Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Emergence of Prayer to that of Tradition

Prayer is as vitally important to the Christian life as God's living presence is to that Christian life. When we speak to friends we develop a relationship that evolves over time with one another. It grows and seeks to establish a resonance between the two individuals involved. The how-and-why-and-what that creates relationship is mostly undefined and simply acknowledged as the mindful presence of the one person with the other. We don't normally try to define that presence when actively participating in it. We simply receive it as it grows and expands through love, and loving participation, of ourselves to another, and that other to ourselves.
At other times a relationship may experience struggle, disappointment, misunderstanding, and the many other things that may cause a relationship to become static or to loose traction. Mostly it is through the ill-communication of words, intents, actions, or misplaced expectations, hopes and dreams (however necessary or needful those may be; if unmet they can sour a relationship's progression). But those who will walk with us and wish to be in a relationship with us (of whatever kind) will abide throughout those times to some degree or manner - sometimes in full participation and sometimes not at all. But by communicating and staying in relationship with one another, many of those difficult times can become understood, with backward insight and invited relational dialogue about those events. Perhaps forgiveness will be required. Perhaps patience and trust during periods of trial and testing. Perhaps a personal accountability must occur. But overall, a relationship is allowed to scuff along until it either ends or can begin again in promised renewal.
Parents experience this with their children... more especially with the development of that child into a young adult where the latter years can strain a family relationship. Where both child and parent actively learn to adapt and change to one another through relational reassessment, engagement, and lively interpersonal dialogue in order for that final stage to find its fullest independence and continuance. Different children go through it differently. And the same with parents. Each must be willing to lay down what once was to what is now occurring. It can be a very difficult time. God does this with us. Even as we do with Him. He grows with us in our turmoils and struggles as we sort out our personal identity, meaning, validation, and purpose. It can be messy but staying in communication with God oftentimes helps, not hurts. (Unless it's our imperfect image of God that needs destruction and rebirthing into a truer picture of the God of the Bible... as we grow God grows with us and without this growth God may simply become a fake reality. However, it is we ourselves who have made God fake  - or perhaps allowed to become dissembled at the hands of other people's ideologies and belief structures grown static and impersonal, misleading or destructive, with time and tradition. God is as true as He ever was. It was we that have become untrue or have made Him untrue.)
Consequently, prayer is primarily about relationship. About presence. About sharing one's self with another and allowing that relationship to grow or die, to mature or break down, but through it all to attempt a kind of personal responsibility for that relationship. Many times children do not have mindful friends - they will play with anybody at any given time or place. They accept other children into their lives innocently and only withdraw through hurtful experiences or parental whisperings and warnings. By their teenage years children have grown up enough to have created a specialised array of guardedness and acceptance of others. They have been hurt often enough by disappointment or active harm to have a sophisticated set of personal barriers which a new relationship must march through in order to be safely accepted. By mid-life, and with maturity, those barriers may have been lowered as one's personal strengths, understanding, and bigotries have become lowered; or, has grown even higher, through personal mistrust, defeat, suspicion, or even because of the inability to handle any further disappointment.
This may result from an individual not having developed the personal tools of artful self-discrimination, self-love or self-acceptance. Later events and friendships might provide these tools and abilities for maturation and personal self-assessment and acceptance. But sometimes the damage has been so ingrained as to make progress practically impossible. Mostly because it is very difficult to love others when we cannot love ourselves. God's love for us is our beginning point. Understanding God's love for us can create a whole other reality that we have never known or believed possible.
This is the value of teaching the love of God in Jesus to others. Jesus' love was personal. It was sacrificial. Selfless. Atoning. Redeeming. Freeing. Liberating. Unbinding. Like fresh water to the thirsty. Like meat and bread to the hungry. It stands in our place against all our sin and lifts us up to God's very presence saying "This one is mine and so has this one become yours too." Jesus' love is kind, patient, long suffering. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things to those desperately needing God's love living on the edges of life's abandonment and dark hopelessness. It comes to the realization that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him, trusts in Him, accepts Him, or allows Him in, will not perish, but find resurrected hope and eternal life (John 3.16). This is a promise become a reality throughout this wicked world's history of pain and disappointment. A promise that makes all things new. Including ourselves. That sees the world remade in God's image of beauty and brightness. What once was godless is now filled with God's presence of life-giving promise, healing, and the certainty of His presence.
Overall, prayer is a two-way participation between God and ourselves. Just as a relationship is a participation between two individuals in the give-and-take roles that arrive at an intimate understanding of one another. The methodologies of communication will evolve over time but the primary methodology is that of speaking to one another and sharing one's thoughts, heart and mind. It may be in wordless conversation or in a spoken conversation (despite Roger Olson's article to the contrary posted below). But it is a communication that learns about the other person's desires, thoughts, heart, mind and soul. And in this case, when that presence and relationship is very God Himself, we learn to listen and take in what He has to say to us through His Word. For His divine presence is everyday around us - from the people we meet to the world we live in.
However, it should also be realized that though Churches and Christian fellowships pray to God, and pray to seek God's face, they each are transitioning in their understanding of God as well. No one body of believers can be absolute in their knowledge, in their beliefs, or in their dogmas. If they are than they have become stagnant and closed off to God's presiding Spirit ministering to mankind. To pretend that everything that has been said and can be known of God has occurred by 400 A.D. (the Apostolic Fathers era and closing of the Canon), or by 1054 A.D. (Eastern Orthodoxy's dissolvement of ecclesiastical ties to Rome), or by the 1600-1800's (the Reformational movement), or even more recently, by the 1980's with Evangelicalism's disposition upon "inerrancy" (and with it, some form of interpretive "traditional/classic Christian dogma) is preposterous. Yes, we must pay attention to what the Church of the past centuries has discovered and taught (which also includes Catholicism as well!), but to say that God cannot speak any longer is to have arrived at a closed Bible instead of an open Bible. A Bible that is evolving with mankind and ministering to societal needs today and not to yesteryear's more austere (or is it revered?) doctrines. The Bible has room to grow - and we with it - this is the nature of language, of communication, of presence. This is the nature of God's abiding communication and presence with us in the here-and-now.

Consequently, we must realize that our subcultural belief systems, our personal alienations, our skewed theologies, even the events in our lives, can speak imperfectly of God. That experience, tradition, or societal mores should never be the final word about God. We are imperfect individuals each with a rich tradition of personhood and heritage. It is both the Church's strength and the Church's weakness. But proper self-doubt is necessary when approaching God through the eyes of His fellowship. Sometimes we are fortunate and will have fallen into a fellowship that speaks God's word good enough (in the classic or traditional sense, but this can also be its own undoing, as we have just noted). More often is the case that the Church's fellowships are in the process of growing in their understanding of God just as much as we are ourselves on a personal level. And it is through the gifting of the body of Christ that God leads and directs His Church into the paths of His Word and unto the gifts of righteousness, wholeness and healing. And curiously, that spiritual gifting may be you, however young or inexperienced you are. You may be the key to your Church's spiritual vitality and health.
But it is vitally important to widely read everything from newspapers to best selling books, both popular and academic. And to widely study the traditions and the histories of the Church, of culture and society itself, and most importantly one's present era. And then to add to this wealth of knowledge the vitally important task of communicating with people - from the man on the street, to the person in the pew. To households and schools, to parents and children, teens and college students. To mechanics and pilots, businessmen and bankers, bluecollar workers, field hands and factory employees. To know and understand the very same people you wish to minister to. And to this effort one must research the newer theologies presently occurring. As is the case here in this Emergent blog with its emphasis upon the contemporary advancement of newly proposed theological ideas and researches that are occurring throughout various academic disciplines that are progressively evangelic, or what we are calling, emergent. Without new disciples the Church can (and will) stagnate and die. God's flock needs wise shepherds who can become good and wise leaders. Who can share the Way of Christ, or the Gospel of Jesus (or by whatever name we may call it) with others wherever they are on the road of life. Our belief structures (known as epistemologies) will change and perhaps must change. We are not God. Nor do we know everything about God. In fact, we know very little and must become as much disciples of Jesus, as we are to disciple Jesus to others. As Christians we are always in the process of growth and metamorphosis - learning to die to self while serving others. It is a hard road that often defeats us but must daily be encountered in the power of God and by His mighty Holy Spirit.

Prayer is but one of those relational tools that God has gifted mankind with through the presence of Himself by His Spirit. But that same divine relationship is everywhere around us in the daily events of our lives as we learn to listen and discern. God walks amongst us in the trials of the day and the beauties of the night. He is there. His loving guidance does not dim however harsh the paths of this frail life. However abandoned you may feel. God is there. However unheard you feel. God is listening. His love is yours - as fully in this life as it well be the next life hereafter. That faith-living requires living with some faith-tension. With the unknown. With the mysteriousness of God's plans and purposes. That we give up our desire for control and allow His will to be done. Not ours. And in return what does God promise? He promises to be always with us. He promises His presence in place of answers. He promises that He will walk through every dark valley and every high mountain with us. That He will never leave us nor forsake us. That the peace of His presence will be power enough to lead and to guide us.

And as we have the strength and ability, the gifting and resources, we must now share God's love to this world that does not know God to the furtherance of God's abiding Kingdom. For today is the day that we each must become like children of the Kingdom, seeking that our Father-God lead and guide us unto the giving of good gifts to those around us. Gifts that will birth life and not death. Hope in place of hopelessness. Fulfillment in place of disappointment and lost. For it is in the losses of life that we become rich. It is in the disappointments of life that we might grow. It is in the abandonment of life that we are delivered. Odd? Yes. But never so true as for the sinner saved by God's grace and the believer trying to live in the power of the Holy Spirit.
R.E. Slater
October 27, 2012

I am the vine; you are the branches.
Whoever abides in me and I in him,
he it is that bears much fruit....
                                                                       - John 15.5
1 Corinthians 13
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Way of Love
13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
  1. 1 Corinthians 13:3 Some manuscripts deliver up my body [to death] that I may boast
  2. 1 Corinthians 13:5 Greek irritable and does not count up wrongdoing
 * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Musings about Prayer: What It Is and Does
by Roger Olson
October 26, 2012
Prayer is not exactly a controversial hot button issue, but maybe it should be. Not that I want it to divide people or want people to fight over it. My point is that people - and here I’m concerned mainly about Christians - should think about prayer as well as pray. Is everything called “prayer” really prayer in a biblical and theological sense? Does simply calling a practice prayer make it so? Also, can prayer actually change “things” (circumstances) or only the person praying? There’s an old saying that “Prayer doesn’t change things; prayer changes me.” Is that so?
I suspect most Christians will agree if I say that positive thinking is not prayer. The other day I saw another newspaper advertisement announcing a seminar on “prayer” with a “nationally recognized expert.” Only the fine print revealed that she is associated with a “church” that believes sin, sickness and even death can be conquered through positive thinking. That religious organization grew out of a 19th century spiritual movement called New Thought that emphasized mind over matter—that people can change their life circumstances (poor health, poverty, etc.) through aligning their thoughts with the infinite mind of “God.” For most of them, “God” is not so much a person as the Mind or Spirit of the universe. Human beings can harness the power of God by tapping into his or her thoughts. Different New Thought religious groups have different spiritual techniques for this. Some call their technique “Affirmations” (positive sayings). In any case, what is being called “prayer” is really a form of magic—manipulating reality through powerful thoughts, rituals or techniques. There is no idea of a sovereign, personal God in most forms of New Thought. And yet it often goes under the name of “Christian.” In orthodox Christianity, prayer is not magic.
Now, having said that, I do not deny the power of positive thinking. What I deny is any guarantee that just the right positive thinking or speaking will manipulate God or Mind or Spirit or whatever to do one’s bidding. Books like Pray and Grow Rich abound in modern New Thought circles and among Christians influenced by New Thought. And I deny that positive thinking or even positive speaking (e.g., “I am a healthy and whole person loved by God who wills my total well being”) is prayer.
Now I suspect I’m going to touch a nerve and cause a bit more consternation among orthodox Christians when I say that, in my opinion, “wordless prayer” is also not prayer—at least not the heart of prayer. Much of what goes under the label “contemplative prayer” is wordless prayer. I prefer to call it meditation and wish Christians who exercise it in their spiritual lives would call it that instead of prayer.
During the past twenty to thirty years (at least), “contemplative prayer” has swept into evangelical Christian circles. Its sources are diverse. At least some are Catholic mystics and contemplatives. Two who have promoted wordless prayer and influenced evangelical Christians to practice it are Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington. I’ve read their books (at least some of them) and practiced their meditative practices with others in Bible study and prayer small groups. In fact, over the past two to three decades, it seemed sometimes that every time I engaged in spiritual, devotional practice with a group of fellow evangelical Christian educators wordless prayer has come into it at some point.
Let me make clear what I am NOT talking about under the category of wordless prayer. I am not talking about “lectio divina” which is meditating on a passage of Scripture and being open to hearing the voice of God speaking to one through the words of Scripture.
“Wordless prayer” is silently listening for the voice of God while abandoning all words and thoughts of one’s own. It is silencing what Buddhists call “the monkey mind” (thoughts jumping around in one’s mind) and emptying oneself of all thought in order to be more open to God entering into that silence to speak or influence one’s motives and intentions.
I have nothing against such practice; what I oppose is calling it “prayer” or allowing it to become the center of one’s spiritual life to the neglect of real prayer.
So far as I know and can think, nowhere does the Bible refer to non-verbal (as in using words even if silently) contemplation or meditation as prayer. Yes, of course, the Psalms mention meditating on God’s Word or God’s law, but that involves words. And it doesn’t (so far as I can recall) anywhere refer to that as “prayer.”
My favorite book on prayer (I’m not expecting it to be everyone’s) is Donald G. Bloesch’s The Struggle of Prayer (1988). Bloesch does not dismiss meditation or contemplation, but he argues, rightly I believe, that prayer is normally “dialogue with God.” He says “The thesis of this book is that true prayer will always give rise to words.” (p. 50) He elaborates: “There is no such thing as nonthinking prayer in the sense of prayer that is wholly divorced from rational intent. We will always have some intimation of our deepest concerns and needs, even though we may not comprehend them.” (p. 50) He acknowledges “inaudible prayer,” of course, but refers to wordless prayer, contemplation and meditation, as “preparation for prayer,” “aid for prayer,” etc.
Bloesch writes “While acknowledging the mystical dimension in true prayer, I basically stand in the tradition of the biblical prophets and the Protestant Reformation, which sees prayer not as recitation (as in formalistic religion) or meditation (as in mysticism) but as dialogue between a living God and the one who has been touched by his grace.” (p. vii).
I agree with Bloesch that we need to reserve the word “prayer” for "dialogue" with God in which words are involved and contemplation, meditation as preparation for prayer or aids to prayer.
Bloesch’s concern and mine is that wordless contemplation and meditation, especially when thought of as “prayer,” can lead to or be associated with belief in an impersonal divine or becoming one with the divine (or realizing one’s divinity). It can reduce the relationship with God to something impersonal and/or it can be spiritual therapy that has little to do with an I-Thou encounter with God in which the human subject is challenged, confronted, brought to his or her knees by God in conviction and repentance.
I resist the common saying that “Prayer doesn’t change things; it changes me.” Of course it does change me. That’s not the part to which I object. The part I object to is “Prayer doesn’t change things.” Scripture is filled with prayers that change circumstances, not by means of magic but by appealing to God who responds by changing circumstances. I have trouble even understanding why a person whose worldview and spirituality is shaped by the Bible would ever say that prayer doesn’t change things, it only changes him or her. Even Calvinists normally don’t say that prayer doesn’t change things (although that would seem to me to fit better with their deterministic theology).
I’ve tried to track down the origins of the saying that prayer doesn’t change things but only changes the person praying. One source seems to be Scottish theologian William Barclay whose little Bible commentaries (often referred to by young pastors as “Saturday night specials” because they’re handy for getting sermon ideas and illustrations) have been popular and influential. But I doubt he coined the saying. Whoever did coin it was, I suspect, influenced by liberal theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher who argued in The Christian Faith (his systematic theology) that petitionary prayer is immature prayer and should be abandoned. His reason was that it implies God’s dependence on us whereas true “God-consciousness” is based on the feeling of utter dependence on God. It was convenient that abandoning petitionary prayer fit with Schleiermacher’s deterministic (Newtonian) worldview in which nature is harmonious and closed to miracles or anything supernatural. (Although he admitted that miracles might happen, he said that they would already be built into the cause-and-effect network that is nature by God and not happen as interventions or responses to prayer not already planned and programmed into nature and history.)
I cringe whenever I hear evangelical Christians (really any Christians but especially evangelical ones!) say “Prayer doesn’t change things; it changes me.” I wonder why they are saying that. Is it to avoid the difficulty of having to think about why some prayers are not answered (at least the way they were prayed)? Do they still pray petitionary prayers? If so, how do they reconcile that practice with the first part of the saying? I suspect that for many evangelical Christians, attaching “If it be thy will” to the end of a prayer reconciles petitionary prayer with “Prayer doesn’t change things.”
I am personally opposed to attaching “If it be thy will” to every petitionary prayer. If the Bible says something is God’s will, then we should pray that he do it. What if He doesn’t? Then we live with the tension of that and acknowledge God’s sovereignty and higher wisdom. But to always attach “if it be thy will” to every prayer somehow weakens the prayer’s power. Jesus taught there is power in prayer and that we should expect answers to prayers unless they are prayed to fulfill our own selfish wants and wishes. (I am assuming here that James 4:3 echoes Jesus’ own sentiments.) The Bible encourages confident prayer, not weak praying that lacks confidence in God’s desire to heal, to provide and to save. So long as petitionary prayer is prayed with understanding of God’s superior wisdom and sovereignty, attaching “if it be thy will” doesn’t, in my opinion, serve any purpose when the prayer is for something God has revealed to be his will. That something is revealed to be God’s general will doesn’t necessarily mean he will do it in every case when prayer is offered for it. Only God knows the total circumstances and whether something is possible even for him. (I’m not talking about his power here; I’m talking about his plans and purposes.) Generally speaking, in Scripture, healing of bodies is God’s will. But we are told that total healing is eschatological. Nevertheless, the apostles’ prayers and Jesus’ prayers for others’ healings do not normally come with the caveat attached (if it be thy will).
When I pray for someone’s healing, especially if the person is suffering, I do not say “if it be thy will.” I understand that God doesn’t always heal in response even to powerful, confident prayer. God knows best; we simply have to rest in that at times. But Scripture models confident praying for healing. I would never presume to command God to heal a person (as some “faith healing evangelists” do). But to ask God please to heal someone is, I judge, thoroughly biblical. Adding “if it be thy will” implies that we’re not confident God wants to heal. Jesus always wanted to heal people, especially when they were suffering. Jesus is the revelation of the character of God. God’s character is that he wants to heal people. When he doesn’t, when we have prayed powerful, confident prayers on their behalf, we simply leave it in God’s hands and [leave it to] God why he couldn’t heal the person.
I know many people recoil at the word “couldn’t” in such a sentence. Can’t God simply do whatever he wants to do? Well, yes, if we mean “has the power to.” But, I believe, in his wisdom, God, and sometimes only God, knows why it would not be best to heal someone or answer another prayer that accords with his general character and desires for people. The apostle Paul reports that God simply said “no” in answer to his prayer for healing. Does that falsify everything I’m saying here? I don’t think so. We should always be prepared to accept a clear “no” from God. But to anticipate God’s “no” is, I think, wrong. James says that “the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man [person] avails much.” He also says “the prayer of faith shall save the sick and the Lord shall raise him up.” My point is that petitionary prayer, in Scripture, is said to change things, not just the person praying, and that anticipating a “no” when we pray is likely to reduce the power of the prayer. Saying “if it be thy will” does not seem consistent with the clear Scriptural instructions about praying. But I also know that there are no guarantees that God will, for example, heal. We have to live in the tension of powerful, fervent, confident prayer (for things God has revealed He wants to do and give) and the lack of response to the prayer as it was prayed.
To think that a certain kind of praying guarantees the response one wants is to reduce prayer to magic. To think that praying does not change circumstances but only “me” is to reduce prayer to spiritual therapy.
Now, of course, someone is going to ask about Jesus’ prayer in the garden “Not my will but thine be done.” I believe that, at that point, Jesus knew what God’s will was. As God, it was also his will. But, in the moment of human weakness and fear, he was conflicted. I don’t think it’s a sin to pray “not my will, but thine be done,” of course, but neither do I think it is something we need to or should attach to every prayer, especially when we don’t already know (as Jesus did) what God’s special will is in a particular case.
Those are my musings about prayer. Don’t carve them in stone and come back to me a year from now and say “But on such-and-such a day you said….” Context is so important in these matters (of musings). If a year from now I’m in a context where everyone around me is demanding that God do their bidding (as one person I knew a long time ago said “I confront God with his Word….”) I might write about acknowledging God’s sovereignty in prayer. I doubt that I will change my mind about not always praying “if it be thy will” in petitionary prayers, but I might emphasize the importance of resting in God’s wisdom and sovereignty. In brief, the majority of evangelicals need to learn to pray more powerfully and fervently and confidently. The majority of charismatics and traditional Pentecostals need to learn to acknowledge God’s sovereignty more.

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