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Does Prayer Work?  

The back cover of a new book on prayer caught my eye.  The question is asked, “Does Prayer Work?”  The more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable it made me.  “Does prayer work?”  The question seems problematic on several fronts.
First, it seems to reduce praying to an exercise for which there is an objective measurement, as if we can assign a scholastic grading scale to our praying:  This prayer gets a “C”...but this one gets an “A”--presumably because we got exactly what we asked for. 
Second, asking if prayer “works” implies that prayer itself possesses power.  But the power to help or heal or rescue is not in the spiritual discipline of prayer, but the One to whom we pray.
Finally, asking “Does prayer work?” aborts the relational aspect of communion with the Almighty and jumps right to the self-centered implied inquiry: “Does talking to the Divine Genie really get me the stuff I want?”  Don’t get me wrong—it’s biblical to ask God for help.
But God wants our friendship first and most.  And that should be the basis of our praying.
Asking “Does prayer work?” is like asking “Does your friendship work?”    Of course it works.  Friendships are good.  And a friendship with God?  Well that's the ultimate.
The fact that you and I might benefit from that relationship in some way is—and must be—secondary. 
God wants to be friends...to spend time together.  Not in the chummy way we pal around with our best buddies.  He is the Almighty, let’s not forget.   But still, it's a relationship—a friendship of a sort.
How different this is than the please-gimme-grocery-list kind of praying that so many of us are accustomed to.
The crass reduction of prayer to a list of stuff I want....and heading straight for that list without just enjoying time together....this is not really prayer.
Me? I'm trying to learn all of this.  Haven't mastered it, mind you.
But I'm just beginning to learn...
So...what about you?

New Weapon--Same Evil  

A working gun...created by a 3D printer. By now, of course, it's old news. 
Eight months ago, Cody Wilson--a 25 year old University of Texas law student--set out on a mission: to make the world's first workable hand gun using only a 3D printer—a device that creates solid objects by printing layers and layers of special plastic. Turns out, Wilson succeeded in what one columnist calls the newest “Shot heard 'round the world.” 
An article in Forbes points out there isn't a single shred of metal in the whole thing...except for the nail that fires the bullets.  The sixteen pieces that make up Wilson's gun, he calls the “Liberator,” are made from ABS plastic.  They were created on a 3D printer costing less than two thousand dollars. Those printers, by the way, can currently be had for as little as $800. 
If plans for this CAD-based design are made available on the web, who knows what could happen in a world of non-detectable plastic weaponry.  So naturally, lawmakers are anxious to...ur...pull the trigger on legislation to outlaw the plastic pistol. 
It's ironic.  3D printers have the potential to create so much good.  Everything from inexpensive parts for cars and electronics to replacements for human body parts.  Yet there stands the solid rock reality of Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.  Who can know it?”
Something tells me we're about to encounter “desperately wicked” in a few shades darker than we've ever seen it before.  It's tempting to hurl blame at the plastic gun's designer. But how then shall we account for...

  • Jim Jones and his Kool-Aid that killed 909 back in 1978?
  • Or the box cutters that ultimately brought down 3 jetliners and 2 towers on 9-11?
  • Or the Boston bomb that murdered three and maimed dozens of others?

 A pill, a pressure cooker, a blade, a bomb…or a gun. In a world of evil, a darksome thought in the mind…is as good as a weapon in the hand.  

Reach Out (Ur...but do we really have to?)  

Time out for some buzzkilll.  As in, I'd like to kill a buzz word...or at least reduce its heavy usage.  Call me a skeptic or cynic if you will, but I strongly reject the stampede toward bizz babble.  You know—expressions like....

“Paradigm shift”

“Tee it up”

“Over the Wall”

“grabbing the low hanging fruit” or...

“get together and blue sky”

“getting the right people in the right seats on the bus.”

Now some of those are older expressions, for sure.  But one I've been seeing a lot of lately is “reach out.”  America is now practically daily overdosing on “reach out.”

Internal emails invite us to “reach out” with any questions about corporate policies.  Public service announcements on TV implore us to “reach out” and express our compassion.  Junk mail is full of offers imploring us to “reach out” and get the help or goods we need (ur...for a price, that is).   With all the “reaching out” that's going on, it's a wonder we all don't bang arms merely moving down the hallway, as we “reach out”--whether at work or at home.   And don’t forget about church—where board meetings and committees now invite us to “reach out” with our thoughts.

Now is it just me or are more and more people sucked into the expanding world of meaningless corporate speak? Even in churches and ministries? I suspect the answer is yes.

People are so desperate to “fit in” they'll happily take up the language of biz-babble.  But why must we be like a herd of mindless elephants  ….?  Why must we all use the same trendy talk?  Why can't we learn to express ourselves uniquely?  You almost pick up on a “Hey, bro—I really get you” kind of look that passes between brethren and sistern who insist on speaking biz-babble.

In a world of wars and woes, I suppose my complaint is a small one.  Yet...please...could we all just STOP reaching out....and simply say what we mean?

I wouldn't try to build a theology on it, but I can't help wondering if Jesus' advice in Matthew 5:37 is something we ought to consider in our corporate—and ministry-- dialogue: “Let your yes be yes…and your no be no.”

Thanks for letting me...ur...reach out ...with that thought!     :-)

Our Tower Has Gone Wobbly!  

If you've never played Jenga, you ought to give it a shot. This challenging game starts you off with a tower of wooden planks.  Each layer is made up of three planks that lay right against each other.   So it's a loose—but solid—tower to start with.  Plenty strong.
Everybody takes turns removing one of the three planks that make up a layer...and placing it on top of the tower—to make it grow taller. You quickly learn that if pulled out slowly and carefully, the tower can stand on a layer of just two...or even one plank.  The net effect, of course, is that as the tower grows taller, the thing grows wobblier.  And you don't even notice the transition from sturdy to wobbly.   But eventually it collapses with a crash. 
This is exactly what has been happening to issues of morality in America.
Within the lifespan of most anyone able to fully comprehend this little piece, sex outside of marriage was viewed by the majority culture (not just the Bible, but the culture) as wrong. Same for divorce.  Same for homosexuality.
NOW, the most vocal (though NOT the most numerous) segment of our culture blazingly insists that to DENOUNCE homosexuality is wrong.  That sex outside of marriage is a RIGHT....that it's WRONG to repress sexual urges of most any kind.  Do you see how the planks have been removed?
Previously, these things definitely went on: divorce, cohabiting, gay marriage....but now they are being touted as normal.  Good.  Even noble.  And anyone who would oppose them is bigoted, close minded, stupid, and narrow.  Not to mention boring.
I'm not suggesting that these kinds of behaviors didn't go on 30 or 50 or 100 years ago.  But there's an enormous moral difference between a culture that tolerates these things as opposed to a culture that celebrates them.
Said another way, our culture's truth tower has gone wobbly.  To the point we are approaching a certain collapse.
It's odd how those in the very act of making the tower weaken are least able to see the wobble.  All of which illustrates the biblical claim, “There is a way which seems right to a man.  But its end is the way of death.” 

Rethinking Church  

Are we sure we're doing church right?

Let me cut to the chase.  I'm uncomfortable with the way we've divvied up the typical church service.  In an average 75 minute service, we American evangelicals typically do 5 minutes of announcements, at least 20 minutes of singing, 30-40 or more minutes of preaching.  Throw in the offering, a greeting time and benediction... and that leaves about 5 minutes for a pastoral prayer and two minutes for a closing payer.  Meaning we spend about as much time on announcements as we do on prayer.

Does that strike you as out of whack?  Don't answer until I respectfully remind you that I Thessalonians 5:17 urges us to “Pray without ceasing.”   Philippians 4:6 instructs us that “in   everything by prayer and supplication” we ought to seek God.  Could I further gently add that despite our modern penchant for worship music, Jesus never said, “My house shall be a house of singing.”  But Jesus DID say, “My house shall be a house of prayer.”

Let me take in a breath...possibly freak you out...and suggest that we need to do less singing—perhaps even drop a few illustrations from the message—and do more praying in church.

There's only so much space in a given church service.  And if we've assigned so much of it to music that it squeezes out prayer, we're out of biblical balance.  Search the book of Acts—the most complete blueprint we have for doing church—and you'll find a heavy emphasis on prayer, on breaking bread, on fellowship, on instruction in the Word.  But what you DON'T see is a huge emphasis on music.

That's not to say we shouldn't sing…or have sermon illustrations.  Of course the biblical precedent for worship music is clearly there. And illustrations provide a window into understanding God's Word. But not to the extent that they upstage significant prayer. 

Truth is, it's tough to honestly study Scripture and disagree with the conclusion that in general, we're not praying enough. 

It's time we gave prayer in our Sunday assembly the same emphasis the Bible gives it. A given church service has only so many slots...so many minutes.   It's time our church services emphasized more of what the Bible emphasizes more of:  prayer.  



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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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