An Interesting Incident Regarding Prayer
Prayer is presented in the scriptures as being a wonderful privilege (Phili. 4: 6). Prayer can mean the difference between continuing on and fainting (Lk. 18: 1). However, biblical prayer has some attendant problems in certain circumstances. In the first place, the Bible teaches that not all prayer will be answered (Prov. 28: 9, Matt. 6: 5, cp. vs. 7-15). Some attempt to force prayer into situations that offer many contradictions and compromise. Please consider excerpts from a newspaper article that appeared in the Denver Post (May 1, 2003, pg. 9A, by Stephanie Simon, the article relates an incident that took place in Muncie, Indiana):
"For the past decade, the Rev. William Keller has stood on the broad steps of City Hall on the first Thursday in May - with city officials, local judges and a police chaplain at his side - to pray in the name of Jesus Christ .Then Keller was asked to share the microphone.
A Unitarian minister wanted to speak at the Day of Prayer ceremony, to offer an ecumenical 'meditation' on leadership. A leader of the small Muslim community here requested a chance to pray aloud to Allah. A Jewish rabbinical fellow said he, too, would like to address the crowd. Keller turned them down. Anyone of any faith could come listen to him pray. But he would not listen to them. 'I'm busy with my faith,' he said in an interview this week. "I don't believe in other gods.'
With that, he kicked up a furor that has left many in this Bible Belt town of 70, 000 ashamed, saddened, angry - and sharply divided on a day that is intended to unify the nation. Keller will hold his hour-long service at noon today, as planned. At 5 p. m., an interfaith coalition will take the steps of City Hall for a second public worship, with prayers from Baptists, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, and others. The Rev. Thomas Perchlik, the Unitarian who is organizing the effort, has even asked an atheist to share his reflections.
Mayor Dan Canan and several other civic leaders plan to attend both events. And Keller pronounces himself pleased with that solution: 'Everybody can do their own thing,' he said. But many in the community are troubled by the split. 'It's ridiculous. Prayer is prayer,' said Mark DiFabio, 50, an advertising salesman. 'Prayer is for everybody,' agreed Ella Holloway, 47, a cafeteria manager ."
I invite you now to consider how the teaching of the Bible relates to the above situation.
Prayer is not designed to unite different religions. It is evident from various quotations in the foregoing article that some believe prayer has the utility of uniting opposing religions. However, the Bible knows no such design of prayer. Unity of professing Christians is required and division is condemned (I Cor. 1: 10). However, the means of this unity is belief and practice of the scriptures (I Cor. 4: 6, 2 Jn. 9-11). Jesus fervently prayed for the unity of his followers and stated that disunity is conducive to unbelief (Jn. 17: 20, 21). Jesus also taught in the context that the word is the means of this oneness (vs. 6, 7, 14, 17, 19). The Bible does not recognize political or ecumenical unity (religious compromise and rejection of the truth), but doctrinal sameness, both in belief and in practice (Eph. 4: 3-6).
Prayer is through Jesus. "I am the way, the truth, and the life," said Jesus (Jn. 14: 6). Jesus added, " no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (Ibid.). In this same general context, Jesus said the following: "And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (vs. 13). In many instances, the scriptures emphatically teach that prayer must be in Jesus' name (cp. Jn. 16: 23, 24). To pray in Jesus' name is to acknowledge Jesus' Sonship, authority, and glorified coronation (cp. Jn. 16: 20-23). How, then, can we imagine professing Christians and Jews who deny Jesus all "equally" gathered to pray?
Prayer is to be addressed to the Father. Paul wrote, "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 3: 14). In Paul's platform for religious unity he wrote, "One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Eph. 4: 6). The false deity called Allah by Muslims is not the one God of the Bible. God and Allah are not the same in designation, nature, teaching, and will. Therefore, how can we for a moment imagine prayer addressed to the God of the Bible and Allah of the Koran, all in the same climate?
The Holy Spirit is active in prayer but he works in the environment of truth. The vital function of the Spirit is seen in Paul's subsequent statement:
"Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God" (Rom. 8: 26, 27).
It is evident from the scriptures, though, that the Holy Spirit only operates in the realm of truth, not in the circumstance of spiritual agglomeration. It was the Spirit who has the basic role of reminding the apostles of truths that they had been taught by Jesus (Jn. 14: 26). In addition, the Spirit also guided the apostles into all truth (Jn. 16: 13). It is of no surprise, therefore, that the Spirit is repeatedly referred to as the "Spirit of truth" (to pneuma aletheias, Jn. 14: 17, 26). If it were not so sad, the thought of the Spirit functioning in the climate of conflicting prayer by Unitarians, Catholics, Muslims, and Jews is laughable.
Prayer is designed for God's children. The gathering for the Day of Prayer mentioned in the article even consisted of the participation of an atheist. Such is unthinkable when one realizes what the Bible says about prayer. The consistent language of the scriptures is, "Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth" (Jn. 9: 31, there are many reasons to believe that the healed blind man who said this was moved by the impetus of the Spirit. For sure, what he said is congruous with expressed biblical teaching, cp. Prov. 28: 9).
Prayer is for God's obedient children. To be more specific, prayer is a privilege belonging to the obedient child of God. Consider the following teaching:
"He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination" and "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight .And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him" (Prov. 28: 9; I Jn. 3: 22; 5: 14, 15).
Beloved, the scriptures do not teach Catholicism, Islam, Unitarianism, Judaism, and even Atheism as acceptable worship forms and systems. Hence, to attempt to offer up aggregate worship involving all these divergent religions is the height of hypocrisy and abuse of biblical prayer. Alas, there is such a radical difference between what man thinks about prayer and in what the Bible actually teaches. I must beg to differ, ecumenical prayer is both foreign and antithetical to the Bible.
Having said the above, I must inject that I do believe it is good that political leaders acknowledge the Supreme Being. I think that they can do so without necessarily engaging in minute particularity. However, the political correctness that has inundated the thinking of many must be challenged. I am referring to presenting as biblically acceptable the matter of the Unitarian, Muslim, Jew, and even the atheist as being leaders in the Day of Prayer. Indeed, the newspaper article does present an interesting incident regarding public prayer. Prayer, though, is far too important for "everybody to do their own thing." The Sovereign God of heaven is the one to whom man is to pray and it is He who has set forth the conditions for answered prayer.