Monday, May 21, 2007

Praying and Magic

Praying is that wonderful thing that God has given us to stay in constant mindful contact with him. The ever-presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer brings continual spiritual presence of Christ. But it is prayer that brings our minds and hearts close to the Lord. However, today as in Jesus day, we are tempted to make prayer something that it is not.

Jesus taught his disciples about prayer. For him, prayer is a normal part of the life of a believer, which he shows when he said “When you pray…”. In his teaching on prayer in the Gospel of Matthew, he warned people about prayer becoming an external exercise. He said “… do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men." He said we should be cautious about wanting to be seen as great prayers. We need to people who pray continuously, but not presumptuously. He says to avoid this by praying individually and secretly. We are to go into our “room and close the door.”

Jesus warned against the magical use of prayer. He spoke against “babbling like pagans who think they will be heard because of their many words.” They believed that many words had power. Believing in magic is when one uses words to control a supernatural power. Jesus says it does no good. God is not a power to be manipulated. He is personal and “knows what we need before we ask.” So praying is not about saying a lot of words, it’s about having personal contact with the living God who hears us through simple prayer.

In John’s gospel, Jesus reminds us that the Father doesn’t just respond to our words, he responds to our whole lives. “If you abide in me and my word abides in you, then ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” Its clear that God does not answer our prayer based on the number of times we pray, but he answers based on a life fully consecrated to Jesus.

In the same way that people of Jesus’ time thought that that many words were necessary in prayer, many thought God answered based on the number of people praying. But Jesus said that even prayer in small groups is what God is looking for. He says again in Matthew’s gospel “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” God doesn’t look for large numbers. He looks for the unity of those praying.

Jesus was concerned that people might become weary or discouraged in praying, so he told a parable about a women who persistently went to a judge for justice. Because of her persistence, and because she believed in the office of the judge, he answered. Jesus says we should pray persistently, in full belief that God answers, and to not give up. God wants us to “cry out day and night.” He never wants us to give up. Jesus is not concerned about how much or how often we pray, but that we pray, believing that God will answer, and that we never give up praying. It is a life of uninterrupted prayer that God wants us to have, so we can be close and so he can provide for us.

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