iss. 4; pag 501, 3pgs.

[8] David, Crump. Are Practical Prayers Pagan Prayers?. Expository Times. Volume 120. Number 5 Pages 231-235. 2009 SAGE Publications. (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC)

[9] David, Crump. Are Practical Prayers Pagan Prayers?. Expository Times. Volume 120. Number 5 Pages 231-235. 2009 SAGE Publications. (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC)

[10] John MacArthur, Jr. Is Christ’s Return Imminent? TMSJ 11/1 (Spring 2000) 7-18. pg 14.

I would love to hear your two-cents on this…so type away below… 🙂

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Comments
  1. Dad says:

    After reading this, I understand the difference of Paul’s time and the state of the world today. In Paul’s day, there were no distractions of money, gadgets, and personal well being, and the emphasis was on the evangelizing of the world around Paul. Today, even in our churches, the prayers offered are for the well being of the members or friends of members, our country, our church activities, all of which are focused on how this will improve the state of life around us. We get prayer requests every day and as we take these requests to our Father, we get engrossed in the “needs” of people other than spiritual. Why is this? It is the world we live in and are so influenced by this world. Can we change our focus? Maybe? But how can we block out “personal” prayer requests? I pray for unsaved persons to hear the gospel message and respond to the call. I pray for family needs and the needs of others, saved and not saved. I pray for the church and it’s leaders and ministries. I pray for missionaries and their needs and safety. And yes I pray that God will open up new lines of communication to share the gospel and for my daily living to reflect my faith and love of Jesus. I pray for our country and it’s leaders. Yet in most of these requests there is a personal satisfaction or need being stated.
    So to sum up my thoughts, I believe living in todays world, even though like Paul’s day, we look to Jesus coming again in our time, our prayers will have a different “flavor” than those of Paul’s day. We can change but we should not stop praying for physical needs and remember that spiritual needs should be part of our prayers. Thanks for a different insight for my prayer time.

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