The Curse of Poverty and other matters of prayer

It seemed like a perfectly wonderful idea — a community prayer meeting. Pastor announced it from the pulpit for the first time on Sunday. He said he would be there, and he invited any and all to join him.

It seems odd to me that we always make such a big deal out of the fact that we are the nation that allows prayer in public places but then we don’t really practice praying in public that much. From where I sit it seems to me that the Muslims do a much better job of praying in public. Sometimes when I’m at the local Starbucks, I wonder what would happen if the people gathered there — the ones I know are Believers —  just started praying.

So I was delighted to see that all the area churches were gathering under one roof to pray. I mean it’s not like we don’t have plenty to pray about, right? Like Egypt and her people for one. And how about all those unemployed people? And the Haitians, let’s not forget them. Or our friends in the Gulf region? And the uninsured? Should we pray for them? And the aging? Billy Graham says it takes a special grace to age. Should we ask God to impart it to our friends and family?

I have a list. I’m sure you have one, too.

So at 6 p.m. I gathered at the church where the prayer meeting was taking place.  I guess I had it in my mind that we would break up into small groups and pray together that way. Quiet groups praying by the dozens all around the room.  I was a little unprepared for the music. I mean, it’s fine. I like music. I even like the rowdy kind. But I was hoping for just the sound of people praying. The discordant voices of many, praying whispers to Jesus.

I had not prepared myself for the synagogue-format of the many preachers giving mini-mini sermons followed by the invitation to stand and pray where you are at.

Let me say that I would not want to be a preacher for the world. Honestly. I’d hate having the job where people criticized everything I do. It may not seem like it at times but I’m a people pleaser. I want everybody to love me. Or at least tolerate me. So this is in no way meant to be critical of what I know was right intent on behalf of the community preachers. I know they meant well. I just wish maybe they’d had a woman preacher among them. Somebody who might could have said: Now, hold up a minute fellas. Let’s consider that more carefully before we move forward.

Because about 30 minutes into the prayer time, all those prayers started sounding like sermons in and of themselves. I’ll let God judge the intent of the prayer’s heart but I’m just saying.

I was sitting off by myself — in a middle row in the middle of the church — but I looked around. The gal sitting two seats down was busy with her daughters, who were dressed in their nightgowns. The ends of their hair were wet. It wasn’t raining out so I figured they’d bathed and got ready for bed prior to coming to the meeting. I’m not sure if their mama was a single mama or not, but I flinched when one of the pastors asked that we pray for fathers to be fathers.

He said something about the fact that in a household where fathers are spiritual leaders 80 percent of the household follows Jesus. But in households where mamas are doing the parenting and loving Jesus, that statistic drops off the edge of a cliff. It’s apparent that single mothers who love Jesus are for the most part fighting a losing battle. They might as well give up and marry the first converted convict that comes along.

One gal over in the corner started praying out loud for her husband to “man up” and be the “Jesus man” that God intended for her and their unborn baby.

Whoa, buddy. I was thinking if I prayed a prayer like that in front of God and everybody my husband might leave me to join up with the French Foreign Legion.  Do they still exist? Or maybe some pirate ship. He would definitely be tempted to do some bad-ass Johnny Depp impression.

But what really got me to squirming was when the fellow to my left started praying for God to deliver single mamas from their shame.


I know he didn’t mean it the way it sounded. Or at least I hope he didn’t, but that’s exactly what he said — God needed to deliver single mamas from their shame.

The single-mama daughter in me wanted to rise up and give somebody the trailer park beat down.

What the hell?


Say the stupidest things sometimes.

It got worse, people.

I should mention that earlier that day, I’d spent the afternoon with a gal who recently lost her mama. Unexpectedly. At still a relatively young age. She was fine the first few weeks in December. Nothing going on. Doing her regular thing. But then Christmas week she started feeling poorly. Said she was weak and tired.

By the first week in January she was in the hospital, intubated, cancer throughout her body. Then she was dead. Just like that. Planning Christmas one week. Planning the funeral a couple of weeks later.

Her daughter hadn’t yet recovered from the death of her own baby just two years ago. One minute he was a healthy cherub and the next he was at Oregon Health Sciences Hospital, hooked up to a heart monitor and breathing tubes and feeding tubes. A rare heart defect, doctors said, before the first operation.

He might not make it out of the operating room, doctors said during the second operation.  He did, but he was brain dead.  His mama was in shock and wanting so badly to find something that would resurrect her boy. So when friends offered to come pray the devil out of him, she agreed.

When their prayers suggested that she — the mama — just wasn’t quite thankful enough, well, then, that’s when it hit her that God doesn’t work like that.

And when the boy died, the very next day, well, it’s taken some doing, getting beyond all that praying the devil outta him. She’s managed, but it’s been a struggle.

I was thinking about all that when the next preacher fella got up there and said that all the preachers had come together and agreed that we all needed to pray the curses out of this town. And then he listed the four curses that they’d all agreed upon:

Domestic Violence.

Well, yes, I agreed, that certainly was a scourge upon any city in any land.

But honestly, I can’t even recall what the other two curses mentioned were. I was just too dumbfounded by that last curse that I completely forgot the others.


God wants to free us from the curse of poverty, the preacher said. Satan wants us to live the lie that we will never have enough.

Oh. Brother. Here we go again.

Yes. I even rolled my eyes.

I’d love to sit down with that preacher and talk to him about that curse of poverty and explain to him how it is that when one group of people have an abundance of stuff that almost always precludes that somebody somewhere doesn’t have enough. I wondered if he’d ever taken a simple marketing course. Or perhaps traveled outside this city’s gates.

I wondered if he had ever considered that perhaps poverty isn’t the curse — maybe being rich is. Jesus certainly seemed to think that was the case. He mentioned it a few times.

Maybe exploiting others for one’s own personal gain is a curse.

Maybe the real curse is when we look for ways we can use God rather than looking to God for ways he can use us.

I don’t know.

By then my heart was so heavy, I just got up in front of God and everybody and left.

I can tell you this — it’s a curse to be thinking about stuff all the time.

Sometimes all you want to do is pray.

Is it any wonder Scriptures suggest we find a quiet closet to pray in?

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  • Debbie

    I am not so sure I would have left so quietly, glad you are not me 🙂 even more glad that you did vote with your feet, this single mum is proud of you.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Ah, Debbie, one day your children are going to rise up and proclaim praises in honor of you.

  • Ugh … the mini-sermons (from the pulpit and from the people praying) that seem to be at too many public prayer services, is why I don’t do public prayer services anymore. I’ve tried a few over the years … always thinking ‘this’ one will be different. No success … I will also find the closet.

    And the whole ‘praying the devil outta him’ … don’t even get me started on that one.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Janet: How many times did you suffer through that “praying the devil” moment? I can only imagine.

      • Thankfully I have kind friends/family and no one directly ‘prayed the devil outta’ me’ … but they did ‘kindly’ suggest maybe I was being disciplined for something in my life. And since I was injured while traveling, one suggested maybe I went on the trip for the wrong reasons.

        btw … how do I get my picture (cuz you know, it’s all about me) on my gravatar on this site?

  • Diane

    Yep, makes the prayer closet look pretty good…think I’ll go there and pray for ignorant preachers!!!!

  • John in PDX

    What the hell?


    They say the stupidest things sometimes.

    Me: “Well duh!”

    To keep things a little lighter. I remember a conversation with my beautiful wife to be. 21 years as of last week. 25 years since this conversation:

    Beautiful wife to be: “Are we ever going to get married?”

    Stupid man: “I never really thought about it.”

    I am sure the ribs will heal someday?

    Debbie – good job! I can’t handle being a single dad sometimes and the beautiful wife still comes home. You are a strong person.

    Trade you something from here for a couple of small Skittles bags. They taste better there. I taught the Redhead that. My boys taught me.

    Karen has my address.


    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      John: You are very fortunate S. would still have you after all of that. And Skittles are better in Aussieland than here? Really? I already like them …

      • John in PDX

        Yep! Sugar vs Corn Syrup. The boys noticed it right away.

  • “Maybe the real curse is when we look for ways we can use God rather than looking to God for ways he can use us.”

    Amen, Sister Karen.


  • A statement I heard from a prof a few years back has been echoing in my head for the past 10 days because last week’s gospel text was the Beatitudes from Matthew 5: “A word FROM the prophet must first of all be a word TO the prohpet.” In other words, our own practice must have preceded our preaching. Every now and then around town someone plasters light poles and newspaper/ad rag vending machines with bumper stickers stating: Children Need Both Parents. I wonder if the money and the effort to print and distribute those has been matched by similar efforts to mentor young people and a steadfast resolve to never send the parents of children into combat. But right away the question comes back. What am I doing?

    • John in PDX

      You are a good man. You do what you can do. People who frequent this blog are those type of people.
      I personally hate going to church. I want to walk out all the time (if I go). I, like Karen, listen too much.
      So, to make up for my sin – I will go help someone today.
      Keep up the good work.
      I never saw 4 of the Eagles parents before the board of review. I didn’t even read a telephone pole.

      • Karen Spears Zacharias

        John, You are right. The people who frequent here, I’m just preaching to the choir. Y’all are all out doing more than I do. And my daughter, the boy scout director, will love what you say about the Eagles parents. I guess I should never have quit Brownies all those years ago, heh?

        • John in PDX

          My privilage and my gain. Loved every minute of it.
          Brownies are for girls.

  • I’m reminded of a quote from Wess Stafford, the President of Compassion International, who says, “The opposite of poverty isn’t wealth, The opposite of poverty is enough.” If we understood this truth and lived like it, no one would be calling us to pray against the curse of poverty.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Ken: I LOVE that quote. Thank you for sharing. The opposite of poverty is ENOUGH.

  • I am thankful to be in a church that has a very wise women’s leader (the pastor’s wife). She helped me so much and one of the things was to stop believing any lies about “not being thankful enough” or making any judgment over a praying mother (or relatives) for a sick child (or loved ones).

    “God/Prayer is not a vending machine”… – Phillip Yancy

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Shopgirl, I love Yancey. And I’m thankful you have a leader in your community who takes a stand against Voodoo Christianity.

  • I hope you’re feeling okay, walking around town under the curse of getting up and leaving in the middle of a prayer service.

    Woe unto thee.

    (Love your writing. And your thoughts.)

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      KB: I worry a lot about being under a curse but I keep a vial of blood nearby to ward off any vampires.

      • Wanda

        Tee hee…. I hear onions ward off the vampires. Or wait, was that garlic??? Oh, whatever, use all three and see what else you ward off.
        (Appreciated the article and your discernment)

        • Karen Spears Zacharias

          Onions? Well, then I’m protected.

  • Sharon O

    Wow so sad… when it could have been an opportunity of grace and hope and peace and love and all the ‘spirits’ goodness and a quiet time of prayer. How sad no wonder the church often gets a bad name. I would have left along with you. Thinking of finding a new church home??

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Sharon: It was a community-wide gathering, so I might have to leave the area if I were looking for a new church home. Thankfully, I realize that if that young mother could find the grace to forgive the folks who prayed the devil out of her dying son, then I can go to that same source to find grace to deal with this. We are broken people. Rough around the edges. All of us.

  • John PDX: Good on you! And before there was Karen, there was Gary Kinnaman and his book Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe (1999). I stumbled onto it quite by accident in the local public library. In the intro, GK writes, “This book is not, in the technical sense, therapeutic. I’m not a psychologist, so it’s not like a lot of other good Christian books on self-talk and misbelief management. I’m a pastor with a passion to reach people who are unchurched, mad at church, sick of church, bored with church, and disillusioned with church people. . . Christians everywhere are ‘godless’ in the sense that they are fully immersed in the secular worldview. They love God, but the way the world thinks has them in its grip. Christians are deeply influeneced by popular, nonbiblical notions of God, themselves, and others. This book itends to challenge many of these common myths.”

    His church is in Mesa, AZ. Bit too far for a weekly Sunday drive. But the book can make a housecall.

    • John in PDX

      Hippo books has it – didn’t want to pay the $109 for it. (Don’t tell Karen I bought it off Amazon.)

      • Karen Spears Zacharias

        Have you seen The Fockers? DeNiro? I’m watching the two of you.

        • The Fockers? Life is much too short to spend time there. Watching, huh? Remember to breathe, or you’ll pass out from boredom.

          • Karen Spears Zacharias

            Roger: It’s worth the laugh. Really.

  • Mary Bartram

    Hey Karen,
    Good job you left!!!! I am surprised you didn’t stand up and pray the devil out of some preachers!!!!
    Proverty is curse for people who don’t know how to manipulate money out of others. Or maybe that is a blessing. You know if you bind a curse, you are suppose to loose a blessing. Sounds like they were finding alot of curses and releasing to many blessing!!!
    The heardline reads “Local church member and writer, looking for a new church!!!”

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Oh, Mary, I’ve never had much luck praying the devil out of anybody — myself most importantly.

  • Mary Bartram

    I was told that one time by two leaders of local “christian group” WE ARE WATCHING YOU” They accused me of being a lesbian because I gave other women kisses on the cheek when I greeted them. Now I ask you is that not biblical? I guess not. It is really gay!!!! needless to say I resigned my position in that organization in about 15 seconds. Now I am watching them!!!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Mary: Those silly people. What are they thinking? How are up doing up there? Do you notice this cold in North Dakota?

      • Mary Bartram

        cold….it isn’t cold here!!!! It is God’s country. God, it is cold!
        let’s just say we are fresh here.
        Gary and I went back to the catholic church. We were sick and tired of trying to find a church a place that didn’t have a bunch of nuts and flakes. well we realized that did not exsist, we went to our roots. Not prefect, but familiar.
        The first day back the priest talked about fear. He talked about how we had to embrace the women that had abortions and not judge them. They were acting out of fear and even though fear can be good at times, sometimes being human we make mistakes. And that should be forgiven. Good one.

  • Susan N.

    You’re my kind of sister. I enjoy reading your blog, and it always gets me thinking…

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thanks, girl. That’s the goal.

  • Karen, I can’t tell you how many years in a row I have gone to the National Day of Prayer event in Crossville and it is just about exactly the same service that you have described. It’s very sad for me to have to sit, or stand, through all of that and then report on it and write a story.
    Usually, it’s 5 or 6 pastors who get up one at a time and give a mini sermon. One year there was a woman pastor who spoke and the majority of the people attending disrespected her and were talking and milling around and not really paying attention as they were when the men were speaking. I have agonized over this stuff for years.
    It just plain hurts.
    Last year one of the pastors prayed that our nation would wake up and elect a president and leaders who would set a Christian example instead of someone who was set on his own agenda and that agenda could be the downfall of this great nation – that was when I left. Other topics covered were abortion and single mothers and people who were turning to crime because the economy was in such poor shape thanks to our government.
    It’s sad when you leave from a prayer vigil wanting to punch somebody…

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Gary: I’m praying for you. LOL.Maybe this year you should write a column on how we need to make a law that prevents people from praying in public. Oh. Wait. That would get you run all the way back to Indiana, wouldn’t it?

      • Absolutely, if not pummeled into the ground! LOL – I never met so many demons as I did when I served as the lifestyles editor over the church pages…

  • Larry Wishard

    Jesus didn’t like long prayers I think. He certainly didn’t like people doin other stuff when they should be prayin’. Loved the post. Been there and done that. On the day of 9/11 we opened up our church house and people quietly came and left. In the evening, we all just started prayin’. No music. No preaching. No decidin’ about who was the worst curse, just men and women and boys and girls talkin to God about our country. I am a preacher and I love preachers but we get on my nerves sometimes.

  • jenna

    I can’t thank you enough for all that you have done for me. About a year ago I my partner split up, we had both made BIG mistakes in our relationship. He ended up moving away from me to pursue a new life. I knew in my heart that he would be the only one to make me happy. I was relieved when I found your site and what you had to offer. I requested 3 to 4 day casting of the reunite us love spell and within 4days fred’s company had relocated him back to our hometown where I still lived. We immediately reconnected and move in with each other. Our wedding date is set for Summer 2012. Expect to see your invite in the mail!.thanks to