Monday, April 26, 2010

To Publically Pray Or Not To Pray? That Is The Question.



Since 1952, the National Day Of Prayer (NDOP)has been a solid part of the public landscape of religion, Christianity in particular, in the United States. The first Thursday in May all around the country has been generally filled with high expectation and ceremony as the religious faithful call on the name of the Lord and discuss how irreligious ideas and concepts have damaged the nation taking it away from its foundational and biblically centered principles.


As you can see from the video, the prayer has become a complex legal matter. Legal pressures have challenged the celebration and a recent ruling by a federal judge may cause this years celebration to be the last time that public prayer receives the encouragement and endorsement of the Executive and Legislative branches of the federal Government.


Certainly Shirley Dobson, spouse of James Dobson and leader of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, isn't excited about this. Although President Obama, after not attending or seeming too excited about the NDOP in 2009, even refusing to acknowledge the gatherings by proclamations until late in the day, after most ceremonies were completed, has vowed that his White House will fight to maintain the Governmental endorsement of the NDOP.

Biblical Prayer vs. Public Prayer?

Matthew 6:5-7 ~ "5-And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites [are]: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6-But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. 7-But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen [do]: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. 8-Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

Personally, I've never engaged in any local celebrations of the National Day Of Prayer and I haven't felt bad about it in the least. First, most individuals that pray publicly don't don't pray like I pray...When I pray I will speak in tongues as the Spirit Of The Lord gives me utterance and some of those who pray in many of these type of venues often reject or have very little understanding as it pertains to the perpetuity and application of spiritual gifts and praying with and in the Spirit. Secondly, many of the prayers in these venues are not petitions to God, they are petitions to men. I have managed to hear excerpts of prayers that sounded more like mini-sermons than petitions of prayer, worship or adoration to God. When the focus of the event leaves Jesus, the church should be encouraged to leave the event, because everything will be downhill from that point on.

The fact is that when we examine scripture, the encouragement of Jesus toward prayer was that prayer was directed towards God and that was for a purpose and that prayer was done in intimacy with God at the center of it. According to Jesus, prayer was not to be made in a hypocritical fashion or in a fashion that exposed the church or the believer to criticism. Jesus modeled how prayer should work as he often drew himself away to pray (Mt. 14:23, Mt. 26:36, Mk. 6:46, Mk. 14:32, Lk. 6:12, Lk. 9:28, Lk. 11:1) For Jesus, prayer was an intimacy that wasn't to be compromised by impressing others. In fact, based on what we see within scripture, and what we know about how the pious Jews of the day were misusing prayer; it doesn't seem that Jesus would have endorsed a National Day Of Prayer as highly as he would have endorsed a National Day Of Repentance.

Conflict

Because of this, there seems to be a conflict revealed. The modern church seems to be full of individuals who want to pray without repentance and further who want to do these these things without any biblical restraint or direction. The very lack of biblical focus minimizes the target and aim of prayer itself.

Now, I don't want to condemn public prayer, as at times public prayer is in order, however I do wish to point out the fact that for many, prayer is simply something that is en-vogue. It is fashionable or attached to a political or social statement. As the pious Jews in Jesus day prayer appeals to the fleshly desire to stand out for a seeming religious cause or in a 'special" state or union with God. This sort of prayer is based on arrogance and one must be careful, because Jesus never endorsed or encouraged his church to pray out of arrogance or to use prayer as a method of controlling society or physically subjugating individuals in any way shape or form.

Prayer, although certainly a valid tool given to the church and the individual, has a specific place within the life and relationship of the believer. The preaching of the gospel was to be used to save souls (Rom. 1:16) and prayer was to be used for the edification and building up of the church and believer, petition to God, worship, adoration to God, for all men according to the authority of Jesus. The church was never encouraged, nor endorsed by scripture to pray to people, whether dead or alive, in this world nor the next...The prayers of the Saints were to be directed toward God and subject to his sovereign will and plan for us.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, many use the NDOP as an evangelization tool instead of a tool to call the church back to intimacy with God. The church doesn't need the state nor an endorsement of the state to do in prayer what it is called to do.

This is a dangerous and slippery slope. What is an "allowance" or "encouragement" today could be a "mandate" tomorrow. In the hands of ungodly men, that mandate could create a restriction that none of us wish to live with.

Is prayer in order? YES! Men should always pray and not faint and without ceasing.(Lk. 18:1, 1 Thess. 5:17)

Does the church need the endorsement of the state to pray? NO! Absolutely not. In fact to gain such an endorsement could possibly be a two-edged sword that could compromise the church's mission to the world.

Are we giving up religious freedoms by not having a sanctioned NDOP? For many it may feel that way, but when scripture is superimposed upon what has been allowed and encouraged for many years there is certainly a conflict that issue that cannot be easily reconciled.

Whether the government knows I'm praying or not, I have a mandate from God to pray and fellowship with him. Personally, I don't need a NDOP to be known as a person of prayer. My life should speak as to that before prayers are made. It is there that the difference is made between those that talk faith and those that walk faith. If I can't pray in the streets, I can certainly pray in private. If for some reason that becomes restricted or impossible to do, there is a solid foundation of an alter in the heart that cannot be moved restricted or legislated against. I would desire that the church actually encourage the biblical methods that do make a difference in the lives of people and not simply something that gives the appearance of getting "one up" on the atheists or irreligious.

I may not be agreed with on this one, but that's OK, I hope that I too am entitled to my position.

Blessed!

14 comments:

  1. I hear you!! the church is instructed to pray for all men in I Timothy 2 in the first place. There is no need for a national day of prayer as the Church should pray every day. We can actually make it more about the day than to Who we are praying to.

    I dont like fads, everyone jumps on the bandwagon but Christ is not being exhalted.

    I do think the problem is with our President who claims to be a Christian but most of his rulings are anti Christ but he did say that America was no longer a Christian nation so I dont know what many expected.

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  2. I have been thinking about this, how did it happen and whats is its purpose?

    Will it come to a place where all faiths joing this? if so how will God see that.

    I am not against a prayer day but I do see the issue with it being legislated in a country that elevates sin and devalues those who believe.

    This is intersting right here.

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  3. The Rev. Canon Mack E. VellyApril 26, 2010 at 5:17 PM

    Anyone with a grain of sense would advocate a day of prayer. The founding fathers of this nation recognised that their and our rights came from a higher source than the governments of man; what man grants he can ( and generally will ) arbitrarily take away. The bill of rights guarantees that the U.S. will not establish a state church as is the case with the Church of England in Great Britain or formerly the RCC in Italy and elsewhere. We are free to choose how we serve and worship God or free not to worship at all. The problem I have with this secular humanist agenda is that they wish to remove religion from the public sphere altogether instead of contenting themselves with their own beliefs in private. I suppose that is the paradox of evangelical secularism.

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  4. Paul,

    As far as I see it, you've outlined the problem of legislated and openly endorsed prayer. At this point the Christians control most venues, but this is open to anyone praying in anyone's name or authority.

    What "if" this is taken another step further and we're told that we're all given this particular time to pray and that some Hindu will lead the effort??? I just can't see anything good from state sponsored prayer.

    The Freedom From Religion Foundation has taken heat on a lot of issues and rightefully so on many, but I tend to side with them on this one...Now, I may be wrong, BUT at this point, I'd much rather have the perspective that you outlined...a God centered, prayer life that is exercised at all times. i believe that is the effective manner and way to pray and please God.

    I still say that if the gov't never acknowledges my prayer, so what...God does!

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  5. Rev. Canon Mack E. Velly,

    Glad to hear from you my friend..."paradox" it is!

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  6. Pastor Burnett your title says public prayer vs biblical prayer, but shouldnt the conflict be more life earnest prayer vs hypocritical prayer?

    I noted that Jesus said pray, but not as the pharisees do. IOW, do not emulate the motivation behind their prayer. He did not condemn nor restrict public prayer, but rather their motivation which was to be seen and praised of men. I agree the closet prayer is the more intimate prayer from which the individual believer benefits, but we should not be restricted or banned from public prayer.

    And granted, although public prayer can facilitate beseen prayers much earier, it should not be arbitrarily suspect of hypocrisy.

    These who seek to restrict public Christian prayer do so because they know that there is power in our prayers when done in sincerety of heart. I dont agree with political prayers, but those which truly beseech God on behalf of our nation.

    Personally, I look at this incident of NOD as a political football. But given the trending spiritual climate, it will have negative implications as unbelievers create more laws to restrict public expression of faith (except those who are "diverse") and acknowledgement of God.

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  7. Gcmwatch,

    Elder, you said:"I agree the closet prayer is the more intimate prayer from which the individual believer benefits, but we should not be restricted or banned from public prayer."

    Amen!

    Tonight was an example. I was part of a vigil for a family of 3 that were murdered last week and a neighbor that was killed in the same incident. I delivered the invocation, message and benediction. It was all public and I did my best to minister to the people and let the Lord use me. Public prayer was necessary, pertinent and did the job. The "public" portion isn't the problem...I agree that the motivation is.

    The problem I see however with the NDOP is that the statements made are more politically centered statements.

    I mean I strongly disagree with Nudow who wanted to take "under God" out of the pledge of allegiance, however, I'm under God whether Nudow or any court in the land recognizes it or not...In addition, some of these things may be under God's presence, but they certainly weren't sanctioned by GOd...Look at Arizona...racism is still alive...is that "under God"???

    I know that goes a long way off topic, but the principle is the same...If the state feels that it's an imposition to pray and coordinate a prayer or whatever I do to honor the Lord...so be it...I can do everything I need to do without the sanction of the state...in fact if they approve too much of what I'm doing, I better look out and be careful, because politics only serves itself...

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  8. "The bill of rights guarantees that the U.S. will not establish a state church . . ."

    . . . and has generally been interpreted to also prohibit the preference of one religion over another by the government. Without a National Day of Non-Prayer for balance, a National Day of Prayer seems to give preference to those religions (or religious choices) that pray over those that do not.


    "The problem I have with this secular humanist agenda is that they wish to remove religion from the public sphere altogether instead of contenting themselves with their own beliefs in private."

    Who gets to decide which groups need to be content with their own beliefs in private? Or would it be more fair to let all people be as public as they want to be regarding their religious choice, without government support other than to protect that right?

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  9. Brap,

    I'm not mad atchya!

    I think if we take this and replace the current leaders of it with a Buddhist or Hindu or even believers in Bona Dea...we (Christians) would possibly consider this differently.

    This is a very intricate subject...

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  10. I hear you, Harvey. I was mainly replying to the Reverend's comment. I do agree with your position here. It's unfortunate that religious leaders who take that position are getting such backlash. Some folks have a hard time putting that shoe on the other foot.

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  11. If we are to have "National" public prayer then the public and the Church must know the specifics of the prayers being offered. What is it that we are crying out to God for, if it is national I cannot see how that would not be pertinant to the nation at large.

    So are we praying for American to turn to Christ?
    ...to be blessed?
    ...to Win the war and for God to keep our troops safe?
    for our government leaders?
    What is the outline and what EXACTLY are we asking of God?

    Now, the national day of prayer is being discussed reagarding Pres Obama's decision (which speaks loud and clear) however I am not hearing Jesus Christ, the point is not some yearly ritual but whom we are crying out to and again why, no?

    These are some public prayers I saw and in public the message is evident thats it all about intimacy and doing what is right in the sight of the Most high. Its not glossed over by a ritual.

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Kings%208&version=NKJV

    I Kings 18:36 And it came to pass, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, “LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. 37 Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that You are the LORD God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.”
    38 Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, He is God! The LORD, He is God!”

    Ezra 10
    1 Now while Ezra was praying, and while he was confessing, weeping, and bowing down before the house of God, a very large assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept very bitterly. 2 And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, spoke up and said to Ezra, “We have trespassed against our God, and have taken pagan wives from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this. 3 Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them, according to the advice of my master and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. 4 Arise, for this matter is your responsibility. We also are with you. Be of good courage, and do it.”

    This is really good!!

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  12. Pastor I didnt mean to do that, earlier I got a error message that my comment wasnt posted!!!

    sorry about that!

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  13. Paul,

    No problem, we're good...and you're right...what's the motivation behind such efforts?

    What are we trying to accomplish so far as cause is concerned? I mean we can say things like "restore America to it's Christian foundation" but that's a stretch...I mean was it really "Christian principles" that led to slavery and taking land from the American Natives who owned and occupied the land before us?

    When we think of this subject, we should look deeper than the "knee jerk"...No unbeliever can take anything away from me or us as a Christian. We were never dependent upon them for anything from the beginning so how could rejection of a NDOP effect me as a believer...I mean I EXPECT the world to reject Jesus don't I??? Shouldn't I???

    If I esteem a day...OK...now at the same time, this day, whatever day it is doesn't do a nonbeliever any "psychological harm" as the claim is. That's a ridiculous argument....but the facts are Christianity is best represented by how its adherents follow the bible and not how many days of the calendar point toward it.

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  14. The Rev. Canon Mack E. VellyApril 28, 2010 at 9:17 AM

    The intent of my statements are to show the inconsistency of principle of those who would eradicate religion -especially Christianity- from the public sphere. I do not advocate the suppression of anyone's freedom of religious expression as long as such does no harm to others. What I find rather odd is that others, particularly secularists, would find a prayer ( whether at a school, in Congress, at a sporting event, etc ) to be so offensive and seek to impose restrictions on others' expression of their beliefs. Though I am a Christian I have no qualms with, say, a Muslim or Hindu praying in public. I can just pray my own little private prayer in the belief that my prayer will be effective. But then I come from a family that is partly Muslim so some tolerance is required.

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