Ever since Inauguration Day, Evangelical Christians have been declaring on social media their plan to spend lots of time in prayer during the next four years. Wonderful! Prayer is so important; our president and our country need prayer.
As someone who prayed Evangelically for many years, I know a bit about the potential pitfalls, so I need to speak up.
Priscilla Shirer, daughter of conservative megachurch pastor Tony Evans, posted a devotional online that illustrates well a prayer formula in the Evangelical toolkit.
I know Shirer’s intentions are sincere, as are those of her readers. But for Christians with a radical or nationalist agenda, Evangelical-style prayer can be dangerous. It’s worth looking at.
Here’s part of the devotional:
As believers, we have the privilege of knowing God’s direction for us as we prayerfully seek it. He will be faithful to show us the truth, to give us His direction for the next step we are supposed to take.
In fact, being confident and affirmed in that next step is critical in order to help us stay balanced as we pursue a lifestyle protected by the shield of faith.
Once you clearly know the truth of God or the promise of God in regard to a matter, it’s time to move forward in a way that’s congruent with it.
This prayer formula brings back memories: hours of Quiet Time during which my prayers were framed as supplication, but in reality often they were, well, demands. Looking back, I’m not sure I was tracking with God in those times, so much as telling him to track with me.
My prayers often consisted of telling God a Bible verse and how I expected him to bring it to pass in my life. For example:
God, your Word says, “Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” (Ps. 34:10), and a bigger apartment would be a good thing. So please lead us to the bigger apartment that you promised us. Oh yeah – in Jesus’ name. Amen [because, John 14:13-14].”
Other times, when I needed to “prayerfully seek God’s direction,” I would pray until I sensed a nudging in my spirit, and believe that was God’s way of directing me. I could then go forward with confidence and boldness. Interestingly, that nudging was usually in line with what I already wanted to do.
I see now that I was prayerfully seeking the way to be a good Evangelical. I would go forward confident that I was lined up with the Evangelical God. For example:
“God, I want to be a good, responsible citizen by voting for the candidate that will bring America closer to you. Please show me which one to vote for – Al Gore or George Bush. I know this is a no-brainer. You want me to vote for Bush, obviously. In Jesus’ name.”
(This reminds me of the opening verse in the parable of the Pharisee’s prayer, Luke 18:11: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God…'”)
What I’m getting at is that the certainty with which we exit our prayer closet may not always be of God. This is not exclusive to Evangelicals, by any means. But many of us Evangelicals have absorbed a formula that tells us we can “know” God’s will just because we go through the motions of “seeking” it – a formula that doesn’t demand checks and balances.
Another concern I have is based on a corollary to the prayer formula:
If you don’t receive what God promised, it’s because Satan and his (sometimes human) minions must have mucked up the works. You have to fight to get it away from them.
Many people – probably many millions – prayed about how to vote last November. They believed God showed them that Donald Trump was God’s choice to win in 2020. They voted for him with great certainty that they were doing God’s will. When he didn’t win, it had to be either a mistake (do a recount) or interference by evil (i.e. Dominion voting machines, Democrats, or Russia).
Here are some actual statements I saw on social media in the days following the election:
“The problem is America and all Americans are under attack by radical Islam and communism.”
“I’m disappointed that many of you are rolling over and not trusting God’s plan. Trust the prophecy. Trust the truth.”
“I am a Trumpster because I know he is who God has for this nation. It has been prophesied.”
“Trump will be reelected. The Bible says so.”
Sincerity and zeal are not enough to make us hear from God, but they are enough to make us think we’re hearing from God.
If we’re living in an echo chamber where everyone thinks alike, or we’ve been taught to reject out of hand all opinions that differ from our tribe’s – and we have teachers who encourage us to step out confidently – well, once in a while, things are going to go sideways.
We pray from within our paradigm, and the “answers” we receive tend to be just the request itself with the words rearranged, boomeranging back to us.
We pray to a God we’ve created in our image.
Think I’m wrong? Do you know a single die-hard Christian Republican whose God leans left? Or a die-hard Christian Democrat whose God leans right? Or a moderate Christian whose God isn’t moderate?
We need to become familiar with other viewpoints than our own – because the odds are that none us is 100% accurate in our understanding of God’s will and God’s Word.
As we get to know more about the world around us, and about how other people see issues, our compassion will grow – and our God will be more inclusive. He (or She!) might also be less predictable.
So, read a book that presents a viewpoint different from your own. Listen to a podcast from “the other side.” Virtually attend a church service from another denomination. Watch a TED talk that challenges your paradigm.
Thankfully, there won’t be another presidential election for 4 years, so we have time to learn from each other about political issues. Maybe we can stop seeing the other side as evil or stupid or haters, and begin to view them as simply neighbors who have different, yet intelligent opinions. (If you think there’s no way to be pro-choice and intelligent at the same time, please learn more – go here for starters!)
We have to do this. We have to stop seeing each other as the enemy. We have to stop believing God is talking to us just because we like what we hear.
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