Today I received an email (forwarded) that contained some pictorial representations of the Passion story. At the end was this message:
All you have to do is:
1. Simply pray for the person who sent this message to you:
Lord, you know the life of _________. I ask You to bless
him/her in all things and make him/her prosperous.
Take care of his/her family, his/her health, his/her work and
all his/her future plans. Lead him/her not into temptation,
but deliver him/her from evil. In Jesus’ name, amen.
2. Then, send this message to 10 people.
3. Ten people will pray for you and you will make that many people pray to
God for other people.
4. Take a moment to appreciate the power of God in your life, for doing
what pleases Him.
If you are not ashamed to do this, please, follow Jesus’ instructions. He said
(Matthew 10:32 & 33): “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before
others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whosoever
denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven”.
So, what do you think? The intention is good, but the request is saturated with cultural, not biblical, understanding. Normally I wouldn’t bother to point these out. After all, who am I to judge the heart motives of another? I am a duplicitous sinner, attached to my own predilection of self-agendas. I don’t always display honorable or holy motives. I make a lot of mistakes. But I think it might be useful to unearth some of the influences of our culture here. Maybe we will get a clearer picture of the biblical imperative. So, let’s set aside the obvious laudable intention of the one who sent the message. Let’s look at the implications of the content.
First, is this all you have to do? Well, if I want nothing more than to pray for the person who sent the message, then maybe all I have to do is follow this little formula. But the biblical imperative doesn’t stop at sending pleas and good thoughts up to heaven. Love is a verb. It is action that matters. If I really want to pray for God’s blessing in the life of another, but I don’t actually do anything to help bring that about, then I have misunderstood the Bible. Where I am able, I am called to action. How can another person be blessed if I am not willing to lift my finger to help? Yes, my prayers are good, and necessary, but prayer without action is like faith without works. Dead! So, saying a prayer isn’t all I have to do, is it? If I’m going to pray for someone, I commit myself to them. Prayer is the cement that glues me to the life of another. I take responsibility when I pray. I don’t just throw a few words toward the ceiling. I accept accountability for making a difference where and when I can make a difference. As soon as the words, “Lord, you know the life of _______” leave my lips, I become a partner in the blessing I ask from God. Words are never enough, not in the Hebrew worldview.
Second, did you notice that this prayer asks for all the culturally acceptable good things in life? “Lord, give them prosperity, health, care, work and (oh, yes) save them from temptation.” In other words, spare them from actually living. Treat them like silver-spoon children. Forget about the call to suffer like Jesus. Don’t pay attention to the opportunity to demonstrate trust in the middle of temptation. Ignore the reminders that we are salt and light in a corrupt and darkened world. And please, Lord, no crosses. Just give us sunny days, fulfilling work, plenty of everything, good health and protection. Then we will have a compelling testimony of Your character. After all, You are the real Santa Claus. Don’t ask us to follow in the footsteps of Your Son. Help us forget that the believer is called to suffering on behalf of another (peacemakers and all that). Most of all Lord, let our spiritual journey be about us! Actually, now that I think about it, let it be about me! I don’t really want to grow up. I don’t really want to carry someone else’s burdens. I don’t really want to love my enemies and do them good. No, what I really want is my best life now! And just to make sure that all of this will happen, I’m adding the spiritual magic formula, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
But, of course, “Jesus” isn’t his name. The phrase isn’t magic. And the Hebrew word amen attached to this request is an oxymoron. How can I vouch for the truth of what I have just proclaimed (that’s what amen means) when what I have asked flies in the face of everything biblical? When will we discover that praying is the process of molding our hearts so that we are ready and willing to embrace what God provides. It is not the request to give us what we want.
Third, will this noble effort really “make” ten people pray for you? Yes, it might spur ten people to repeat the errors in this request, but does that make it prayer? What would it be like if I asked ten people to pray that God would mold me into a man of contentment? What if ten people prayed that God would fulfill His purposes in my life no matter what the cost – and that I would accept the cost without question? What if ten people prayed for my unrestrained obedience rather than my desire to avoid all hardships?
Finally, take a moment to appreciate what God is doing in your life. Yes, do! But notice that what God is doing requires that He take you on this path. He doesn’t make mistakes. Where you are right now is exactly where you need to be in order for Him to do what He wants to do with you. Can you thank Him for your present circumstances with the same enthusiasm that would lead you to ask for His blessings? Oh, and by the way, if you really want to do what pleases Him, then why are you worried about your prosperity, health, family, work and temptations? Do you trust Him? Doesn’t He know what you really need? Isn’t His purpose to conform you to the image of His Son? And who decides how that is supposed to be done? You?
The final word here is obedience. Do you want to be a delight to the Father? Then do what He says. You don’t even have to pray for Him to tell you what that is. He has already told you. Go read the Torah. After your life is in conformity with His instructions, then see if you still need to pray, “Lord, bless me with prosperity, health, family, work and no temptations.”