Last Sunday, Freedom Life Church pastor and bible teacher, Rohan Samuels covered the Lord’s Prayer. This was the second installment of FLC’s Teach Me How To Pray series where we study whether prayer is efficacious or not.
Some of us spend time on our knees doing nothing but mumbling unintelligible things to God and falling asleep where we are without realizing what happened until we wake up snoring and drooling all over the place.
Prayer sleep is some of the best sleep I’ve ever gotten and hey, listen, taking a nap before God is a great thing if that’s what we went there for. But if our initial pursuit was to seek God’s providential will for our lives in this humbling medium of communication and the result was our brain slipping into a catatonic state then something went wrong somewhere.
Prayer involves communication, not just monologues where we dispense our righteous anger, relay our seasonal depression to God, divulge our momentary anxieties and then wipe our tears, stand up or lay down from our one-sided FaceTime session with God and off we go with our lives or into oblivion to dream about other things.
Prayer is more than one-sided monologues and information dumpster fires we drop at God’s feet. If we’re not making time to stand or kneel or time to just ‘be’ in the presence of the All-Mighty then we’ll find it harder and harder to receive Guidance and Perspective from Someone we seldom stop and sit long enough to listen to and understands our destiny.
Dr. Derwin L. Gray, pastor at Transformation Church, Indian Land, South Carolina, defines prayer this way:
“Prayer is more than talking to God. Prayer is a sacred journey of becoming who you were meant to be.”
Pastor Rohan with the Lord’s Prayer in mind deciphers a better way for us to communicate with God and at the same time dispels the harmful ideas we’ve come to make tradition and doctrine over time regarding prayer that is not true and eventually turns out to be not biblical as well.
Here are just a few ideas from Last Sunday’s message I managed to jot down to add to my prayer life.
“Prayer is not about us even though it requires our participation.”
This is true. Biblically speaking, prayer is truly about us being conformed to the will of God.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
Prayer is not just a means through which we communicate with God but also a place, an act, an action, a state of being in which we are molded into the person God has created us to be and also where we align our will to His will, which, thankfully, is always good for us. [Romans 8:28]
“You are not entitled to what you pray for.”
This point is critically important but emotionally damaging if our goal in prayer is to gain everything we want from God without knowing for sure if what we want is within His will.
When we bow a knee (which isn’t necessary) to pray we are again called by God to commune with Him and walk with Him. This intimate act calls for us to subjugate our will, which isn’t always in the right place, to His direction.
Us asking for that multi-million dollar residence in Texas, the three Mercedes -Benz Brabus rockets, and a multi-million dollar business to run without ever having taken a business management course, not knowing how to properly administer funds, and never having taken driving lessons, acquiring a driver’s license, having no auto insurance will only place us in a legally and financially compromising situation.
God sees the future as if it were the past. We must trust that when we ask for things or blessings we must first adhere our hearts and aspirations to the will of God and trust His best for our lives otherwise we’ll end up getting everything we want and not knowing how or what to do with these things.
Imagine someone asking for kids and once they’re blessed with them their kids are neglected, abused, and dismissed. We need to be in a state of peace and contentment with God over the things we get from God.
“Everyone should enter the school of prayer but no one graduates from the school of prayer.”
This is a given. No one is a prayer warrior as if there were a school somewhere where men and women go to train like samurai of yesteryear to kneel and stand for hours on end. Where they practice crying, on and off, and raising hands to strengthen their shoulders for lengthy intercessory prayer sessions. Where they carry on hours-long standing sessions to demonstrate their ability to withstand twelve-hour vigils. There isn’t a place where men and women go to train their speaking voice and then their praying voice.
Prayer is a lifelong commitment to communicating with and listening to God. Understand also that God listens to you.
You won’t graduate from a prayer program the same way one graduates from a Ninja Warrior class on how to climb walls and free-run across the surface of a building.
Humility in the life of a believer is demonstrated in this way: he or she is always willing to seek God for guidance in all things instead of relying on their history, wisdom, know-how, etc.
We are all here to learn from God and learn more about how He guides us through His word and His Holy Spirit. The moment we step away from these and onto our wisdom, we have damned ourselves to our folly.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
“Way to pray not the words to pray.”
Pastor Rohan recites the Lord’s Prayer, the one easily found in the sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel.
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
The beautiful message Jesus portrays in this passage is that we needn’t get caught up in the religiosity of prayer where performance and eloquence are the goals.
Jesus relays to his disciples then and us today the simplicity of prayer: we acknowledge our Creator and are also acknowledged by Him by the grace of being heard.
We are blessed with the grace of His will, which reminds us that we are not alone in this journey without a guide or direction.
We are blessed with the grace of honesty in our moment of need. When we lack or when sustenance is something we rely on, which we do, we can gladly ask of it of God. Pastor Rohan alludes to the reality of how a first-century Jew would read this prayer, one who did not have the convenience of supermarkets and logistics we do today to get food and bread. Back then, if harvest went sour or if war swept the land, there was a very high chance you or your neighbor would die from starvation and malnutrition. So understand that sometimes we go through thirst or hunger of sorts, which may or may not pertain to physical hunger, where we desperately need to present this need to the Lord.
It is comforting to know that God accepts these petitions and hears them.
Our relationship with God is measured also by our relationship with our neighbors. Vertical only faith is no faith at all. When we place an emphasis on relationships we need to be aware that we are earthly beings with heavenly blessings, meaning, we need to care for both. Meaning, we need to properly administer both.
We must not only forgive others, but we must also love them as well. Displaying a forgiving character toward all, as hard as it may be.
We are graced with the ability to seek refuge in our Heavenly Father from spiritual uncleanliness and filth. We seek refuge and protection from spiritually impure and tenebrous spirits whose sole purpose is to disrupt our relationship with our Divine Creator.
God listens to us. And because He listens to our heart and our words, we ought to then communicate our innermost workings with Him more freely.
There is nothing that you can say that’ll surprise Him nor anything you can say that will hurt Him.
This is liberating news.
So you don’t have to pray this exact prayer as if it is holier, brighter, better, more effective, and somehow a talisman against evil itself, because it is a way for us to pray, not THE WORDS we ought to pray.
Jesus set forth a foundation for us to approach God our Father, but you are free to express your heart before Him your way, without using someone else’s words.
Give it a go!
Praise Him. Trust Him. Walk with Him.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Professor Wade Mullen, Ph.D., wrote a book on deciphering the veiled tactics abusers and abusive institutions use to maintain power and deceive victims into submission and silence. This book opened my eyes to the sketchy behaviors corporations and their ilk of lawyers and suits use to deviate blame, shift shame, and avoid guilt at all costs, all while saving face in the face of evidence, wrongdoing, malpractice, and abuse.
“Abusers and abusive organizations may concede the basic reality of the wrong—“Yes, this happened”—but quickly add statements that either soften their responsibility or promote their integrity: “We value all people and only want what is best for everyone involved.” If these concessions do their job, the accused will stay in power, stay in favor with the community, and stay far from the shame their actions deserve.”
There’s always that ‘but’ in our apologies, is there not? I believe it’s a defensive mechanism to protect our ego from one, being exposed for what it is, two, admitting wrong, and three, having to deal with the consequences of that initial or sequential wrongdoing we’re responsible for.
I’m guilty of this as well. Many times over.
I’ve apologized to others with the intent of protecting my image for the sake of my ego. No one wants to be destroyed in the public sphere or the public marketplace. Nowadays, being denied social capital is at times worse than actual capital because of ostracism from people on social media which, if left unchallenged, can last years, if not decades; or a lifetime.
“I’m sorry I did that to you but you kind of asked for it.”
“I’m sorry you felt that way but that wasn’t my intention.”
“I’m sorry this happened, it did, and I’ll put it behind me. You do have to forgive me, you know.”
These are just a few of the facades and barriers we create and put up to defang the brunt of our consequences. We’re not only afraid of the ramifications of our wrongs but we’re resistant to any form of discipline, especially if that discipline is meted out by the victim of our wrongs.
They pinpoint 23 identifiable traits abusive leaders can exhibit which, after a closer look, are patterns and behaviors we see in our own lives as well. I mean, I see a few of these in mine. It’s daunting.
Take a look:
Doublespeak—Language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts or reverses the meaning of
words using euphemisms, inflated language, jargon, or just plain nonsense
Unteachable Spirit—Claims to want to hear people’s opinions, yet talks down to and/or argue with the people who share them; pretends to listen, agree, and learn, yet makes no significant change
Corrective Theology—Use meetings or written messages to correct things that were said by others
Semantics—Distort and distract from what they and others say and/or mean by parsing every word
others say while refusing to allow their own language to be dissected
Blame-shifting—Refusal to take real responsibility; often directly blames other people and/or use
statements such as, “They just don’t understand my heart,” or “You are not listening”
Demand Loyalty/Respect/Trust—Often remind others of all the good they have done even as they
demand unconditional and blind loyalty/respect/trust
Sabotage—Ministries are secretly undone, content they can’t control is criticized, relationships are
Distorted Relationships—Heavy demands may be put on relationships, relationships tend not to be
reciprocal, they may speak well of you in-person while talking badly of you when you are not present
Demand Unity—Sincere sounding calls for unity turn out to be demands for conformity to the leader’s beliefs, ideas, and preferences
Gaslighting—Specific forms of manipulation intended to cause others to question their perception; may take the form of “remembering things differently,” withholding information, denying having said or done something, and/or lying
Credential Flashing—Degrees, position, titles used frequently to establish an air of authority
Paranoia—Concern that others are undermining their authority, talking behind their backs, or leaving them out
Image Obsession—Inflated concern about how others perceive them; often takes the form of public
name-dropping (though in private they may berate the very names they drop) and building a façade as a godly and/or deeply religious person
Blackmail—If challenged will used whatever he/she thinks he has on the challenger to quash the
challenge; may take the form of forcing a resignation, tying severance to NDAs
Public Admiration of Others—Publicly make highly positive comments about others (often fellow
leaders/co-workers) while privately tearing them down
Entitlement—Claim the right to the highest-ranking positions without having to do the actual work to achieve the position
Absence of Conflict Resolution—When approached about conflict swiftly and deftly to turn the conflict into the other person’s problem entirely
Distress is Highly Distressing—Often unable to handle the difficult emotions of others and will shut them down swiftly
Purposely Provocative—Will intentionally provoke distressing situations/emotions for/in others to
accomplish their own ends
Multiple Personas—Who they are in public, private, and specific ministry situations changes as if they are chameleons; when confronted about this lack of authenticity they will deny having multiple personas
Persistent—Above all, abusive leaders persist, don’t take no for an answer, overtly or covertly, passively or aggressively pressing themselves and their agendas on others
Best & Brightest—While not necessarily the best and brightest by training or ability, abusive leaders
work to be seen as the best and brightest in every room they enter
False Vulnerability—self-disclosures about past sin, attempts to evoke tears and emotionality in others
Now you may have noticed that the descriptions above reflect an array of leadership abuse traits within any structure but the authors focus primarily on leadership structures within faith communities. Namely, Christian church environments.
I believe it is critical to be aware of these deviations and character malformations because in the church we tend to value leaders based on their gifts instead of their character. If their performance and the results of their theatrics bring people to faith or balloons the attendance within our church circles, then, by all means, let us ignore their shouting bouts behind closed doors. It’s okay if the leader manipulates the board into giving him or her more executive and financial power without boundaries or accountability. It’s alright for the leader to exhibit multiple personas inasmuch as they visit the elderly, the imprisoned, and the orphan. It’s seen as a minor moral scruple when they sabotage relationships in the church, are obsessed with corrective theology; namely, his perspective of the ancient book is the only correct one, as long as the church stays full and tithes keep rolling in for years.
I mean, just look at the new church building we purchased! Isn’t just grand?
That is why it is so important to confront leadership abuse and abusers in every facet of society but more so within religious circles because leaders in this sphere are seen as intermediaries between us and God.
They’ve been given the keys to privileged access to the Divine. When they pray for guidance, Providence listens. When they preach the Word it seems as if the very Creator is present to reemphasize the gravity of the truth within the homiletical utterances of the minister behind the pulpit. When they counsel it is not the counsel of man but the very words of God.
And this isn’t a divinely ordained calling. These are positions, attitudes, and authority structures we create and honor and place men or women in the center of because we want palpable identifications of God here on earth.
Because our reliance on the supernatural is only efficacious if we can find a man or a woman of God to corroborate our faith. When that happens we then elevate them above the rest and call them Men of God or Prophetesses of God.
The problem with this spiritual sucking-up, if you will, is that the nefarious agents, namely, abusers who are talented, gifted, and amazing liars and chameleons of every form of good abuse their power every chance they get. They shape-shift their way through social tests of affirmation and acceptance, end up finding a way to lead the flock just by being performative.
Their results speak for them and in a results-driven society, they tend to rise to the top. Every. Single. Time.
It always ends up this way because church people are too gullible, conflict-avoiding, and kind-hearted to confront one another on these issues.
“Let us maintain the peace, please, brothers, let us have peace.”
And I am not innocent here. I have exhibited quite a few of these traits as a leader.
From unapologetic arrogance in being the corrective theologian in the room to being obsessed with how others viewed me in the church or para-church ministries. I’ve had my fair share of cringe-worthy public admiration of others moments, theologians and apologists I had never even met, who I would glorify and elevate to near-divine status. I avoided conflict because I didn’t want to confront the issues in me and less so in others, therefore so many issues would go without resolution in my circles.
I was only an authority over them as a teacher or youth leader but what the hell was I supposed to do about their personal lives? I’m not a guru!
The host and co-host of this podcast asked the authors of this list if these traits are mistakenly attributed to abusers alone because they have exhibited them from time to time as well.
The authors of the list stated that we humans tend to dip our fingers into selfish or self-preservative behaviors from time to time but these are just regular human mistakes we tend to make.
What they depict in this list of twenty-plus leadership character flaws are red flags that are persistent aspects of a person’s nature and how they deal with life and people on a daily basis.
The abusive traits we exhibit from time to time ought to be contradictory to our character, not complementary to it. There’s a difference.
In a moment of weakness or stress, we may lean on a certain practice because of a weakness or stress. We’re not naturally prone to sabotaging relationships, yelling at people who disagree with us, obsessed with correcting someone else’s theology, obsessive double-speak behaviors depending on the group we’re with. We’re not known for having multiple personas, one at home, one with a secretary, one with the board, one with the preaching team, one with this and that group. We’re one and the same all the time, just more professional in one sphere and more relaxed in another.
Our morality doesn’t change depending on who we’re with or around.
We’re not given to moral virtue signaling in front of the church in the morning and then off to rob banks, abuse kids, and cheat on our spouse in the afternoon.
We are all guilty of exhibiting one or more of these traits but out of a moment or a sequence of character weakness. We can find redemption from this by desisting from them immediately, confessing the wrongs, and rebounding within the community.
We’re here to restore people to fellowship, not power, remember that.
But if you find you are exhibiting these traits on a daily basis, that you are wholly reliant on them to control the narrative in your life and that of others, perhaps it is time to admit that you are an abusive leader. Or that you are obsessed or controlled by abusive traits.
And in that admittance, in that openness, it is time to seek help.
You can be helped but you must want it.
Again, we’re here to restore broken people to fellowship, not power. Fellowship helps build the individual. Power destroys the individual and their community.
So seek professional counseling today. Be it in the church or outside of it. Seek help to get your life and your character, back on track.
Because if you wait any longer your victim count will only increase with time. Eventually, you will lose the people you love and you will also lose yourself on this journey of life and faith.
I’m in conversation with friends who believe that if they fail to fast for twelve hours straight they’ll lose their blessings. Some have even gone the distance to say they have fasted or abstained from food and drink for days at a time. Draining their body of nutrients and their soul of life a day at a time in hopes of attaining something from God in the process. Their purpose in bringing harm to their body was to convince God, perhaps, that they deserve something great. Why wouldn’t God bless someone who chastises their flesh?
Too often I find myself in these situations as well. What should I sacrifice so that I can manipulate the hands of the Divine to bless me? And, while in the process of attempting to convince Him of my goodness or devout pursuits, hopefully, I won’t fail or give up and thus lose that which I dream of. That which I ask for.
It could be a disease that I hope to be healed of. And an opportunity to write dozens of books and have at least half of them make it onto the NYT bestsellers list. Not that that makes the book any good but it would surely bring in a lot of cash. Perhaps the opportunity of a lifetime to work for the New York Times as a well-paid columnist or for the New Yorker as a go-to writer on observations of a Christianized culture. Perhaps as a writer for The Atlantic on the topic of cheese and watchmaking. I know very little about cheese and a thing or two about watches so I’d definitely qualify for their writing staff. And my mind sets off in hopes of using God, yes, I said ‘using’ because that’s what we like to do. Let’s be honest. Using God to get that which I want. And the problem arises when our means of ingratiating His Holiness we can give in to a state of mind that is not conducive to our spiritual growth or our mental well-being.
Take for example a person who is praying for a sick family member whose health is failing. This loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal disease of which there is no recovery or solution. Their time on this earth is shortened, their lifespan stilled, and their hopes and dreams are all decimated by this revelation. The Christian person in this family sets off to pray for change and a miracle. They make it their purpose in life to turn these events around because God is a God who operates miracles. And He does. He has.
Therefore our Christian friend places it in their heart to fast for the next six months. They set their heart and stomach to abstain from food three days a week, form water one day a week, and from sexual relations with their spouse for three weeks out of every month.
This in turn becomes a challenge in which the Believer willfully sacrifices pleasures and desires for the sake of pursuing God and a miracle. This isn’t, per se, evil or a bad thing, nor, can we resolutely conclude that such abstinence and ascetic tendencies are good in and of themselves. But either way, our Believer sets off. The first week, no food for three days, no water for one day, and complete abstinence from sexual pleasures with their spouse. All is well. The fervency of prayer alive, the reading of scriptures consistent, and the hopes of a miracle for that sickly family member intact.
As the days progress into weeks our believer is experiencing a rise in faith and spiritual growth where their persistence and discipline have become known to other believers and they commend this effort. Fellow church members join the fast because they see the immediate result of spiritual rededication and they too want to see this sickly family member recover, miraculously so.
Weeks turn into months and our Believers’ appearance begins to change, their muscles depleted, their waist has since slimmed, and their face is somewhat gaunt but their spiritual renewal is at an all-time high. Their bible study sessions beam with radiance and wisdom. Members flock to these sessions as their hopes are again elevated at the possibility that God will in fact bring forth a miracle and heal their ailing acquaintance.
The Believers’ spouse is proud, too, and possibly riddled with shame because they are willing to celebrate this new spiritual journey but feel their sexual needs and intimacy are falling behind. There is a persistence to maintain spiritual growth and also shame in feeling that their physical and emotional needs are not being met. The spouse, albeit in agreement with this pursuit, is divided in heart and mind.
Our sick family members’ health has shown signs of improvement. Their medical practitioner has produced tests and images of cells in remission, health in appreciation, and confidence in their treatment.
Applause and celebratory festivities are in stock but we’re only three months into the six-month fast challenge for a miracle. Our Believer has not given up hope. The Believer stands strong and reassured that God is on their side. Why else would God allow the sick family member to get better? He most certainly hears our prayers and petitions. He sees our sacrifice, our willful abstinence as a sign of commitment. So with great news in tow, the Believer strives for more consistency and dares to increase the level of sacrifice they are willing to endure so that God can come through with an answer.
For the next three months, the last three months that is, our believer has increased their fast from three to four days of out the week. They refrain from consuming water two days out of the week instead of one. And, seeing how the abstinence from sexual pleasures has produced some betterment of health in their sick family member they now abstain from sex with their spouse for the next ninety days.
This, you know, will bring the Believer closer to God because sex is earthly, fleshly, and perhaps, depending on the circles you move in and out of, it is considered dirty.
So our Believer is nearing the finish line of their challenge. All eyes are now on the Believer. They practice their fast with pride. They might even share the news of their fasting with coworkers and friends. Why shouldn’t they know? When the miraculous happens the world will know and people will come to God because of it. The smell of food no longer bothers our Believer, they’re tempted to forgo food altogether, forever possibly. They begin to look down on other believers who are a bit rounded on the edges, those who enjoy three steaks a week, bacon for breakfast and consume wine as a means of enjoyment. Our Believer thirsts for water but is confident and proud enough to forego it when the time comes. What else is sacrifice if not foregoing the self? And regarding sexual desires? That well has all but dried up. The Believer reassures their spouse that this is for God. This challenge, this pursuit, is so that others may come to believe in the Miracle Worker and thus, possibly, be saved as well. So, the sexual repression and sexual oppression within the marriage are at an all-time high. But, sacrifices are sacrifices and if it doesn’t hurt or cause us discomfort and pain then we’re doing it wrong.
Our Believer willingly admits to themself the idea of their want for sexual intimacy but continually shuns the thought of sexual gratification from their mind. They struggle, however, with thoughts of other persons in compromising situations, delicate situations that rekindle more debased desires, wanton desires for others, and this, is somewhat a surprise to the Believer but they keep it to themselves. Temptations are but the attack of the enemy to fault us and interrupt our pursuits, you know.
So, this fast, this challenge is full-blown downhill, a speeding train that cannot be stopped. Our Believer has witnessed a faint harvest of their efforts and cannot be dissuaded to stop, even when their medical practitioner advises against such austere measures of ascetic living conditions. The Believer spurns the medical advice and scolds the physician for not having enough faith.
They see their sacrifice as a call from God, a Divine purpose, an undeniable fact that God works in those who sacrifice the most, and our Believer will not relent.
The sickly family member whose health had improved in the first three months of this six-month challenge is now crippled with stomach pains, vomits blood, and defecates bloody stool. They are rushed to the emergency room where they can be stabilized, watched, monitored, and tested for further findings.
Our Believer gets news of this and immediately thinks the enemy, the Darkest Soul, the Ancient of Evils, the Deceiver, the Nefarious One, the Devil, as we call him, is on the rise against them and their challenge, and their family member who was on the track to a miraculous recovery. They consider this a direct assault on their faith and they are undeterred by this news and they perceive their efforts as Godly and unstoppable.
A visit is made to the ailing family member in the hospital, reassurances of miraculous recovery are made, prayers are offered, tears are spent, hours fly by, other church members visit, more reassurances are made, promises produced, prophetic utterances of longevity, long days of life, and family and dreams are given. Everyone in the hospital is aware of the ten, twenty, and at times forty church members who flood the hospital at any given time of the day in faith that this sick person will recover.
They have seen what a little sacrifice in the life of one member can accomplish so they all set off to fast and sacrifice a little in their own life for the benefit of this sick person.
Days pass, prayers are made, tests are done, and a physician gives the results. The disease is back with a vengeance, treatment has only worked to stall its progression but not deter or defuse it. All that could be done from a scientific perspective was done. The ailing family member will not walk away from this bed as they have all but a few days left to live.
Church members are now solemn but accepting of this final statement. Some linger about their church halls, family gatherings, and private prayer closets still hoping for the miraculous.
Our Believer, our favorite Believer in this story, however, is undeterred, albeit, confused. They sweat under the weight of this responsibility to be the only person of faith left in the family and church community who still believes in the power of the Miracle Worker.
Their stress levels are at an all-time high, there is continued fighting between them and their spouse which only increases in frequency with the unfortunate news.
This stress leaves our believer susceptible to more thoughts of sexual gratifications that can be accomplished through other means, other people. They push these thoughts away but they are more prominent now, more consistent. That other church member would be more understanding of their situation and would possibly be a better spouse, too. Perhaps befriending them in this challenge was the best thing possible. An opportunity to meet someone they could better fulfill themselves with later. It only makes sense that God would allow them to grow closer together as the bitter and bickering spouse distances themselves further and further. It is all making sense.
But for now, the Believer must give their undivided attention and willful sacrifice on behalf of the bedridden family member. More time is spent in the hospital than at home. God understands this sacrifice. More attention is given to the ailing family member than work and bills at home. God understands this too. Our Believer no longer attends church nor do they fraternize with fellow church members because their faith has soured. Rumors are they no longer believe in miracles. You see, their faith, because of their lack of sacrifice, consistency, asceticism, and discipline, has all but waned and disappeared. They’re too busy indulging in the pleasures of the flesh, with their daily meals, suppers, and deserts. They drink as much as they like without any prohibitions.
They give in to one another sexually, and this gives our believer a rise. How could they have so much sexual fulfillment and fruition in a time such as this? News of pregnant church members reaches our Believers’ ears but the Believer shuns it. How could we speak of new life when there is one that needs rescuing?
Joy, happiness, gladness, and gratitude are no longer terms that pass through our Nelievers’ lips. What is there to be joyful for? The miraculous has yet to take place.
Our sickly family member is on the doorsteps of the beyond, their body resembles a corpse, our Believers’ body resembles that of a corpse too, but they’re a bit more animated.
The dying family member calls the remaining family to their bedside to bid all farewell. Many are present, others cannot muster the courage to attend. The hospital limits the number of guests.
Our Believer is firm at their side, still, quietly persistent, fasting, abstaining still, trusting, and knowing God will deliver.
The dying family member shares a few memories of love, joy, and laughter, as many as they can because they are weak. A physician joins the procession only to advise the dying family member to use their words wisely and sparingly because talking will drain them of the little bit of time they have left.
Hugs are exchanged. ‘Get well soon’ balloons are removed from the room but flowers are left behind. Tears are spent and goodbyes are given. As the hours move on so do the visitors. Their hopes have all but vanished and we’re left with our Believer and the recipient of their prayers, the dying family member.
Here, the Believer comes to a crossroad. At this point, as the heart monitor begins to process the transition between life and death, the beating drum of life within a person’s chest that begins to cease, our believer is undecided, perhaps, on how to cope with this situation.
My God is a miracle worker and He hears my prayer!
And our family member succumbs to their terrible disease, expiring on this bed, the same one from which their physician said they would not walk away.
Our Believer is perplexed. Their six-month challenge has been cut short, not because the miraculous took place but because a disease took someone’s life.
Here, we know, is where an unraveling of the self begins to take place.
Questions are made in secret, in the mind, and in the depths of the soul as to what went wrong and where.
Perhaps our Believer should have done five days of fasting. That’s it. Five was the appropriate number. And water? Although it is dangerous to forego water, appropriate hydration for three, maybe four days at a time, but a sacrifice is a sacrifice and our Believer failed to trust God for sustenance. Christ relied on angels for reprieve but our Believer doubted. And doubt leads to missed spiritual opportunities, you know.
And what about sexual intimacy? Here, our Believer, having gone so long without it, begins to believe they no longer need it. Because the relational part of their marriage has all but crumbled, and this a result of their spouse and not their own, the only reason to keep the marriage is for sexual gratification but because our Believer thinks it is not a necessary element of life they forego marriage altogether because what is the point of being married to a cantankerous spouse when one can be married to Christ?
Our Believer has the option of accepting their family members’ death as a result of life. Diseases are part of life, you know. Death too. Or, our Believer can come to the rationalization that this unfortunate loss of life came about as the result of the lack of faith and a lack of assiduous concern for spiritual matters in their personal life.
Our Believer begins to scold other church members because their carelessness caused this death. They leave their church body. They create a new church ministry under the benign name of miracles, wonders, and such, as a means to attract real believers, those who are willing to pay the price for miracles.
They disparage the lack of ascetic efforts of others. Set strict guidelines for fasting regimens. The enjoyment of other benign pleasures like attending sporting venues, playing sports, watching television, catching the newest flick in theatres, and drinking any beverage that is suspect of containing alcohol is strictly forbidden and prohibited in this ministry.
If one is not willing to sacrifice much for God then God will not answer prayers.
Sex is a byword and forgiveness is no longer extended to those who fail with sexual sins. They’re brought to the front of the congregation and shamed for the practices, made to confess in front of all, and then disciplined for the same. Married couples are to abstain from sexual intimacy at our Believers’ discretion. At times without cause and other times without end.
Our Believer is a full-blown critic of simple faith and cannot imagine a life without rigorous sacrificial efforts. Returning to a lifestyle without such limitations and rules would mean returning to a life without miracles and wonders.
We have yet to see any miracles take place in our Believers’ life. They presume that the challenges of running a new minister, of an impending divorce, of critique of their new ways of rigorous living as attacks from the devil so this pushes them further into their disillusionment.
Our Believer is trapped by the fear of letting go and letting God. They cannot allow for such a life without rules, regulations, sacrifice, fasting, and such, because if they give in to a spiritual life based on faith and grace they will have to dissolve the wall of works and sacrifices they have built around themselves.
What then, has become of our Believer?
They are not living by faith but by fear. If one fails to fast, they fail to receive. If one fails to sacrifice time, pleasure, sex, fun, entertainment, family, marriage, and the self, then one fails to receive the grander things of God.
How else might we get something from God if we do not give Him something first?
Therefore our Believer is trapped and blinded by their own desires, which are first were prudent and kindhearted but turned into something destructive and all-consuming because the approach was not to glorify God in all things, win or lose, life or death, miracle or no miracle, but to prove to the self that if we do something for God then God will do something for us.
Our Believer is consumed by fear. Fueled by it actually.
And at this point, there are only two true alternatives left for our Believer. They will either continue into this disillusionment, amassing a following so great, a group of disciples so attracted to this ascetic rigidity that our Believer will begin to think they are a mini-god who speaks for God at a moments notice. There is no medium of revelation. Any reading of scriptures that is not first translated by our Believer is wrong. The congregation and its adherents will then rise in numbers, persistence, and cultish behavior. Any attempt to dissuade them will only strengthen their resolve. Their end is in themselves.
The other alternative is that our Believer will dissolve under the weight of repressed sensualities, commit a number of financial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and sexual deviances and sins, and will be rightfully ousted from their position of power and prominence.
And it is there, in their wallowing and shame that they will have an opportunity to revisit their true faith, one of grace, mercy, love, and trust, or, in their undiminished pride, they will abandon faith and God altogether.
Our believer transitions from belief, to asceticism, to disillusionment, to cultic behavior, and finally, either a rekindling of true faith or a dismantling of all belief.
All this in pursuit of manipulating the Divine.
Christians, it is our duty to rely on God no matter what. This reliance is based more so on His character and His essence than on what He can give us or get us through. Mind you, God can and has allowed, even preferred many of His own to face all sorts of ills for reasons known only to Him. Should it be health or sickness, life or death, wealth or poverty, our resolve must be to focus on the essence of who our Creator; how we can grow in His grace and in His knowledge.
It is tempting, yes, to believe that by doing a you can receive b but if b is not in God’s plan for your life then no matter how much of a you do, how much you invest into it, how many friends and family members you have join you in the pursuit to attain b by overdoing a, if it is not God’s will it will not happen.
We become enslaved by the doing of things for God to receive things from God. The drinking or the abstaining from drink. The listening or not listening. The eating or not eating not understanding that Christ has delivered us from these ascetic tendencies because they serve no purpose on the grand scheme of His master plan for our lives.
This is not to discourage the believer from prayer or fasting for their personal spiritual growth or for a miracle in any and all circumstances, but it is a warning for you to not become a slave of results or to think you can manipulate the Divine for your own selfish needs. To think that you can give enough to change the Divine is foolish.
Men and women have done so in the past, yes, but those were circumstances to help teach these people that God’s character, His faithfulness supersedes all else.
“if we are faithless, he remains faithful” 2 Timothy 2:13
We must find comfort in Him otherwise we live for these fasting sessions, these lengthy prayer sessions, these unnecessarily lengthy bible study sessions, and revival conferences that if we go without we believe we are missing out on something greater when in fact we fail to realize that the greatest thing has already happened to us and for us.
Christ has died to forgive our sins. Restore our brokenness and reconcile us to the Father. He has granted us eternal life and not just that but the power and grace and presence of the Holy Spirit to guide us through this one. Helping and assisting others, all this in the name of Jesus.
I’m being a minimalist here but that’s because I’m short on time, or rather, article length.
Christ is faithful even when we are not. Seek Christ in all things more than you seek to manipulate things in the name of Christ.