Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sheer Prayerlessness

I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father's house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses (Neh 1:5-7).

We have recently read through Alexander Strauch’s Leading with Love. In chapter 13, he confronts “Laboring in Prayer” as a fundamental aspect of Christian leadership. Strauch attributes our prayerlessness today to a lack of love and, admittedly, he has a point here. Yet, a far more fundamental cause of prayerlessness in the Western church may be another anemia… the shallow, superficial, and self-centered engagement with the God to whom we are praying. As a recent survey has made us all the more painfully aware, most evangelicals care little for the evangel for which they are supposedly named.

Strauch does not overlook this, noting Carson's similar observation:
What is both surprising and depressing is the sheer prayerlessness that characterizes so much of the Western church. It is surprising, because it is out of step with the Bible that portrays what Christian living should be; it is depressing, because it frequently coexists with abounding Christian activity that somehow seems hollow, friviolous, and superficial.

- Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 9, emphasis added.
Western evangelicalism was infected with a trite, therapeutic approach to its theology long ago. This has birthed an empty emotionalism in the stead of faith. David Wells warned us of this (and he faithfully continues to do so):
The reality that we have to face today is that we have produced a plague of nominal evangelicalism which is as trite and superficial as anything we have seen in Catholic Europe…

An evangelical faith that is not passionate about truth and righteousness is a faith which is a lost cause. All that it will be living for is simply its own organizational preservation…

If we do not recover the sufficiency of the Word of God in our time, if we do not relearn what it means to be sustained by it, nourished by it, disciplined by it, and unless our preachers find the courage to preach its truth, to allow their sermons to be defined by its truth, we will lose our right to call ourselves Protestants, we will lose our capacity to be the people of God, and we will set ourselves on a path that leads right into the old discredited liberal Protestantism.

- David Wells, "The Bleeding of the Evangelical Church"
Wells was right. Evangelicals today are liberal Protestants and if you peruse their contemporary publications, you will observe that all we have to contend for is, in fact, “organizational preservation.” Bold expositions of the Gospel, predicated upon the sufficiency of the Word, have largely been abandoned as irrelevant. No longer exulting in the glories of our sovereign Creator and Redeemer, the absence of bold and robust prayer is just one of the chickens coming home to roost.

We seem content to wallow in our own psyches. Observe how often evangelical prayer meetings include “I feel” rather than “Lord, You are.” There is only so much you can say about yourself, so prayer itself is moved to the periphery. It is likewise difficult to communicate with the Lord when your knowledge of Him is confined to trite phrases (e.g., “Let go and let God!”) and your diet in His Word is restricted to self-help sermonettes.

Strauch does offer us valuable help… reading through the prayers of Scripture. Meditating on such prayers as Neh 1:5-7, John 17, Eph 1:16-19, Phil 1:9-11, Col 1:9-10, 1 Thess 3:12-13, and 2 Thess 1:11-12 will drastically affect one’s own prayer life. Even more, by observing such texts one cannot help but notice how our prayers and the depth of our theological reflection are inextricably intertwined. It is impossible to give heart and voice to that of which you are ignorant.

May the Lord bring us back to His Word and, as a result, back to prayer. Maybe we should begin with the prayer of Nehemiah, "O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God... We have acted very corruptly against You."

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