Prayer And Supplication

 

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“Well, you just need to go and pray about it.” This phrase can mean thousands of different things to thousands of different people. Within Christianity, it is probably the most oft-used piece of advice anyone “struggling with sin” can hear. In some theological circles, like Pentecostal for instance, prayer is the only ‘medicine’ used during snake-handling incidents.[1] If the bite victim dies after sustaining a bite, his faith would not be deemed strong enough.[2] Then there are those who pray in the exact same manner at the exact same hour of every single day…and then there is the United States of America. According to a recent survey from LifeWay Research, whose findings should shock you; report that only 46 percent of American Christians pray for their own sin. What is even more shocking is among those same surveyed, only 22 percent pray for people of other or no faith.[3] It is quite safe to say that the vast majority of those Christians surveyed hold to the doctrine of eternal conscious torment; yet only 22 percent of them pray for those whom they believe are headed there.

It is Christian Universalists who are often accused of creating a doctrine that will lead to complacency due to the lack of threat of eternal damnation. It seems, based on recent data, the adherents of the western notion of hell should look at the log in their own eye, before accusing those who hold a different theology of creating a ‘god of complacency’. Throughout history, Universalists such as Origen and Clement of Alexandria were some of the most objectively conscientious followers of Christ; never once exhibiting complacent characteristics. Even today, those who would now be labeled “progressive” or “liberal” Christians are some of the kindest and loving people I can think of.[4] Furthermore, and I would include myself in this, we are as diligent in our theological studies as humanly possible. As an autobiographical aside, during my years as a believer in eternal conscious torment, I cannot remember praying for those I believed were going to “hell”. Moreover, I was cynical and abrasive; only actively pursuing Christ once I fully embraced universal reconciliation. Upon concluding this theology, the revelatory nature of the Spirit has not yet allowed complacency to take hold in my life: in fact, quite the contrary.

If we are not supposed to simply pray for our own “future prosperity” and “favorite sports team”, as the study mentioned above also suggests, what are we supposed to pray for and in what manner? Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, directs us to “pray at all times in the Spirit […] to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. (Eph. 6:18-19) Sounds good right; but what does this mean? If the Spirit leads our prayers, what would our prayers “look” like? If we do not get this correct, we may find ourselves constantly praying for our own prosperity; never once finding ourselves standing firm in truth (v. 14), righteousness (v. 14), or faithfulness (v. 16). How can we “make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel (v. 19)” if we fail to first, put on the armor of God; and second, to be “in the Spirit” when we pray? Certainly, even we will fail to see the mystery Paul is speaking of.

If we are praying in the Spirit, we will be praying for those truths revealed by Christ Jesus. We will pray for our enemies, the wicked, our oppressors…everyone. We will be led not by our carnal desires but for spiritual truths to be revealed. Paul advises what we should dwell on: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Phil. 4:8) Complacency and prayers for future prosperity have no place in a heart, soul, and mind devoted to the same truths Paul taught. If we practice the giving of ourselves to one another and to God almighty, then “the God of peace” will be with us. (Phil. 4:9)

The peace of Jesus (and thus, the peace of God), reveals the mystery Paul speaks of in Ephesians. To a student of René Girard, it is impossible not to notice that the gospel is described by Paul as both “peaceful” (v. 15) and “a mystery” (v. 19). I will argue that the gospel is a mystery because it is a gospel of peace. Certainly, as Jesus is testament to, the same “boldness” Paul needs in making known the “mystery of the gospel” is the same “boldness” any non-sacrificial, non-retributive brethren continually needs. Nevertheless, the “gospel of peace”, as he puts it in Ephesians 6:15, seems to be as mysterious today as it was to both Gentiles and Second-Temple Jews. I will suggest that God’s peace “surpasses all [emphasis mine] comprehension” (Phil. 4:7), even to this day. Thus, it remains quite a mystery indeed.

With “prayer and supplications” we hold firm to the truths Christ revealed to us all. God is a God of peace, yet thankfully revealed the mystery of that truth in His only begotten Son. This unfortunately remains a mystery for most, as they fail to be in the Spirit at all times. If our feet are not prepared to carry the gospel of peace to the hurting world we live in, if our own selfish, sacrificial nature forces the incomprehensible peace of God to play second-fiddle, then we will miss the overwhelming power of the Gospel. My prayer then is that we all can take a cue from Paul and dwell on only those things that reveal the mystery; namely, honor, righteousness, purity, love, and peace.

 

[1] Take, for instance, snake-handling minister Jamie Coots who died two hours after sustaining multiple bites from a rattlesnake in 2014.

[2] Those who subscribe to this notion take the words from Mark 16:17-18 literally.

[3] This study was reported on in an article entitled “Americans Pray Most for Family, Friends, Themselves and Sometimes a Sports Team: Survey” at www.huffingtonpost.com. For full results of the study, go to LifeWayResearch.com and download the research to see the statistical differences between Christians and non-Christians who pray.

[4] I think of people like Michael Hardin, Shane Claiborne, Robin Parry, and Brian McLaren.

MattMatthew Distefano is writing his first book on universal reconciliation and advocate for non-violence. He lives in Northern California and is married with one daughter.

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