Viral Mocking Prayer Tweets Fall Flat

A viral photo has been passed around social media this week, mocking Vice President Pence and the Coronavirus Task Force. The photograph shows the group in prayer.

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Mocking Christians is hardly an original idea. Ridiculing prayer has been a popular pastime since ancient times. So forgive us when we roll our eyes at this supposed great gotcha moment. Perhaps the disdain has less to do with prayer, and it’s really about politics and searching for another reason to throw mud at the current administration. Whatever the motive, may I suggest that you haven’t quite thought through the logic of this attempted smear.

I understand that for those who hold the belief that there is no God, prayer would seem like a foolish use of time. Of course, this conviction has little to do with the efficacy of prayer but with the firmed a priori belief that prayer is wasted breath. As though, I don’t accept that this medicine will save my life, therefore I refuse to take it!

The commentary pinned to this photograph reveals a wallop of smugness and a waft of superiority breathing over those who practice prayer, as though the truly wise and smart amongst us know that prayer is a useless activity.

If praying was the only thing this task force completed, then we’d have reason to complain. Or is it the fact that they first gathered to pray and then proceeded to work, and to use all their knowledge and wisdom to put together an action plan? Has praying hampered their duties? Has spending a few moments in prayer defused them of the ability or desire to work effectively for the good of the American people?

In what is an interesting twist, the Bible does on occasion empathise with Thomas Chatteron Williams. In Isaiah ch.44, God mocks the idea of praying to wooden statues and gods of human creation.

“From the rest he makes a god, his idol;

    he bows down to it and worships.

He prays to it and says,

    “Save me! You are my god!”

They know nothing, they understand nothing;

    their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,

    and their minds closed so they cannot understand.”

The question about prayer is, does the God to whom we pray exist and does he hear our prayers and can he answer them?

Prayer is not an irrational response to situations facing us, but is perfectly legitimate in light of the biblical view that there is a God and he is truly sovereign. This is the conclusion that only for those men in the room, but for hundreds of millions of people, including many of the most revered minds of our age.

Few tirading twitterers will admit it (or perhaps even realise this simple fact), that many of the smartest people in history (and of today) believe in God and pray to him. 

Try standing in front of Francis Collins and call him stupid. Or tweet a photo of William Newsome praying and add the tag, “we’re screwed”. I reckon the really intelligent people among us should create a meme about Nobel Prize winning physicist, Antony Hewish, jeering his belief in God. Of course, It’s not so easy to smear the intellectual credentials of people when we take politics out of the equation.

In fact, a case can be made that without those Bible believing and praying Christians over the last 2,000 years, civilisation would be screwed! Many of the vital scientific and medical breakthroughs, socio-political advances, and ethical foundations that we rely upon today are ours to enjoy thanks to those praying Christians. 

But here lies the problem, evidence doesn’t support the thesis that prayer indicates lack of intelligence or capability to perform one’s job.  My own church has several members who teach at universities in Melbourne, others are doctors and lawyers. This is not a point not boasting, for the intellectual aptitude of church members does not signal the ‘success’ of a church in any way. I’m simply making the point that intellect does not cancel out belief in prayer.  A high IQ or position of great authority and responsibility does not equate to or necessitate a-theism. Belief in prayer has nothing to do with intellectual ability and everything to do with humility. Prayer is for both the genius and the simple, who are both sufficiently wise to know that we can trust God.

Perhaps there is another misunderstanding at play here, as though prayer is currency used to collect what I want out of God. The Bible’s view of prayer is far richer and deeper and more meaningful. Prayer is a gift from God, that we might commune with him and share with him. As Jesus taught, God is Father and like a loving Dad, we can approach him and ask him anything. Also, like a wise Father, he sometimes says yes, sometimes no, and sometimes the answer is to wait.  It makes sense to pray to an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good God. But does he exist?  More important than any the opinions of any scientist or politician or journalist, the person of Jesus Christ says yes. And by his life, words, and deeds, he has demonstrated the reality of this God.

The success of these prayer mocking warriors has failed to evidence high functioning cognitive ability. All it shows is a high level of epistemological narrow-mindedness infused with pride.

I thank God for his gift of prayer, and I’m thankful to see people from all walks of life being humble enough to ask God for wisdom and help.

The Gospel Coalition Australia: Victoria

Around 50 church leaders from across Melbourne met yesterday (Feb 17) to pray for our city.

The Gospel Coalition Australia (TGCA) launched in Brisbane last year, and a Victorian Chapter of TGCA is starting this year.

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Photo courtesy of Shebu John

I appreciated the thoughtful approach taken in organising this first public gathering:  there was no mass advertising beforehand, no elaborate staging with a ‘worship’ band belting out Christian anthems and celebrity preachers taking the stage. I’m not criticising doing any of those things, but to begin by saying, ‘hey, come and join us so that we can listen to God’s word and pray for Melbourne together’, communicated something beautiful about the tone and purpose of the event.

A few years ago a small group of pastors began meeting to pray for Melbourne and to discuss how evangelicals can more effectively work together in order to see the Gospel grow; not that God is constrained by our prayers and unity, but Scripture teaches us that these things are desirable and useful. Yesterday, was the first of gatherings, purposed to encourage Victorian Christians with the Gospel, and to find ways for working together for the sake of the Gospel.

The morning began with a exposition from Romans 1:1-17, ‘what is the Gospel?’ Andrew Reid (of Holy Trinity, Doncaster) exhorted us to be clear about the Gospel, and to remember that God’s power to save is in this Gospel of Jesus Christ, and not in our methods and personalities. Such a message may be Christianity 101, but it is always good to hear it again, and was particularly relevant given the nature of yesterday’s gathering. If the Apostle Paul felt the need to remind his readers of the Gospel multiple times in every letter, I think we would do well to remind each other when we meet.

Peter Adam then gave a brief and insightful history of Christianity in Melbourne. It was encouraging to be reminded of how God has graciously worked throughout our history, and to consider, if God has worked through his Gospel in the past, can he not also do so today?

For much of the morning we prayed together, for Melbourne itself, for God to grow his Gospel throughout Melbourne, and for each other’s local ministries. It was a rare although enthralling yet ordinary scene, seeing 45-50 Melbourne leaders from many denominations, churches, and organisations, expressing our unity in Christ, and a common desire to see men and women coming to faith in Jesus.

TGCA Victoria will meet again in June/July for another morning of prayer, and there is a more formal event being organised for November with William Taylor (of St Helen’s Bishopsgate).

For details email admin@tgcavic.org

Lord’s Prayer Banned

The Lord’s prayer is more wonderful and more dangerous than you think.

A 60 second advert produced by the Church of England has been banned by some of Britain’s cinema chains.

The advert features various individuals and smalls groups taking turn in reciting lines from the Lord’s prayer, and the advert ends with this call, ‘Prayer is for everyone. #justpray’

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The pray itself doesn’t belong to the Church of England, the words originate with Jesus himself, and they form part of his broader teaching on prayer to his disciples, which one can read in Matthew’s Gospel.

Digital Cinema Media (who own many of the cinemas), have explained that they have a policy of not accepting political or religious advertisements, in the case that they might cause offence. Leave aside the fact that many movies are an insult to art and to our intelligence, if Digital Cinema Media were so concerned about offending people should they not show care in their choice of movies being screened? How many films offend peoples religions (including Muslim people)?

Speaking to the Guardian, outspoken atheist, Richard Dawkins said, “My immediate response was to tweet that it was a violation of freedom of speech. But I deleted it when respondents convinced me that it was a matter of commercial judgment on the part of the cinemas, not so much a free speech issue. I still strongly object to suppressing the ads on the grounds that they might ‘offend’ people. If anybody is ‘offended’ by something so trivial as a prayer, they deserve to be offended.”

Watch the advert and decide for yourself, but I find myself leaning toward Dr Dawkins (and he says miracles can’t happen!).

While I believe Digital Cinema Media’s decision is silly, I also think the advert’s producers have made some errors.

For example,

#justpray is misleading because it could be easily misconstrued as, just pray to whoever; the details don’t really matter. I realise that’s not the intent, which of course makes the hashtag all the more unhelpful.

A more significant concern is the invitation to call God, Father. This is an incredibly wonderful idea, and it is unique to Christianity. To know God as Father suggests that he is not an impersonal being, but he is relational and personal. What a remarkable concept Jesus is teaching.

But he is not everyone’s Father, and therefore it is imprudent to call him such. The Bible shows us that we only have the privilege of knowing God as Father through faith in his Son. It is inappropriate for any child to call me dad, only my children can do that. Similarly, only God’s children can truly address him as Father. One of the great truths of Christianity however is that we can come to know him as Father.

‘In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ’ (Ephesians 1:4-5). The Bible teaches us that we can know God as Father, but it is through Jesus. By trusting in his death and resurrection, we are no longer separated from God, but are included into his people and brought into a personal relationship with God.

Finally, when we pray, ‘your kingdom come’, we are asking for God to not only save, but also to judge this sinful world. It is calling for God to rid the world of every evil and injustice, including our own. Should we encourage people to ask God for this, especially if they themselves don’t believe in Jesus Christ?

I would love to hear more people praying the Lord’s prayer, but it is ill-advised to invite people to pray what they do not believe or understand.

My suggestion is, amend the unhelpful hashtag, and perhaps add a warning about praying without understanding.

Having offered the above criticisms, overall, I really liked the advert. The line which particularly struck me this morning was, ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’ What a powerful testimony this could be in light of the dreadful acts that are being enacted around the world. Jesus is pointing us to God who can forgive sins.

Pray with understanding:

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation

but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power,

and the glory are yours

now and for ever.

Amen.

Praying with our children about Paris

Praying with our children is a wonderful opportunity and privilege. It not only helps us in talking with our children about what happened in Paris, it reminds us that we can take everything to God in prayer, and it teaches our children how to pray when evil comes.

My suggestion is that you  firstly sit down with your children and answer their questions about Islamic State attacks, and then explain the pray to them before praying it with them. There is little point praying what we don’t affirm or understand!

Here is a prayer that you might like to pray with your children:

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Heavenly Father,

We thank you that you are God, and that you are good, and are in charge of the world today.

We thank you that we can talk to you in the good times of life and in the sad times.

We are sad and want to cry for the people of Paris, Beirut and Baghdad.

We ask that you may comfort them in their grief, and that you might show them your great love in Christ Jesus.

We pray for the injured, that they will receive the medical help and pastoral care they need.

We ask that Governments and authorities will have great wisdom as they protect their people and as they respond to these attacks.

We thank you for the refugees who are arriving in Australia from Syria. May they be welcomed and cared for. Help us to love our new neighbours as ourselves.

The Bible tells us that evil makes you angry and the cross tell us you have done something about it. Thank you Father for sending your only Son into the world to die on the cross and to rise from the dead so that we know your forgiveness, and have new life and hope.

May the world come to know and see the peace that Jesus brings.

Help us to keep trusting Jesus and to show others that he is trustworthy.

And we ask this in Jesus’ name,

Amen